Becoming a father is arguably the biggest transformation a man can ever experience in life and one that is little supported. Expectations are high of themselves, from partners, families, friends and work, and if those are not met (they rarely are), the reality can hit hard and bring up intense emotions. It is both exquisite and painful, and brings euphoric highs with depths a man has never experienced. A father is expected to feel like a father instantly, but he may not feel this for much longer, and that can be an uncomfortable place to be. He may feel anger and resentment, and yet be drawn to protect and provide. The ambivalence of still being required to fulfil the role of father, lover, businessman and friend is a tricky juggle and yet, there is often the idea that to talk about it being too much is a weakness, or worse.
Sophie Burch is mother of 4 boys and has written a book and a mindful early parenting programme called “Beyond Birth” with the aim to support all parents to preserve their mental health at one of the most vulnerable times in life.
She believes a great deal more must be done for boys and men’s mental health and ideally it starts with educating young boys at school how to be open about their feelings and sit with their emotions more than to man up and sweep those feelings away in shame. She says:
“What if we showed men that it’s okay to not be okay everyday in every way… and conditioned ways to find mental as well as physical resilience and strength to manage the challenges of becoming a parent?”
Fathers sometimes need acknowledgement that there are other fathers having thoughts and feelings like they are experiencing which can be enough before it manifests. But there are many fathers who will need that professional help to be able to take in the positive coping skills that will be replaced by the negative ones.
By supporting the father or partner it will help support the mother better with breastfeeding and her own mental health as well. It will also improve relationships and the fathers mental health. Many fathers initially struggle to bond with their babies and attachment which is important for the development of the child.
It is important to know some of the warning signs and behaviour changes in the perinatal period. They can include:
Physical health problems
The risk factors are:
Fathers witnessing a traumatic birth
Fathers with undiagnosed disorders
Lack of sleep
Adverse Childhood Experiences
Partner with postnatal depression.
Financial worries, Isolation and previous mental health history.
It is important to have clear pathways for fathers to be supported and engage with specialist services as parents' mental health can be complex. As we know the biggest killer in men under fifty in the UK is suicide and there is eveidence there is high risk in new fathers. A guide and groups such as Beyond Birth can help to prevent a need for specialist help, and also give confidence to reach out to those services if the need is there.
Mark Williams, Fathers Mental Health Campaigner, Ted-X Speaker and founder of International Fathers Mental Health Day says: “I am inspired to see this pioneering Guide and support groups for Father’s and Partners as well as for Mums mental health and wellbeing. It combines a much needed psychoeducation with simple, tried-and tested practices aimed at helping parents cope with the challenges of the first 1001 days with a baby. Using this guide will inevitably enable more Dad’s and Partners to support their mental health and build emotional resilience to protect their mental state, coupled with having a deeper understanding of what their partners emotional needs are.”
Here are Sophie’s top tips to dad’s to be and new dads
● If you can, maximise time off and try staggering your return to work if you can
● Life as a couple:
Most importantly, have an understanding that your relationship will change, possibly for the better, however, with tiredness, birth recovery and a baby (and all the gubbins) in between you, it will help to be more mindful of new ways to find intimacy and support.
● Lowering expectations and being super sensitive are a bonus.
● Talking: you may find it hard to talk much, but keep the communication going; keep it light if you can, and remember that laughter triggers an endorphin (your feel good factor!) response.
● Closeness: sometimes, words are not needed. A hug, a smile, eye contact and a hand-hold may be all that’s needed.
● Expect stress and tiredness levels to rise, and your normal ways of coping after a long day, changed. Try to counter-balance this by taking it back to the basic things you enjoy, talking to friends, gentle exercise or walking to clear your head.
● Connect with your baby; now is a perfect time to have skin to skin with your baby, (partner and other kids too), carry them in a sling/baby carrier, massage or bathe them. Explore their little fingers and toes, the softness of their skin and make eye contact with them as you gently get to know them in your own time, your way. Communicate using soothing words or song. Find your tenderness.
● Expect that you will have differences of opinion from your partner, but be prepared to listen to them too. They will be super exhausted and may not be making sense to you, but they will be instinctually navigating a new terrain and there’s no manual. Respect that you may disagree over the best path to take at times.
● Tiredness and vulnerability can be ugly at times. Expect the worst in this case and it may not be bad at all. With permission, hold the baby and encourage your partner to rest as often as you can. She may be trying to do it all herself to take the pressure off you, but will get exhausted quickly this way. Try and find a balance for you both. Nurture your relationship and think of novel ways to enjoy time together. Tip: it’s the small gestures and the little things that matter. Document this time so you can look back a year down the line and beyond, and feel connected and nurtured again and again.
● Eat well. Cook or order in nutritious meals and treat yourself and your partner. Now is an ideal time to drop standards slightly, get cosy and shut the world out for a while.
● Don’t be the hero: if you try to do it all and overload yourself, you will burnout. That’s a fact. Also, do your best not to “compete” with your partner about sleep, or “me time” etc. Things can get toxic quickly if this happens. The huge “To Do” list for a perfect everything can wait.
● You may need to drop some of the extra-curricular activities you’ve been doing to show solidarity/team-work. Same goes for booze and smoking. Cut back as much as you can. You will reap the rewards in the long run. This doesn’t mean stop having fun and seeing friends, but accept the fact it can’t be how it was. Your partner needs your support - even if it doesn’t feel like it at times.
● Connect with new parents that have everything in common with you at the moment: a baby!
● Recognise your little achievements every day. Come from a place of gratitude and avoid wishing things were different somehow. This is it. How it is right now. So instead of fighting it, comparing with others, or feeling disappointed in the things that haven’t gone how you expected, do what you can to reframe those thoughts and feelings. Be present, aware and in each moment with a sense of gratitude and awe. It helps to write things down when the thoughts and feelings become overwhelming. Failing that, talk it out.
● Sometimes it helps to talk to a pro: someone who can hold non-judgmental space for you to be heard. You can feel emotionally held in those moments and let go of any pent up worries or fears you feel you can’t discuss with your partner, family or friends. Getting support this way is not a weakness, it’s a strength and a sensible, caring thing to do.
For more information about Beyond Birth, the guide, groups and training, or to talk more:
Sophie Burch [email protected] www.themammacoach.com Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/themammacoach/ & https://www.instagram.com/beyond_birth_guide/
One of the most incredible and beautiful occasions in your life can be that of having a baby and many women have the most amazing time. There are some significant changes that your body undergoes and as a result there can be associated pain and discomfort...