Becoming a father can be an exciting and overwhelming experience. As a new dad, however, you can take many steps to prepare for the emotions and challenges of fatherhood and connect with your newly expanded family. Understand how to make your transition into fatherhood less stressful and more fulfilling.
Recognize sources of stress
No one said taking care of a newborn would be easy. As a new dad, you may worry about:
- Limited paternity leave. If you aren't able to take time off when the baby is born, it may be difficult to keep up your regular work schedule and find time to spend with your newborn.
- New responsibilities. Newborns require constant care and attention. On top of feedings, diaper changes and crying spells — tasks for which some new dads aren't prepared — parents must find time to do household chores and other daily activities. If you're used to a carefree, independent lifestyle, you may have trouble accepting your new responsibilities.
- Disrupted sleep. Newborns challenge their parents' ability to get a good night's sleep. Sleep deprivation can quickly take a toll on new dads and moms.
- Financial strain. The cost of your baby's delivery, health care, diapers, clothing and furniture can add up quickly. The financial strain may be worse if you move to a bigger home or pay someone to take care of the baby while you work — or one of you takes unpaid leave or quits work to take care of the baby.
- Less time with your partner. Having a baby means sharing your partner's attention with a third party. You may feel left out, especially if your partner breast-feeds the baby.
- Loss of sexual activity. Your partner's health care provider may prohibit sex for the first few weeks after she delivers the baby. Even then, your partner may not be interested in sex due to physical exhaustion and stress. This can lead to resentment and strain your relationship.
- Depression. Research shows that — like mothers — some fathers may experience depression shortly after a child's birth.
Take action before your baby is born
If your partner is still pregnant, ease anxiety by actively preparing for fatherhood. For example:
- Get involved. During pregnancy, men don't experience the same daily reminders that they're about to become parents as do women. Placing your hand on your partner's belly to feel the baby kick, attending prenatal visits and talking about the pregnancy with others can help you feel involved.
- Attend prenatal classes. Prenatal classes can help you and your partner find out what to expect during labor and delivery, as well as learn how to take care of a newborn.
- Consult a financial planner. Talking to a financial planner can help you determine ways to handle the cost of having a baby.
- Build a network of social support. During pregnancy, your partner may get support from health care providers, family and friends. It's important for men to have a support network during this time, too — especially if the pregnancy was unplanned or you've heard negative stories about parenting. Seek out friends and family who can give you advice and encouragement as you prepare to become a father.
- Talk to your partner. Talk about how your daily lives and relationship may change — for better and for worse — once the baby is born.
- Consider what kind of father you want to be. Take time to think about the fathering you received. Consider what aspects of your relationship with your father you might want to emulate with your own child and what you might do differently.
Stay involved after your baby is born
Once your baby is born, look for ways to connect with your newly expanded family. For example:
- Room with your family at the hospital. If the hospital and your work schedule allow, stay with your partner and newborn until it's time to take the baby home. This will help you feel less like a bystander and more like a key participant in the first few days of your baby's life.
- Take turns caring for the baby. Take turns feeding and changing the baby. If your partner is breast-feeding, offer to bottle-feed pumped breast milk — or burp the baby and put him or her to sleep after breast-feeding sessions.
- Play with the baby. While women tend to provide low-key, soothing stimulation for their babies, men often engage their babies in noisier, more vigorous activities. Both styles of play are important, and seeing your newborn smile is its own reward.
- Be affectionate with your partner. Just because sex is off-limits temporarily doesn't mean you and your partner can't cuddle or kiss. Keep in mind that eventually your family will develop a routine and you and your partner will have some time to yourselves again.
- Talk to your partner. Continue talking to your partner about the changes you're experiencing and what you can do to support each other as your baby gets older.
- Seek help. If you're having trouble dealing with changes in your relationship or you think you may be depressed, talk to a counselor or other mental health professional.
Becoming a new dad is a life-changing experience. By recognizing and planning for the challenges ahead, you may be able to lessen your stress and spend more time enjoying your new family.
Last Updated: 2010-03-09