Dadding 101: a crash course for the terrified and uninitiated

Expectant fatherhood is a bewildering rollercoaster ride of conflicting emotions. There’s joy and wonder, glorious anticipation, and for many dads, low-level anxiety. There’s potential financial stress, climate dread, and deep, unanticipated questions.

Will I be a good dad? How can I be more useful during gestation? Will I automatically develop ‘dad strength’, and how long will it be until I can tell my kids to pull my finger?

We polled experts and fathers alike to find out what helps dads-to-be actively participate in their partner’s pregnancy. Our tips will help you relax and be prepared to celebrate the birth of your baby — and your new dad status.

- Do your homework

Study up on the fundamentals. It’s been said that babies aren’t born with instruction manuals, which is true (for one thing, it would complicate the delivery process). But there’s endless helpful info available in videos, books and online tutorials. Get a handle on the basics of new-dad dadding now — things like feeding, nappy changing, sleeping, explaining to a client why there’s poop on your tie — so you’ll be prepared when baby arrives.

- She’s researching.

When your partner sends you links with information that she’s learning, take the time to review it and — while also looking over the associated expert’s qualifications — to discuss it with her. Part of being involved is reassuring her that, when push comes to shove, you’re taking this as seriously as she is.

- Paperwork! Talk with your partner about getting your combined paperwork in order

Work on collecting your insurance forms, financial information, and consider setting up a will. This sounds boring, and it can be. But considering that your partner is experiencing pregnancy and childbirth, you might consider that you’re still getting the better end of the deal.

It's important to do most of the legwork before the baby arrives. In the same way that you pilots shouldn’t be Googling ‘How to land plane’ when you’re in the air, there are some things it’s just easier to sort out in advance, when things are less hectic. Call the health insurance company to get the newborn information, and research access to any post-partum care that you’re entitled. Once bub arrives, he/she should get added to the insurance, if you have any, and make sure they’re added to your Medicare. Don’t put this off; insurance companies can be finicky about when babies are signed up.

- Talk to your boss.

Discuss paternity leave to understand what benefits your employer provides – if any – as soon as you can. It’s worthwhile to arrange an appointment with your human resources representative to find out what your entitlements are. Often, they’ll be minimal, but eligible working dads and partners, including same-sex partners, can claim two weeks leave paid at the National Minimum Wage. You can read more about how to do that here.

- Don’t blow out.

Sympathy baby weight gain is a thing for expectant fathers, with studies showing that average dads-to-be can pile on 6kg during mum’s pregnancy (and that’s not to mention the over 70 per cent of fathers with young families who are overweight or obese). There’s no doubt a flurry of activity at home in the third trimester, but you still need to take time to care for yourself. But this is your chance to prepare like an athlete does – even if you’d never previously opted for the stairs over the lift. Start eating better, get some exercise in, because you’ll need it (and won’t have much time to do it after the baby arrives), and begin on more sustainable habits. If you’re confused about how best to start, simply begin by cutting back on greasy, unhealthy, fatty foods and focus on a healthy, balanced diet.

- Learn how to feed a baby.

Even if mum is planning to breastfeed, it can be helpful for dads-to-be to know how to give baby a bottle. Learn how to assemble a bottle, measure the expressed milk or formula, warm it to room temperature, clean and sterilise it — and then do a practice run before the baby comes. Any dad who’s stumbled blindly into this pitfall of unpreparedness will tell you that you don’t want to be trying to get the hang of this from scratch this for the first time while holding a crying baby. Many babies aren’t natural bottle feeders, which is super stressful at 3am, when you’re wrung out, haven’t slept for 30 hours, and your child is screaming into your face like a tiny, 130dB interplanetary klaxon of doom. The last thing you want to do at that stage is heat their milk for too long.

- Communicate.

“Stay open, curious and inquisitive in your communication. Now, more than ever, your partner wants and needs to feel heard and understood by you,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, a child, parenting and relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent. Spend time together, perhaps even scheduling a weekly date night with your partner, says Walfish. “The couple is the foundation, the bricks and mortar of every family. Remember to tend and care for [yourselves first] in order to preserve the marriage and family unity.”

Edited by Ben Smithurst. Jan 2023. Ben is a father of two, dad blogger, and journalist from Sydney. You can find more of his work at directadvicefordads.com.au.

Reviewed by Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse on 10/02/2023

Midwife Cath Midwife Cath
Written By Ben Smithurst
15/09/21 - min Read

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