You lie in bed, hearing the cries coming from the crib. The baby’s awake again, but you are so tired you dread getting out of bed. The days and nights are starting to blur together, and you’ve lost track of feedings and diaper changes. In your darker moments, you long for that time when there was just the two of you, with lots of time after work to relax together over dinner, watch a movie, and cuddle. No one told you that fatherhood was going to be like this.
With all the focus on perinatal mood disorders and how moms cope after babies are born – and, believe me, I think those discussions are very important – it’s easy for fathers to get lost in the shuffle. Dads can be so busy trying to help their partners and keep on top of work and other concerns that they ignore their own mental health. Look at the following statistics:
- 1 in 20 men experience anxiety or depression during their partner’s pregnancy
- 1 in 10 new dads struggle with anxiety or depression in the year following the birth of their baby
But – wait a minute, you say – fathers don’t give birth to babies or have hormonal changes, so what causes mood shifts? Turns out you would be wrong on one count – fathers-to-be and new fathers do experience decreases in testosterone during pregnancy and after the baby’s birth. And while this may help dads to be more in tune with their infants (yay!) those hormonal changes can also be linked to fatigue and depression. Add onto that the other stresses (pressure at work, less income) and the interrupted sleep (sigh…the baby’s awake again) and you can begin to see why new fathers may become depressed and/or anxious.
So what’s a Dad to do? Here are a few tips from the experts:
- Have a healthy diet (think lots of water, protein, greens, and healthy carbs)
- Dust off that treadmill – exercise can reduce stress, reset your brain, and boost energy. Better yet – wear your baby when you walk or run.
- Sleep whenever you can. Take shifts with your partner so you are not both awake caring for the baby at all times.
- Plan ahead for small periods of time doing something you enjoy – watching the game or show, grabbing a coffee, washing your car.
- Connect with other Dads. In your family, your neighbourhood, your workplace, or online seek out advice and info from fathers who have been down or are going down this road. Think of this as looking for a parenting coach. And check out an EarlyOn Child & Family Centre running Dads/kids groups in Burlington, Oakville, and Georgetown.
Finally, be gentle with yourself. When a baby is born, so is a parent. Adapt to the idea of learning as you go, without an orientation period or instruction manual (although there’s one here that is great for the newborn days). Your baby is not keeping track of your mistakes, but absorbing the sound of your voice and feel of your touch. And slowly you’ll realize this is what you were told about fatherhood – it’s an amazing experience, and the most important work you’ll ever do.
What helped you adjust to fatherhood? Connect with us. We would love to hear from you.
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For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000
About this guest blogger:
I have worked as a Public Health Nurse with Halton Region for many years. On any given week you will find me at one of our Prenatal Nutrition (HPNP) or Adjusting to Parenthood (A2P) groups. I enjoy having supportive conversations about mental health. As a survivor of perinatal mood disorders (PMD), I have a passion for helping new parents navigate the sometimes challenging transition to parenthood. When not at work, I enjoy the company of my grandchildren and going for walks with my goldendoodle Finnegan.
Hey! I just finished reading your article and wanted to tell you that I absolutely enjoyed it! Thank you
My two favourite lines: “When a baby is born, so is a parent.” and “Your baby is not keeping track of your mistakes, but absorbing the sound of your voice and feel of your touch.” Would be interesting to see statistics on how often men struggling with anxiety/depression after a baby is born reach out for help.