What should first time dads expect?
When you become a new dad you may be navigating new routines and responsibilities. You might also be dealing with lack of sleep and supporting a partner at the same time. There can be a lot of excitement, fun and special moments with your new baby. But there’s no shame in acknowledging that becoming a parent can be pretty exhausting too. And as with any major life change, be prepared for a new baby to have an effect on your mental wellbeing.
Matt: “It’s important not to put too many expectations on yourself. The early days of being a parent, and not having much time or sleep, don’t last long (although it may feel like it at the time!). And before you know it, you will feel more human and have more energy again.”
Can new dads get postnatal depression?
While postnatal depression is more often associated with new mothers, it can be a real problem for men too. In fact, around 1 in 10 new dads are thought to be affected. We all have days where we feel a bit low. But postnatal depression is more intense and goes on for longer. You’re likely to feel low much of the time and have no enjoyment in your usual activities.
Many of the factors that make postnatal depression more likely in mums can also affect men. These may include:
- having a history of mental health problems, including previous depression
- having a partner with depression
- a lack of support or feelings of isolation
- relationship problems
- life stresses – such as unemployment or worries about money
There’s not always an obvious reason why someone develops postnatal depression. But the responsibilities of looking after a newborn baby when you’re not getting enough sleep can make you feel stressed, down, and overwhelmed.
Tips for looking after your mental health as a new dad
These eight tips for new dads can help you to stay mentally well.
- Keep physically active. Think about what you can realistically fit in around your new responsibilities. It might mean exercising at different times or doing something based at home. Even just going out for a walk with your baby will keep you active and will give you some much-needed fresh air.
- Eat healthily. What we eat makes a real difference to our mood. Even if you don’t have time or don’t like to cook, make sure you have some healthy and nutritious snacks to keep your energy levels up. If you are able to, batch cooking meals can help you get ahead.
- Prioritise sleep. A lack of sleep can really impact how you feel. If you’re sharing parenting responsibilities with a partner, work together so that you can both get time to sleep. Doing ’shifts’ or giving each other a night off may be possible solutions.
- Try not to isolate yourself. You may have different priorities and responsibilities once you’re a father. But try to keep in touch with friends and maintain some of your usual activities – even if it’s not so often.
- Keep it simple. It can take a while to get to grips with looking after a new-born. Try not to worry too much about whether you’re doing things ‘right’. The most important thing your baby needs is your love and attention.
- Reflect on the bad days. Look back and think about what made you feel that way. Were you tired? Stressed about work or something else? Think about what you can do to avoid those situations again.
- Don’t use drugs or alcohol to cope. This tends to make things worse in the long run, having a harmful effect on both your physical and mental health.
- Seek help when you need it – admitting you have a problem isn’t failing. You are being proactive in making sure you’re mentally well enough to care for your baby and support your partner.
Sam: “It’s important to plan when it comes to being active and sleeping. But if things don’t go to plan, it’s equally important to remind yourself that this is okay and to try not to let it bother you.”
Dan: “My wife and I found that follow-along YouTube videos like HIIT or circuit sessions were a great way to exercise together. We both felt guilty or selfish leaving the other to exercise. So exercising together with the baby was the best solution!”
How can new dads support their partners?
Having a new baby can be a challenging time for partners. Being tired or stressed and getting used to new routines and responsibilities can lead to more arguments than normal. Try to take a step back and give each other a break. Remember this phase won’t last forever. Looking out for each other’s mental wellbeing will benefit you both. Work with your partner so that you both have opportunities to see friends, do some exercise or catch up on sleep.
Aamir: “Looking after a little one as well as yourself is not easy and can be challenging at the best of times. Make sure you’re planning to take time out for yourself and continue to do what motivates you. If you’re finding yourself in a particularly stressful moment with your new-born, try to take a deep breath and remind yourself that these stressful moments will pass.”
While everyone’s different, research shows that couples tend to be happier when they share tasks. These include childcare, housework and earning responsibilities. Think about what you can offer, as well as meeting your own needs. If you work full-time, can you help more with bedtimes, early mornings, or household chores? If your partner is the main earner, how can you support them with getting a balance between their work and family life?
Try and make positive changes – such as eating healthier, being more active or cutting down on alcohol. These changes are also easier if you do it together. Supporting each other will help you stay in the best possible mental health to enjoy your new role as a dad.