Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by events: prepare for them instead!
Men are taking on an increasingly active role in their children’s lives and that’s a good thing, because babies need a daddy. But don’t go thinking that men taking part in child rearing is a modern idea: your body is going to prepare for the arrival of a baby thanks to a physical adaptation that happened over the entire course of human evolution.
Keeping our little ones fed and protected during their early years of life requires an effort on the part of both parents.
So what exactly do we mean by “adaptation”?
When a baby is born, the father’s testosterone levels drop suddenly, enabling him to more easily meet the physical, emotional and psychological needs of the newborn child. But don’t worry, this drop in testosterone is not only temporary, it’s beneficial! It seems that men who have never had children are generally less healthy than those who have become fathers. Essentially, it confirms that the father’s role isn’t limited to the “work” put into conceiving.
Despite this biological helping hand, you can still prepare yourself better for these new emotions and for the challenge of adapting to your new family situation. But to find a solution, you need to find the source of your stress, which could be:
- Paternity leave. Will you get to take any? How big will your mountain of work be when you get back? Is your employer even open to the idea? Will you be able to spend the time you’d like to spend with your new baby while continuing to do your job properly?
- How is the baby is going to impact your family’s budget? Will both parents keep working? On top of your usual expenses, you’ll have to add the cost of diapers, a stroller, furniture, clothing (which won’t last long), baby formula and childcare, if necessary. Your bank account will shrink even more if you have to upgrade to a larger car or move to a bigger home.
- Your romantic life. While your wife used to direct all her attentions toward you, that’s about to change and you’re likely to feel left out. How is that going to affect your life as a couple, especially sexually? The combination of stress, lack of sleep and the consequences of childbirth will not lead to much unbridled passion.
- New responsibilities. If you’re a happy hour kind of guy and your calendar is packed full of social and other activities, you’re in for bit of an adjustment… On top of the usual household chores, you’ll be taking care of day-to-day baby-care activities like changing diapers, feeding, bathing, snuggling and wiping away tears.
- Lack of sleep. Some infants don’t sleep through the night for the first year or more. Hang on to your hat, because the first few weeks are going to be rough: your newborn won’t know the difference between day and night. The whole family will be exhausted, and fuses will be short.
- Live up to your responsibilities. Men whose father wasn’t around, or who didn’t care for them properly or at all, often want to do better with their own children. But simply wanting to be the kind of father you never had will stress you out and prevent you from enjoying this special time with your child.
Rest assured: your worries are perfectly normal and shared by most new dads.
There are some concrete steps you can take to minimize anxiety:
- Stay informed. During pregnancy, most women are surrounded by a network of people who provide support and information. You need support too, so read books, attend prenatal classes, and if you have any questions, turn to friends who’ve already been through it.
- Get involved. Talk to your partner’s baby bump and put your hand on it to feel the fetus kicking. In prenatal class, you’ll learn techniques to facilitate delivery, how to cut the umbilical cord, and more.
- Consult a financial planner, who can help you better understand your future needs.
- Take action! Share the room with mommy and baby and play an active role from the get-go: diapers, burping, baths, you name it. The more involved you are, the more comfortable you’ll be in your new role. And most importantly, you’ll be less overwhelmed by your tiny, fragile newborn. And don’t worry, they’re tougher than they look!
- Give your partner lots of affection, even if she’s hormonal, exhausted and overwhelmed. She’ll be back to her old self in no time, or at least once she gets to sleep nights again.
- Play with your baby: as a father, you play an important and stimulating role in your child’s development. And as your baby grows, your interactions will become increasingly fulfilling for both of you.
- Minimize your expectations. You’re bound to feel frustrated when reality doesn’t match your expectations. If you’re expecting a smiling, calm and passive baby, it won’t be long until you’re totally overcome by its crying and tantrums. Just because a baby sleeps through the night for a whole week doesn’t mean that your nocturnal nightmares are over, just as the child’s first poop on the potty doesn’t mean it’s time to say good-bye to diapers. The day you’re dressed to the nines for an important business meeting will probably be the day your little angel throws up all over you. Try to laugh it off!
- Don’t worry, the first few weeks are the toughest. Once your baby’s sleep routine is established, you’ll get your energy back. In the meantime, you can always take fortifying supplements, something nursing mothers can’t do. Vitamin B supplements are particularly effective for managing stress and boosting energy levels.
- If, despite your best efforts, you still feel anxious or overwhelmed, certain plants, like passion flower and flowering oat, can have a beneficial effect on your nervous system. If you feel down—some fathers suffer from postpartum depression too—you can try St. John’s wort, the most well-documented natural antidepressant on the market. If this sounds like you, it’s probably a good idea to see your doctor.
Even if you’re the kind of DIY guy who never reads the user manual when you get a new gadget, it’s always reassuring to know that the manual exists. Good news, everyone! Every baby comes with its own manual, and every province has its own version. Quebec’s public health institute (INSPQ) publishes a hefty reference called From Tiny Tot to Toddler. A veritable how-to manual for babies, this excellent guide is worth its weight in gold and will be your go-to reference for years.