While there are many articles, blogs, and books about what life will be like for a new mom, there is a lost section about new dads. Whether you are in a same-sex relationships, where both dads are experiencing parenthood unique to men, a single dad, or the partner to a wonderful women; men can experience fear, anxiety, and even Paternal Depression when welcoming a new baby into the home.
Many books out there address fatherhood stresses mainly in regards to concerns about being the “breadwinner” but there is more to it than worrying about the financial space of the family. (though that is a big part of it as well)
Orly Katz, a licensed clinical counselor, warns in general, men are ill-equipped to deal
with some of the intense emotions that their transition to fatherhood can trigger.
Katz Says “Where new mothers are encouraged to verbalize their disillusions,
disappointments and concerns – usually in support groups or to other moms –
new dads have been raised to not express their emotional needs. Even when they face stresses
associated with the arrival of their newborn, fathers tend to suppress their emotions and act as
if everything is okay. This, of course, is not a sustainable behaviour and new fathers can
become depressed or have sleep problems.” (focusonthefamily.ca)
Let’s talk about the different ways Fathers experience hormones, stress, and depression.
While any person will accept the idea that a new mother is swimming in a sea of new emotions that are likely linked to a cocktail of hormones, the same people have a hard time accepting that men become hormonal after bringing a baby home as well. Testosterone levels in men drop when they have a new baby, and lower testosterone levels can lead to depression. Combine that with the all to common “mourning” their pre-baby lives, dads can find themselves swimming in the same new parent sea that is filled with self-doubt, judgment, and depression.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, in 2010, 43 studies worldwide pointed out a huge spike in depression in dads three to six months after their baby’s birth. With the average rate of depression in the first year after having a baby at about 10 percent.
Aside from hormones and lack of sleep, the emotional toll of becoming a parent can lead to stress and anxiety. All parents worry if they are doing a good job, if their baby is safe, and worry about what the future holds. Problems can arise when we internalize too much, and cannot work through these thoughts and fears. Sleep deprivation, which is common in the first weeks to months after your baby is born, can lead to in increase in feelings of worry. Dads need to ensure quality sleep, even if it means finding help in friends or family, or hiring professional support. A quality night’s sleep can mean the difference between feeling confidant and feeling defeated.
We encourage new dads to bond with your baby by taking time to do skin to skin, and sleep-connected feeding sessions, similar to a women nursing her child to sleep. These precious moments are not only relaxing, they actually help to raise endorphin levels and increased the feeling of bonding and love. Just like for the new mom, these bonding sessions are what carry you through the hard time; the feeling of accomplishment and love over power the feelings of doubt and sleeplessness.
Deprivation, whether we are talking sleep or partner connection, deprivation can have a monumental impact on how men process the transition into fatherhood. We talk about mourning the “pre-baby” life, but is it more than that?
Men mention missing the one-on-one time that allowed them to truly connect with their partners, and not about diapers or feedings.
Take time to connect, daily, talk about your growing family as well as your developing role as ‘dad.’
One things that goes a long way is praise, authentic of course. Noticing all the ways your partner is helping, supportive, and working with you during this adventure will allow you to stay positive about your relationship. One of the most slippery slopes is that of blame. We encourage partners to take note of all the wonderful things their partner does, and make a list of things that they need help with.
Making the to-do list from a space of mutual need for the family, rather than a space of blame or lack, will reinforce the feeling of being a team.
While you are taking time to connect with Dad, it is powerful to hold space for him to verbalize what he is feeling. From fear and anxiety, to a sense of uncertainty, you may find you are navigating the same tide, just experiencing it differently. Holding space and allowing our partners to process their emotions without judgment is one of the keys to a long and lasting relationship.
As many men are jumping into the role of dad, and the role is ever evolving, just like a mother’s role; patience and understanding go a long way. Ensure that both parents have the support and tools they need to thrive in this new role, rather than simply survive.