By Jeffrey Hoschek, MD, Medical Hills Internists
Becoming a father in today’s society is a far greater responsibility than it was when I was born. There is a significant amount of material out there for mothers-to-be: from books and websites on hormonal/physical changes, examining the development of the unborn child from week to week and month to month, to numerous “how to” guides for moms once their baby has arrived. Unfortunately, there aren’t so many resources readily available when it comes to educating and communicating to new dads.
As a practicing pediatrician, I have the special privilege of caring for many couples’ children, and answering their questions both before the baby has arrived, and at subsequent office visits. It has been my experience that when parents come to prenatal “meet and greet” appointments and well-child visits, the moms tend to ask most of the questions, especially if it is their first child. They are often prepared and ask very insightful and well thought-out questions. Dads seem to sit and listen attentively, but mostly let their partners do the questioning. I can honestly say that I was the same way myself. The whole experience can be overwhelming for us dads, and even though I have had the training to care for other peoples’ children, when you are on the parental side of things as a father, it takes on a whole different meaning. Based on my professional and personal experience, I’d like to offer new fathers some useful information to help them feel comfortable caring for their children, and to help take some of the burden off their partners.
Choosing a Physician for Your Child
It is very important to find a physician in whom both you and your child’s mother trust, are comfortable with, and can openly talk with about your child. You want to make sure that they are available not only during the day to see a child or to answer questions parents may have, but especially during those unexpected times such as evenings and weekends, if needed.
Taking Care of Your Partner After the Baby Arrives
Even though you have this new little baby to take care of, dads need to recognize that for the past nine months their partner has undergone major physical, hormonal, and emotional changes that sometimes don’t just quickly go away once the baby is born. Depending on the type of delivery (vaginal or cesarean section), mom is going to have a significant amount of pain and discomfort. Regular household chores such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry may not be possible for her to do. Making things as easy as possible for mom during this period is critical for her recovery. Your partner is going to be exhausted and may experience bouts of worry, sadness, and other emotions. You must be there to support her as these emotions can affect both her relationship with your child as well as you. There are many other changes that can occur with your partner and being patient and understanding is just as important as taking care of your child.
Observing your Newborn
You can learn a lot by just by watching your baby. For instance, there are six defined behavioral states that allow you to get to know your baby and can help you better provide for their needs; all they require is simple observing.
• Quiet Alert: They have their eyes opened and don’t move much at all as they seem focused on listening and seeing. These periods can last anywhere from 30-40 minutes and they are peaceful and content in this state, observing their new little world.
• Active Alert: With eyes open they may make small sounds, move their head, face, arms and legs, and seem to explore their environment with their eyes.
• Crying: This is actually a form of communication and does not always mean that something is wrong (hungry or dirty diaper). Often, walking around with the baby will stop the crying, and in fact, just the motion of picking them up toward the upright position usually stops the crying.
• Drowsiness: This is a good indication that your baby will be going to sleep soon.
• Quiet Sleep: The baby is very still, sleeping soundly, and the body hardly moves. If you get concerned that they are not breathing, gently feel their back for motion or listen closely to their mouth and nose for breathing sounds.
• Active Sleep: The baby is asleep but may make movements with their mouths. Smiling, frowning, chewing and sucking motions are common. Fifty percent of their sleep time is spent in this state, with the other half in quiet sleep.
As a new dad, you will likely have all kinds of concerns about your newborn. I recommend that dads have their own set of questions for the doctor. Remember that there’s no such thing as a “bad” question to ask your physician during this critical period in your child’s life.
Being a father is the most fulfilling job that I have, and one of the most important roles a man can hold in his life. While roles and responsibilities for new dads may have changed in recent years, being as prepared as your partner can significantly decrease unnecessary worry and angst.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, you may contact Medical Hills Internists at 309-663-8311. They are a group of independent primary care physicians dedicated to serving the health and wellness needs of your entire family from infants to seniors.
Photo Credit: RealCreation/iStock
Recommended Resources for Dads :
The Expectant Father – Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-To-Be
By Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash
The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year
By Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash
The Father-to-Be Book, A Survival Guide For Men
By Ken Nelson
The Guy’s Guide to Surviving Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the First Year of Fatherhood
By Michael Crider
The Happiest Baby on the Block
By Harvey Karp, MD