The adjustment to parenthood can be a stressful period of transition for new parents, especially for dads. Fostering a sense of readiness for fatherhood can be challenging in the maternal-centric world of visits to healthcare providers, online advertising, and marketing. While a woman’s changes in physical appearance during pregnancy signals a transition to motherhood, a man’s transition to fatherhood is not as visible. A woman’s body allows her to physically and emotionally bond with her baby from the onset of pregnancy. But, although dads cannot physically experience pregnancy, the expectant father experiences profound changes nevertheless. It’s very easy for an expectant father to feel sidelined when he enters the realm of pregnancy and birth. Connecting with his baby requires him to take steps to feel close to the baby before birth. Unlike generations long ago, fathers today are eager to take part in pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing. Research reinforces the benefits of a father’s early involvement in fostering happy and healthy children. As expectant fathers take their first steps along the unique journey of attaining fatherhood, expectant mothers should affirm their emerging roles, encourage them to participate, and praise them for their involvement.
Affirmation. An expectant father’s needs are unique and equally important as an expectant mother’s. Talk to him. Ask him his thoughts and feelings on becoming a father. Help him to manage his emotions by making him feel valued and heard. Having open and honest conversations will facilitate his ability to find balance in his emerging nurturer-provider role and lead to greater confidence as a father. Knowing he can talk to you about being a dad is a great stress reliever and reduces anxiety and/or fears. Conversations will also help an expectant mother and father find balance as new parents.
Encouragement. Expectant fathers may struggle with finding stability in the unfamiliar world of pregnancy and childbirth. The fear of not knowing what to do or what to expect can limit his connection with baby. He may not instinctually know what to do or how, but every opportunity he takes to be involved is an investment in your family. Encourage his participation in all things baby. Whether taking a baby care class, going shopping for the nursery, or attending a doctor’s appointment, every step he takes to be involved will help him to feel included and closer to baby.
Praise. Shifting societal roles have freed men to be active participants in nurturing their children. No longer seen as sole providers, fathers are able to dust off the cobwebs and reignite their nurturing skills. As traditional views of what it means to be a father fade away, men are defining their new identities as involved fathers. Fathers’ unique ways of nurturing through play are essential to developing healthy children and families. Praise every effort your partner takes to connect with his baby. Whether it is changing a diaper, soothing the baby, or playing with the baby, praise him! Praise is a great reward and confidence builder.
Take these three easy steps and support his journey to fatherhood as you journey along motherhood. Make them a part of every day and soon you will be the parents you always knew you could be!
Gladys Vallespir Ellett, RN, MA, LCCE, CLC, is the Coordinator for Parent Education at NYU Langone Medical Center and oversees all prenatal and postnatal education programs for new and expectant parents. She also teaches prepared childbirth, cesarean delivery courses to expectant couples and is the group facilitator for the New Moms Group at NYU Langone. She is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and Certified Lactation Counselor and currently serves as chair of Continuing Education for Lamaze International. She is a graduate of NYU College of Nursing and holds a master’s degree in education from The American University. As current doctoral student at the NYU College of Nursing, her research interest focuses on supporting new and expectant families, specifically fathers.
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