No matter how much money you throw into having the right gear or the best facilities, there's no easy way to prepare for fatherhood. It takes a lot of research, a lots of insight and perhaps a bit of practice before you're a fully trained warrior of paternity. Whilst there's plenty of great advice books out there to help men tackle everything from the labour to living on little sleep, here's our new Dad's survival guide to help you make a confident start.
Why men should be involved with parenting
Setting aside the rather obvious idea that it would be a bountiful boon to your baby's mother, why should a father take an active role in child rearing? The science that's looked at man's role in raising children has actually identified multiple benefits for both him and the baby. The negative perception of men as poor child carers is evidently more culturally relative than factual; some studies suggest men who are more confident about paternity are more likely to support their kids, and visa versa.
In some cultures, where men are often less likely to be the genetic fathers of their wives' children, they often channel their wealth and attention to nieces and nephews over their putative children. Fathers who live intimately with their children become more biologically prepared for fatherhood, having higher prolactin levels that make them more responsive to babies. Aside from all that, no correlation has been found between a man’s testosterone levels and his affinity for babies. In actual fact, being 'baby-friendly' is far a more sexy quality to most women!
OK so you're on board with being right in the thick of the action, so let's march into the first battle. One important thing to consider is your role as a birth partner and how not to overstep it. When you see the mother of your child having labour pains, your initial reaction is to relate to your own worst injuries, and it can be surprisingly difficult to accept that this is part of the cycle and not something you need to 'fix'.
Births last for no set length. You may be there for hours or days, but no matter how close or far away the magical moment is you need to be relaxed the whole time. In a similar way to knowing what you can do to help her pain, trust in the knowledge of medical professionals who say she's perfectly safe. This can be a hard thing to do when she's screaming and making sounds you've never heard from a human being before, but seriously, don't trust what you know about labour to TV and other depictions.
Helping with Breastfeeding
Never underestimate the profound effect a supportive and present a father can have on the frequency of breastfeeding. It's possible for Dads to include themselves in breastfeeding in a meaningful way; mainly through close contact with the child. A father who wishes to be less involved during this crucial period can suffer from a long-term exclusion from the parent/child paradigm. All through the pregnancy and even after birth, a father's increased oxytocin production is a key part of him developing useful nurturing instincts and bonding with the baby (more on that below), but its also a necessary hormone for the mother to produce for breastfeeding.
Father and Baby Bonding Together
The downside of breastfeeding, from a father's perspective at least, is that it can sometimes give you the feeling that the mother's bond with the baby is far greater than yours. It's easy to accept this given the fact she's able to soothe a baby crying by feeding it, but if you want to bolster the relationship with your growing child there's a bounty of ways that do not involve food at all. As we outlined in our previous Dad-centred blog on what mum-things men can do, wearing a sling is the best way to encourage physical contact essential for a healthy bond. Skin to skin cuddling, co-bathing, giving the baby a massage and reading from an early age are also nifty ways to strengthen the relationship between you two, and to give Mum a bit of well deserved rest.
Pragmatic Paternal Knowledge
There's more to this subject than we could ever hope to explore, but if we had to list a couple of other essential need-to-knows, we'd go with these:
Allow plenty of time, and more importantly tolerance, for you and your newborn. Getting to really know them is not something that happens quickly (especially for new parents), and it's good that you remain the kind and gentle father. Experiment different ways of bonding, and learn as much as you can from each of them.
Be active with your baby! They love to be moved, by that we mean held, bounced and jiggled. Their senses will heighten, and your ability to cultivate that development whilst retaining security will build a subconscious trust in your ability to protect and excite them.
Always set time aside to play. You have that one point in the day - perhaps when Mum is out or you have a nice fat gap in your schedule - that should be devoted entirely to the baby. The mother will always be the primary caregiver when she's in the room, so use her temporary absence to have fun and build on your relationship.
Last but not least: change nappies! It's a been a heavy point of research to establish the positive impact sharing this dirty duty has on a long-lasting marriage. Study up, get your technique down and you'll become an indefensible part of the parenting team.What's the all-time best pointers you'd put in a new Dad's survival guide? Let us know in the comments of this post, or over at our Facebook page, Twitter or Google+. Good luck to all expectant fathers out there. You'll need it, but hopefully you won't have to rely on it too much!