Becoming parents is a tough business, but for a mother, both the physical and emotional changes during and after childbirth can be overwhelming.
On the upside, it offers dads a great opportunity to step up and step in to the role as father – not only for your child, but for the support of your wife. She will need to depend on you for help and encouragement while she finds her feet with the new arrival. Here’s eight expert ways you can ensure everyone gets to enjoy this happy journey together.
Most expectant mums take it upon themselves to read up and get clued up about the journey they’re about to go on. But as a father, it’s also your role to know exactly what’s about to happen to your wife’s body as it grows and hormonal changes take place - especially during a pandemic, when anxiety levels are likely to be higher than ever. You’ll be a prominent figure during your wife’s labour, so understanding her birth plan and the medical process will help you support your wife through the birthing process.
Dru Campbell, head midwife and lactation consultant at Health Bay Clinic in Dubai, recommends all dads-to-be to book into an antenatal class with their wife. “This is not only an excellent opportunity to meet other dads, but you’ll also learn about what labour and birth entails, including postnatal care and information,” she says. Although most in-person antenatal classes are on pause, there are plenty to choose from online.
Dru also stresses you may need to be a spokesperson for your wife during labour as she will be busy focusing on contractions. “If you are becoming concerned or anxious during labour, ask lots of questions. The obstetricians and midwives will be very happy to answer any of your concerns, and if you know more about what is happening and you are both involved, it can make the birth experience a positive one.”
From a practical side, Andrea Allen, co-founder of Out of the Blues and a Doula and breastfeeding counsellor, recommends getting to grips with your pushchair and car seat well in advance of your new arrival. “These things always look so easy when you are in the shop, but the reality is you’ll end up with your baby dangling under one arm while you wrestle with the pushchair and it’s a nightmare!” she says. Andrea’s mantra is practise, practise, practise – you won’t regret it.
Talk about what you expect
There are no right ways to parent and with more parenting guides available than ever before, knowing how you want to approach it can be tricky.
Dr Rose Logan, clinical psychologist at The Lighthouse Arabia, advises couples to talk about their worries and concerns throughout the pregnancy and to share their ideas of being a parent. “It’s amazing how often couples have different ideas of parenting, which they haven’t discussed until their baby arrives. There is no one way to raise a baby but it’s helpful if you agree on some of the main points,” she says.
Lily Kandalaft, CEO and founder of Malaak Mama & Baby Care, also encourages soon-to-be-fathers to be involved in all the important decisions related to your child. “The more present you are during the decision-making process, the less lonely and anxious your wife will feel making decisions for your baby,” she says.
Take charge at home
No one can prepare you for the upheaval a small baby brings to your home. In the throes of feeding, changing and trying to get some sleep, the household chores inevitably get abandoned. Piles of dishes and unwashed clothes will only add to your wife’s anxiety. Campbell advises stocking the fridge with food and tidying the house before your wife and newborn come home.
Kandalaft also agrees and suggests deciding which tasks are important and who will manage them. “Conflict arises amongst couples when your roles are unclear,” she says. Even though you may be returning to work shortly after the birth this is the time you need to be doing the dishes and helping with the laundry.
Campbell and Kandalaft both agree an important role for new fathers is that of a “door keeper”. It’s expected that a new baby brings excited family and friends knocking on your door, but you should take charge to limit the number of visits and the length of stays - that if you are going to allow any at all, since social distancing is still required during the pandemic. If parents or in-laws are not able to visit or stay with you then keep in regular touch over video chat, but avoid unnecessary conflicts by ensuring they don’t get involved in your decisions relating to your baby. “You are the parents and should trust your instincts when it comes to making decisions for your little one,” says Kandalaft.
Don’t leave it all to mum
One of the biggest misconceptions about becoming parents is that your wife will automatically know what to do. She doesn’t. She’s learning on the job, just like you. All of our experts advise getting involved with your new baby as much as you can. “As a dad you may worry that you won’t know what to do and be hesitant to step in,” says Dr Rose. “Be assured that your wife feels the same way, even if she looks like a pro!” Kandalaft agrees, saying that you should be prepared to be a 50/50 parent. “Spend as much time with your baby as possible. If your work schedule isn’t as flexible, be hands on over the weekend. If you have older children, help to look after them so your wife can focus on your newborn. Roll up your sleeves and be prepared to learn everything that your wife does,” she says.
With huge hormonal shifts, becoming a mother can be a very distressing time for your wife so it’s important you are really listening to her emotional needs. According to the NHS, one in 10 women suffer from postnatal depression after having a baby, but experiencing the stress and restrictions of the pandemic while living an expatriate lifestyle away from your family and friends could mean that your wife is even more vulnerable. Campbell explains that baby blues (a hormonal period lasting up to two weeks after birth causing women to be tearful and show mild symptoms of depression) can be very common, however postnatal illness (PNI) is a more serious condition. “PNI can occur for some women as early as just after giving birth, but it is more common after three weeks post-birth and beyond. PNI can present as depression (crying, not feeling oneself, not interested in normal activities) or anxiety (overly anxious about the baby, panic attacks),” she says. Campbell stresses that it is extremely important to seek professional help as soon as possible. And with more cases of men reportedly suffering from PNI symptoms, it’s vital to keep a check on your own emotional wellbeing and seek help.
Kandalaft also champions seeking support from a wider network to help make this transition into motherhood easier for your wife. “There are lots of support options post-birth for families in the UAE including lactation consultants, maternity nurses, babysitters and midwives who can all provide nurturing support,” she says, and most of these services are being offered virtually too during the pandemic. “A new mother may feel anxious, depressed, helpless, desperate, angry and experiencing a feeling of lack of control as she deals with this new challenge in her life.”
Listening with open ears and communicating is critical for parents coping with a newborn, as Allen quite rightly says. “Being a new parent carries a huge amount of responsibility. All of a sudden you are responsible for the wellbeing and nurturing of a new life, and it’s really important to take the time to listen to each other’s worries, stresses and strains. You need to be open and honest with one another – you are a team and will be a lot stronger working together than on your own.”
Read more: Do mums value the role of dads enough?
Make her sleep!
When it comes to newborns, there’s no sugarcoating the overwhelming tiredness you will feel as parents. Unfortunately it’s mums who take the brunt of sleep deprivation as a hungry baby can strike at any time, quite often every few hours during those early months. Even though you will both likely be suffering, encourage your wife to rest whenever the chance arises. “Being up through the night feeding and soothing a new baby can be lonely and exhausting. During the day there are jobs to be done and a baby to look after, so even though you may be working, it’s essential to send your wife back to bed when you can,” says Dr Rose.
Kandalaft’s advice to new dads is to take on one of the night feeds so that your wife can get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. This could be the last one of the evening so your wife can head to bed early, or the first one of the morning so that your baby is fed, changed and dressed by the time your wife gets up.
Remember, there were two
Becoming a new parent is amazing but comes with constant changes and challenges. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by your new role of parents, but it’s vital to remember that your relationship with your wife is key to the success of your family. “Having a baby creates such a huge shift in the dynamic of a relationship and it can seem hard to remember what it was like being a twosome,” says Dr Rose. “Your wife may be different and she is – she’s a mum now, but she will still want to know you love her.” A simple hug and a proper chat, without the distractions of TVs and phones, are easy ways to stay connected. Date-nights might seem long gone but Kandalaft says even if you don’t have time (or the energy) to get dressed up and go out for dinner, you should still make the effort to fit in quality time with each other. A quick breakfast together, a walk along the beach, or even curling up in front of Netflix for an hour while your baby sleeps are all positive ways to bond with your wife.
Embrace your new life
Things in your house have definitely changed – you’ve got a baby now! And Kandalaft has stark words for dads who don’t embrace their new life as a parent. “Please don’t behave like nothing has changed. Don’t head out to watch your weekly football game, or stay out late drinking with your friends. Your wife needs you right now and her life has drastically changed,” she says. “She will value your support and your presence, especially in those first few weeks. You need to be part of “creating” your new life – don’t fight it. Eventually, through consistent communication, you will agree on what’s important for each of you and will incorporate that into your new lives as parents.”
Mum’s the word…
Advice from real UAE mums on how to help
“Encouraging your wife to do something she enjoys outside of the house is really helpful. I struggled with a loss of myself but I felt so much better when I started tennis and Zumba again.” — Gemma Rowland, mum of one
“’What can I do to help?’ is the best thing your wife can hear. And don’t be scared to make decisions – your wife is in the dark just as much as you.” — Abigail Thirion, mum of two
“My husband has always done bath time, which is brilliant as it gives me a bit of time to rest. It’s also great to hear your partner tell you you’re doing a great job or that you are a great mum, as you really feel like you don’t have a clue what you’re doing.” — Sophie Foote, mum of two
“A really lovely thing my husband did was to thank me for persevering with breastfeeding and told me how humbled he was by the whole labour experience.” — Siobhan Scott, mum of one
“The best thing my husband did was encourage me to leave the house. It felt like my daughter was feeding all day and if it had been up to me I would have stayed on the sofa in my pyjama’s. Everyday he got everything together and made us enjoy a family walk in the park – it definitely started making me feel more human after the birth.” — Kate Hopkins, mum of one
• Health Bay Clinic, www.healthbayclinic.com, 8004272
• Malaak Mama & Baby Care, www.malaak.me, 04-4538164
• Out of the Blues, www.outoftheblues.support, Andrea: 050 911 0453, Louise 050 348 0108
• The Lighthouse Arabia, www.lighthousearabia.com, 04-3809298