Mark Williams BCAh FRSA is a published author, TedX keynote speaker and campaigner, consultant, and trainer for better care for new parents. He founded International Father’s Mental Health Day, taking place on Monday 19th June 2023, and the #HowAreYouDad Campaign to help ensure that all parents and families are supported throughout the perinatal period.
Being a father can be a wonderful thing, once you get past all the overwhelming stuff and the stressful events, the loss of privacy, and the bewildering number of ways that can make you feel you are doing it wrong. But other than those few things… fatherhood is wonderful.
Every dad has fears that he won’t be a great dad, that he’ll mess up, and that he’ll be a failure. It comes with the job. Others may have different experiences, but I’ve always found the first couple of months the most difficult when the baby is brand new and wants to feed at all hours of the night and you often have sleepless nights and walk around all day like zombies. It gets easier, as they get a regular sleeping pattern.
The benefits of being a dad cross into several realms—emotional, physical, social, and spiritual. For many men, marriage, and family living is key to their overall well-being. Whether you’re juggling with the idea of becoming a father or want some validation about your choice, you can learn about the personal benefits of being a dad that make it all worth it in the end. By being a better father, you will develop a more meaningful relationship with your child. Your mental health is so important and by looking after yourself then you can look after your family and baby better.
Good communication with your partner is an important way to feel calmer and more confident about your parenting. It’s especially important in the early stages. Sharing duties like night feeds, planning things as much as possible, and recognising that you both need rest. It’s all about being able to speak to each other about what is happening and think practically together about what you can do to make it work for both of you.
My top five tips for new Father’s
1. Educate yourself about Father’s mental health
It is important to educate yourself about perinatal mental health and how fathers can be affected during this time. Find your local support groups and speak up if you are struggling. Your Health Visitor or GP is there to support you in your new role as a father.
2. Support groups
There are many wonderful support groups out there for parents. There are now many fathers’ groups that operate online if you prefer this to an in-person group. A quick search on Google or Facebook will help identify local groups or speak to your Health Visitor who will have a list of local groups for you to consider. If you have a question, ask a health professional. It can be the smallest things, but they can be big for you and it’s important that you get the right answers rather than overthink them or end up in a Google scroll of doom.
3. Physically bond with your baby
Do not be afraid to get involved. Physical contact will help with the bonding process for fathers too. Get involved with skin-to-skin when your baby arrives, practice baby massage, there are lots of great classes both paid and free available, or watch a variety of free tutorials on YouTube. Being in tune with your baby helps your own bonding and attachment. It also helps dads’ and babies’ brains rewire, giving a shot of dopamine, the chemical that gets released to make you feel good when you interact with your baby.
Talk to someone! Many fathers suppress their feelings which may come out in personality changes including anger, drinking and other ways to cope, even over working. If you feel your personality has changed its ok not to not be ok. It’s no surprise that a high percentage of fathers feel the same during this extremely stressful event. Reach out to a friend or someone you trust to talk about how you are feeling or contact your GP to discuss further support they can offer.
Sleep is such an important part of our well-being and having a baby inevitably means this is going to change, albeit temporarily. Work with your partner to share the night feeds and take rest when you can. Self-care is very important. There is a great range of free apps and advice from specialists to help with your sleep and establish a sleep routine for your baby. Also, be aware if you are oversleeping. For more information about sleep disorders, see the Mental Health Foundation and Royal College of Psychiatrists websites, and a list of useful contacts.
Fatherhood is the best experience, but it can also feel very hard at times, but I know after working with many parents over the years you will get there! Manage your expectations and avoid comparison at all costs. I am still making mistakes and my son is now eighteen years old. We talk about our feelings and have an amazing relationship even though I was struggling at first when I became a father.
Don’t be too hard on yourself and it will all come with time and confidence!
There are lots of great online support out there for new dads, be sure to share this with any new dad’s so they know they are not alone.
Becoming Dad is a 68-page guide for expectant and new fathers, which aims to help men do the best possible job of becoming a father. Written and published it in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation.
Tips for New Parents a quick guide to everything you need to know about caring for your new baby during those exhausting but wonderful early weeks.
The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is leading a movement against male suicide, the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.
The Hub of Hope is a national mental health database, bringing help and support together in one place, with a focus on grassroots organisation.
ANDYSMANCLUB is a non judgmental, talking group for men.
DadsNet offers support and knowledge through a community of dads on practical parenting and fatherhood.