Grown ups

Becoming a dad: adjusting to fatherhood

Becoming a dad: adjusting to fatherhood

New dads: getting involved with your newborn

You might feel overwhelmed at first, but brand-new dads come fully equipped for fatherhood. Fathers are just as good as mothers at recognising and responding to the needs of their newborns. They're also just as able to care for older children.

In fact, when you care for your child, you're doing so in ways only a dad can. You probably parent in a different way from your partner, and adapting to your different parenting styles helps your baby learn social skills.

Here are some tips for getting involved with your baby.

Try everything
Dressing, settling, playing, bathing and nappy changing - these are all great ways to bond with your baby. Parenting skills are partly a matter of practice - you get better and more confident the more hands-on experience you get.

Keep trying
Resist the urge to hand your baby back to mum when things get demanding. One-on-one time will build your confidence and skills.

Spend one-on-one time with baby
This is a really important part of developing a strong and lasting bond. It's also good for your partner, who'll get a much-needed break.

Show your affection
When you show your baby affection and respond to your baby's cues, a natural hormone called oxytocin is released in your baby's brain. This hormone makes your baby feel good. It also builds connections between nerve cells, stimulating brain development.

You can also imitate your baby's facial expressions - frowns, tongue-poking, sounds and smiles. All this helps the bonding and attachment between you and your baby.

Talk with your baby
While you're caring for your baby, try talking to your baby about what you're doing. For example, 'Let's get dressed now - on goes your top'. Using a warm, sing-song voice (called 'parentese') helps your newborn feel content and protected.

Talk is like brain food for babies. It helps them build language and communication skills from the time they're born. Babies don't have to understand words to benefit from talking.

Make time for play
Playing with your newborn isn't about games and toys - it's about the interactions between you and your baby. Here are some ideas:

  • Give your baby tummy time each day. It helps your baby's muscle and brain development. If your baby doesn't like it, just try it for a short time.
  • Play with words, songs, rhymes and stories to build language and memory skills. Start with some old favourites like 'Twinkle, Twinkle' and 'Old Macdonald'. Check out our Baby Karaoke if you need some help remembering the words.
  • Try peek-a-boo. Simple play like this builds your relationship and also lays the foundations for your baby's language, thinking, motor skills, and social and emotional development.
High levels of father involvement have been linked to better social and academic skills in their children. And it's never too late to get involved!

Looking after your relationship

Most couples notice relationship changes after their baby arrives. At first, it's very exciting, and couples often feel closer. But after about a month, couples often start feeling more tired, stressed and overwhelmed by child care demands and household chores.

Sometimes, they discover they have different ideas about family life or parenting.

Talking with your partner is the best way to deal with these changes and look after your relationship. For more information on looking after yourself and your relationship, read our articles on:

  • talking to each other
  • listening to each other
  • feeling stressed
  • reducing stress with muscle relaxation
  • breathing for relaxation.
Up to 15% of women and 10% of men develop postnatal depression (PND). Read more about PND and women and PND and men. If you think you or your partner is experiencing PND, see a health professional as soon as possible. You can also call the PANDA National Helpline on 1300 726 306.

Understanding your changing sexual relationship

Baby's arrival can change your sexual relationship with your partner. Both you and your partner might want to feel close again. But having sex can sometimes be difficult because of tiredness, physical changes after childbirth, changes in the way your partner feels sexually, or postnatal depression (PND).

Most couples do get their sexual relationship back on track. Here are a few things that might help this along:

  • Be patient. You're both going through major changes. It's important to reassure your partner and try to understand your partner's feelings. Often, couples are advised to wait until the six-week postnatal check-up before having sex again. Everyone is different, though, and some mothers might need to wait longer.
  • Find other ways to be intimate. Try showing your love with extra kisses or cuddles, holding hands, giving massages or taking a bath together. Even a brief touch as you pass each other in the kitchen or get things from the car can remind you of your bond.
  • Share the load. When you get involved in taking care of the baby or you take on extra household chores, it gives your partner more time to recover.

These can be difficult issues to talk about. If you're finding it difficult, you might want to see a counsellor together.

Parenting as a team

Parenting as a team means working towards shared parenting values, making decisions together, solving problems constructively, and resolving conflicts calmly.

Parental teamwork has several benefits:

  • When you and your partner handle the challenges and rewards of parenting together, you're stronger and better equipped to make tough decisions.
  • Children learn how to behave from watching the way you interact with each other. When you meet challenges, solve problems and handle conflicts in positive and cooperative ways, you're modelling good behaviour.
  • When your baby sees or senses you talking and working well together, your baby feels safe and secure. And this might even mean that your baby cries less.

In the early days, the key is to stay positive and support each other as you learn how to parent together. These tips can help:

  • Listen to your partner's interests and concerns. Mothers often say they value the chance to share what's happening - good and bad - with someone who really cares.
  • Be ready to step in when you're needed, so your partner can take a break.
  • Back each other up in front of your children, and discuss disagreements when the children aren't around.
  • Keep unwanted advice to yourself - sometimes your partner will just want to offload stress by talking to a caring listener.
  • Make a regular time to share ideas for dealing with problems - ideally a time when you're both rested and unstressed.
For more information, read our articles on the importance of teamwork, backing each other up, managing conflict and solving problems together.

Working out new roles as parents

It's important for couples to discuss their roles both inside and outside the home. For example, if a father wants to be closely involved with his children, he might be unhappy working a 50-hour week. Similarly, it's not healthy for a mother to be at home full-time if her work is important to her and she's unhappy without it.

Here are some starting points for talking:

  • What needs to be done? Make a list of your family's requirements, whether it's caring for the baby, doing shopping and laundry, cooking, washing dishes or earning money. This will give you a starting point for planning who can do what.
  • How much does each of you want or need to work? Try to look at facts like who earns more, as well as feelings about staying home with your baby.
  • How much money do you need? Drawing up a family budget might help you decide whether one or both of you can afford to cut down your work hours to spend more time at home, if that's what you want to do.
  • Whose job is more flexible? You might find that one employer is more family friendly than the other. This can make a big difference when you head back to work.
  • What will make you happy? It doesn't matter who takes which roles in the family, as long as you both feel happy and fulfilled.
Read more about work-family balance for dads, and find out how strong families work.