I was asked a few months ago  by a parenting magazine to write a bit of advice for dads in the delivery room and about bonding for the Ultimate Maternity Guide that they were producing. The guide is now published but I don’t think that they ran my contribution. So here it is in full. I probably should have published it 2 weeks ago, before my wee brother went in with his wife to have their first. I put it down to being too busy with the kids and job applications.

Our new family relaxing in the Anti-Natal ward in 2007

Our new family relaxing in the Anti-Natal ward in 2007

The role of Dads has changed a lot over the last 40 years, you’re no longer expected to wait outside, it’s time for you to get right in there and claim your right to parent as equal to your partners.

There will be loads of advice during the pregnancy (this whole guide is for you as well as for your partner.) Take it on board, some of it will be good, some of it conflicting but you need to decide for yourselves as a couple what you want to follow.

At the beginning…

Your partner may only suffer mild nausea or you may end up holding her hair or emptying basins several times a day. Regardless which you can start from the very first weeks to provide support by doing as many as the jobs that need to be done from housework, cooking light meals, and supplying cups of tea and glasses or water to keep her energy and fluid levels up.

During the later months attend anti natal classes, discuss with her the plans for the labour so that you are aware of what her wishes are; discuss possible baby names and even what style of parenting that you want to follow when the bay comes home. You might also have to do (finish) some redecorating as she begins nesting.

In the hospital

The labour can be a long process and you’ll end up being in the hospital for a long time. When preparing the bags, bring food, proper food (sandwiches) as well as snacks, chocolate for both you and your partner. Bring something to read, magazines or a light book for your partner and something for yourself. Reading the newspaper or magazine is somehow less offensive than if it looks like you’re playing on your phone.

Find out how to properly install the car seat (40% are installed wrongly in Ireland according to the RSA), and understand how to put the buggy up and down.

The labour can range from a wonderful to a frightening experience for your partner, it’s part of your job to make it the former. You might feel like a lame duck there but holding her hand, rubbing her back, supporting her to walk if she needs to pace the corridors, fetching her book, water or whatever else she needs is all invaluable.

If your partner considers changing her plans support her and ask the midwifes to act on it. If she decides she wants an epidural, it will take at least 1 hr 40 min, with blood tests and surgery for it to be effective.

During delivery focus on your partner, tell her she’s doing well, help her with the breathing (breath, pant, push with her) and remind her she’s beautiful. Listen to the mid wives and communicate well with your partner so she feels reassured.

If she can’t make skin to skin contact because she needs stitches or had a section then you take your top off and do it. It is truly the most amazing feeling you will ever have. Don’t be afraid.

Don’t wait or leave it to someone else to change your baby’s nappy and if your partner is not breast feeding be there to feed the baby while your partner sleeps, or gets cleaned.

Back home

It’s perfectly natural to feel unsure of what you are doing and it’s OK to ask other experienced parents for advice they are always happy to share their experiences. You can find other dad’s, bloggers or on some discussion boards as well as your own social network who will be happy to get to chat about their kids, failures and successes.

Post natal depression is a very common illness so be aware that she might need help, it’s not a failure. Help your partner get a good night’s sleep by doing night feeds and helping the baby settle when they awaken. Yes you might have to get up in the morning to go out to work, but until you actually spend 24 hrs a day minding a baby on your own you will never know how draining it is.

Bonding

It’s perfectly natural not to bond instantly with your child and it might take a few months but like anything the more you put into it the more you get out.

The best way to bond with anyone is spending time with them. Hold your child a bit while they sleep, feed them, change them and play with them (when they are awake) as much as you can. In particular have a time of the day which is yours to spend with them. For example, at night time give them the last feed, tell them a story and sing them a song to help settle them to sleep. You’ll find as the baby grows that this routine will help them settle at night, and help them get back to sleep quickly if they waken.

By doing the night feeds it also gives you a very personal time with your child. No-one else is there with you, it’s nice and quiet and you can give them un-distracted time to get to know you. The down side is for the next 10 years when they waken at night it’ll be you that they call for at night, but sure it’s great to know that you’re loved and needed despite what they will tell you during the day time.