New baby, new daddy...
On our &Breathe retreats and workshops, we prioritise self-care for new dads as
much as we do mums - because sometimes it’s easy to forget that dads deserve a
boost or a break too...
How are men affected both physically and emotionally by becoming dads?
Sleep is as much a dad’s issue as it is a mother’s after baby arrives. Dads often find
it tough going back to work after just two weeks paternity leave, if that’s what has
been agreed over the option of shared leave. When the non-stop cycle of colic
begins, and the thought of uninterrupted sleep becomes a luxury, this can manifest
as heightened irritability in men as much as women. All of this comes at a time when mums, who may still be recovering physically from the demands of labour, are most in need of their partners’ unwavering support, while dads need that extra help to bond with baby. Baby wearing and bottle feeding are both excellent options for dads to increase their connection with their baby at this time.
&Breathe's founder Clio and her husband Bryn who have a 3 year-old daughter together have most definitely been there. ‘We coped with the early sleep-deprived days awfully (like most things!),’ says Bryn. ‘I tried everything I could to help, but inevitably I would get it wrong - not applying the right creams, leaving wet nappies on too long, or cooking the wrong food! Often it would all end in a row. Looking back, I think we both wish we'd have cut each some slack. The advice I would give to dads would be to be confident in what you can do. It might be different to how your wife wants it done, but it doesn't mean it's wrong! We're more capable than we think."
So you’ve started rowing, what should you do now?
It’s common for a lack of sleep to become the central theme of rows between
partners (‘just who is the most sleep deprived here?’), which, of course dads with
their physical inability to bear a child, simply cannot win! While the threat of losing
their jobs may suddenly loom larger, due to their new levels of inefficiency brought
on from a lack of sleep, new levels of stress and anxiety, not experienced pre-baby,
can start to manifest. All this may leave dads withdrawing from their partners, overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, and frustration at the short recovery time that is paternity leave if sharing it wasn't an option.
‘I was pretty terrified of the first week back - how would I cope without the sleep?’ recalls Bryn. ‘But that week comes and goes and you get through it, but it really can chip away long-term on your sense of self.'
How do you stay true to yourself as a new parent?
'My self-confidence definitely dropped a lot. I dropped some of my hobbies, saw friends less, while trying to focus on the family. But in hindsight that was counter-
productive. It made me miserable, which was the last thing Clio needed from me. My advice would be not to let go everything that makes you, you - keep up your old hobbies, find some new ones, keep seeing old friends, find some new ones.
Whatever you need to give yourself your old identify and self-confidence back.’
But how can you help each other when both are running on empty?
It really is important to find a system that allows equal rest time for both of you -
taking turns at weekends to have a lie-in, for example. ‘We managed this terribly, but we did learn some lessons,’ recalls Bryn. ‘We eventually realised we were doubling up on everything. We used to do all bath times together, meals together, everything. It sounds sweet, but it really means neither of you is getting any self-care. Much better if one takes over whilst the other does something positive - exercise, a hobby, seeing friends. Anything that's positive for mind and soul. If you're both happy in yourselves the rest follows.’
And don’t forget time with each other. Enlist willing family or friends to take over for a few hours so you can both take some time together to reconnect and reflect, such as a long soak in the tub, a long walk, or a trip together to the cinema and time to cook each other a nutritious meal that doesn’t consist of dad-bod-inducing carbs!
When you feel like you’re always getting it wrong as a parent, how do you find your own way?
In new baby households, men will come into their own too, given half a chance. Most dads delight in a late night emergency nappy supply dash or a swoop to a 24-hour pharmacy in search of ANYTHING that will ease your babies nappy rash, colic or blocked nose (Infant nasal suction aspirator - who knew?) in order to help them
sleep soundly. And as the enormity of parenthood sets in, the urge to give up various vices may suddenly become overwhelming for him too.
But it’s important not to think about what you can’t do and instead focus on what you can. ‘The reality is that other than breastfeeding, you can do everything’, advises Bryn. 'There are no man tasks and woman tasks. The real challenge is in actually, truly believing that. We're conditioned from an early age by the caricature of the bumbling Dad. It's very negative. It makes us believe there are things we just can't do. The truth is we can, it's just we'll do them differently. But different isn't wrong, so find your own way, have confidence in it and don't give up.’