The arrival of a new baby is a wonderful yet stressful time in a couple’s life. If your partner is pregnant, or just gave birth, you may be wondering what you can do to support them. Often fathers will feel like they’re not sure what their role is in the pregnancy, delivery and postnatal stages so they tend to take a backseat. However, the arrival of a new baby is a time when your partner needs your support more than ever before. Taking an active role in caring for her during pregnancy and beyond is something that will strengthen your relationship and help you to bond with your baby.
Supporting your partner during pregnancy
Help without being asked
Growing a baby is exhausting. Your partner may be finding it difficult to do everything she usually does. Take some of the pressure off her by keeping the home clean or cooking her dinner in the evenings. Many women feel shy to ask for help during pregnancy so will push themselves beyond the limits of their energy levels. Don’t wait for her to ask. Ask yourself how you can take some pressure off her and prioritise her relaxation.
Attend antenatal classes
These classes are designed to educate and reassure expectant parents. Antenatal classes can be extremely helpful for dads who are worried about their ability to look after a baby properly. After attending classes you’ll feel better equipped to look after the baby by yourself which will be a great relief to your partner. Don’t wait until the baby has already arrived to tell your partner that you’ve never changed a nappy before!
Fathers are entitled to paid time off work to attend two antenatal classes. Just make sure you let your boss know 2 weeks in advance and keep proof of attendance as they’re allowed to ask for proof.
Embrace her new lifestyle
Pregnancy can bring many lifestyle changes to your partner’s life. She may have had to stop smoking, drinking or doing certain hobbies. Show her some support by quitting with her. Don’t smoke around her or head to the pub leaving her sitting on the couch with FOMO. Plan activities that you can both enjoy such as the cinema or dinner in a restaurant. If this is your first baby it may be your last chance to have frequent date nights so make the most of it.
Take an interest in her pregnancy
Your partner is probably doing a lot of research about pregnancy and parenthood. Show her that you’re as invested as she is by knowing your stuff. Learn about signs of labour, different birth plans and the first weeks with a newborn. It will be reassuring for her to know that she doesn’t need to coach you through every step of the journey.
Make sure you know your partner’s birth plan and any specific wishes she may have. Anything can happen during labour, with your help she can make the best out of anything the delivery may throw at her.
Supporting your partner after the birth
Look out for signs of Postnatal Depression
Know your facts about Postnatal Depression so you can make informed choices when your partner needs you most. It’s important to note that up to 80% of new mothers experience Baby Blues, which is often confused for Postnatal Depression. Baby Blues is a feeling of sadness which is experienced around 3 days after giving birth and lasts just a few days. After these few days, she should start to feel more like herself. Mothers often hide symptoms of Postnatal Depression for fear of being seen as an incapable mother. She may not communicate her feelings, so here are some signs to look out for:
- Wanting to stay in bed, reluctance to get dressed or wash herself
- Difficulty sleeping, finding your partner awake all night even when the baby is sleeping
- Being especially agitated, unable to cope with the smallest of setbacks
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble remembering
- Reluctancy to allow anyone else to care for the baby
- Not being interested in caring for the baby
Postnatal Depression affects 10 – 15% of Irish mothers and can occur at any stage of their baby’s first year. If you’re concerned, approach her in a calm and loving manner. Reassure her that she will not be judged and she will start to feel better once she gets proper help. For more on this topic, read our blog post about Postnatal Recovery.
Put your knowledge to good use
All the reading you did during pregnancy is about to pay off. Take an active role in bathing, changing and feeding your baby. If your partner is breastfeeding suggest that she express milk so that you can take some night feeds to let her sleep. You’ll work out a system that suits you both so you can easily share the duties. Taking an active role in your baby’s care will nurture a strong bond between you and your baby, as well as you and your partner.
Take your Paternity Leave
Since 2016, new fathers are entitled to 2 weeks of Paternity Leave from work at any time during the first 6 months of their baby’s life. A review carried out in 2019 saw just 40% of fathers availing of the benefit, many being deterred by the €240 per week Paternity Benefit. Speak to your employer about their policy on paid Paternity Leave, many employers now offer fully paid Paternity Leave to encourage their employees to take advantage of this precious time with their families.
You are required to give your employer at least 4 week’s notice before taking your Paternity Leave and they may ask for proof of your baby’s due date.
Take care of your own mental health
It’s a little-known fact that fathers can also suffer from Postnatal Depression. It’s estimated that up to 10% of fathers experience Postnatal Depression. However, this number could be much higher considering that men are much less likely to seek help for their mental health. As many as 50% of fathers experience depression when their partner experiences Postnatal Depression. Signs of Paternal Postnatal Depression include:
- Feeling hopeless or helpless about the future
- Withdrawing from family life
- Displaying signs of anger including physical altercations
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Difficulty sleeping
Paternal Postnatal Depression is especially common among fathers who are under 25, on a low income or not in a relationship with the mother of their children. A history of anxiety or depression is also a risk factor.
If you’re concerned about your mental health, speak to your GP to find the best treatment for you so you can get back to enjoying fatherhood.