Even after participating in the plans and activities over nine months of pregnancy, it never fails: Men become fathers rather suddenly. Until that baby arrives, your role has been to support your partner and to watch and wait. Then the baby arrives and everything changes. Now there's a tiny person whom you can hold and marvel at. You may feel worried about your baby-care skills and fearful of how your lives will change, but at least now your baby is a physical reality. You can finally get started at being a father.
Father's "baby blues"
It's not unusual for fathers to suffer a low emotional period in the first few weeks after birth, although not to the same extent as mothers do. Some fathers who take time off from work to be with their partner and new baby for that first intense week find it very hard to go back to work and be separated from their family. They may also feel resentful of the special bond that is growing between mother and child.
Although breast-feeding is recognized as the best form of infant nutrition and important for mother and infant, fathers may perceive it more negatively; if so, it might inhibit the development of the father-infant relationship. A 1990 academic study revealed that a father's concerns about breast-feeding include the lack of opportunity to develop a relationship with his child, feelings of inadequacy, and being separated from his mate by the baby.
A father may also feel pressure to maintain the family income, particularly if his partner left her job or reduced her earnings to have more time with the new baby. Combine these feelings with an alarming lack of sleep and a sense of loss over an old lifestyle and you have a recipe for a serious case of the blues.
Fathers and breast-feeding
To be more involved in the breast-feeding process, fathers can:
• Get the baby and bring him to mom in the night.
• Settle him down after a feeding.
• Cuddle in beside the feeding couple.
• Burp the baby after feeding.
• Wake the baby up, if he falls asleep while feeding.
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Be warned: the first few days at home with your partner and new baby will be utterly exhausting with lots of responsibility placed on your shoulders. Your partner and baby may be home from the hospital just twenty-four hours after the birth, and you may be the primary caregiver for both of them, unless you've arranged for help from a family member or a friend.
If your partner had a cesarean, the recuperation period for her will be more painful and lengthy than for a vaginal birth. One of your roles will be to monitor your partner for the early stages of postpartum depression or even the normal hormonal letdown that occurs after childbirth. Sometimes it's the partner who recognizes the symptoms before the mother does.
Spend as much time as you can with your new baby in those first few weeks. Whatever picture of your impending baby you had in mind will probably be revised several times in the weeks following his arrival. Who knew the kid could cry so much? What's the deal with the shape of his head? And how am I expected to function on so little sleep? No doubt you will love your baby, and no doubt your love will grow, but there's a learning curve for both of you -- father and baby.
In some ways, fathers may have even more difficulty than mothers in adjusting to life with a new baby. Many new fathers have not even held an infant before, let alone been responsible for raising one. And fathers generally don't get the same amount of time to form an attachment with their child as mothers do.
In many families, the new father is the family's primary breadwinner, even if it's just temporary. On top of that, men have to take on an expanded role at home, sharing in the care of the new baby and providing relief for a partner who is getting even less sleep than he. They may also have to pick up the housekeeping slack and assume responsibility for older children. All told, it's like taking on another full-time job. It's critical to stay calm and trust that you'll grow into your new role.
Redefining your role with your partner
The primary and universal complaint of new parents is that they are exhausted; the second, that they don't have enough time alone together. There may also be some friction because they aren't in sync sexually. The thought of sex with the woman who recently delivered his child may be off-putting for some men. But other men find they have enhanced feelings for their partners after the miracle birth.
In the former case, the new father has to overcome anxiety about considering the mother of his child as a sexual creature again. In the latter case, a man might feel rejected by a partner who doesn't share his interest in renewing sexual activity. But she is the same woman she was before she became a mother, just busier and more pre-occupied. Whether there's a baby in the next room or not, human beings are sexual people. Recognize that making love may never be as spontaneous as it used to be, and figure out how to make sex a part of your life again. Grab every opportunity for non-intercourse sexual intimacy -- hugging, touching, cuddling. It's normal to delay resuming your previous sexual frequency, but if disinterest persists beyond three months or so, you might seek the advice of a therapist.
Excerpted from Growing with Your Child: Pre-Birth to age 5 by Christine Langlois. Copyright 1998 by Telemedia Communications Inc. Excerpted, with permission by Ballantine Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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