First-time parenthood is hard for anyone, just ask Prince William.
During a visit to the Hornsey Road Children's Centre on Tuesday, the Duchess of Cambridge heard single father Billy say how he is struggling with parenting his seven-month-old daughter Violet so she told him that Prince William initially had difficulty with parenthood too.
When a baby is born, the majority of the attention is put on the new mother and her baby – and rightly so. But this baby has also caused a significant change in the father’s life.
Becoming a first-time parent, whether it be mother or father, is a major shift in someone’s life. But for men and their little paternity leave, this adjustment can be overwhelming.
We spoke to three experts about what men can do to make the transition into fatherhood that much easier – here’s what they had to say.
Zen Terrelonge, editor and founder of DADult Life
What to do before the baby comes
“Do some homework. You wouldn’t go into an exam blindfolded, would you? There’s an endless supply of information out there, whether it’s books, websites, apps or blogs that are your thing. The Expectant Dad’s Handbook was really useful for me as I looked to get myself up to speed.
“Also remember, you’ll have the best part of nine months to brush up on what the birth and life afterwards will be like, so don’t pressure yourself and feel as though you need to memorise everything immediately. I found also writing about the journey as everything happened was therapeutic.”
What to talk to your partner about before the baby comes
“Key things to talk about with your partner would be how you both expect the birth to go, what your partner will need from you and how you can help, whether there are any ideas or worries you have in mind, all of which will support development of your birthing plan.
“Oh, and I’d recommend putting together a birthing playlist – that can be a laugh you’ll have together, and you can slip some curveballs in when she’s not looking.”
What to expect during the first few weeks after the birth
“Depending on your profession and circumstances, I’d say enjoy as much of the early days as a family as you can. Before you know it, paternity leave will be over. Go for walks, go for a drive – there’s always time for visitors later.
“For me personally, I found the best thing was to throw myself in to be as involved from the start. And by the start, I mean during the pregnancy.
The first time I held my daughter was terrifying and I was scared to move for fear I’d hurt or wake her, but as those minutes as a dad turn into hours and days, it’s surprising how much your confidence picks up, and that’s something that continues to grow over time.”
Dr Tamara Bugumbe, founder of helperbees.co.uk
“It’s inevitable that becoming a parent will change both you and your partner. It's scary to see your other half change, but be open to talking and joking about it.
“Talk about expectations and delegation. We all have mental fantasies about what family life will look like. The mismatch between this and reality can create a lot of negative feelings. Discuss your expectations at length, then throw them out the window, because ultimately the baby will decide what your reality looks like. Work out what tasks each of you love and hate and divide them fairly. Agree that as exhaustion and hormones take over these plans may change.
“A man can expect a lack of routine, because you have to adjust, but don't be put off by this. You will find your rhythm, and patterns, and before you know it, normality kicks in. The main thing is to enjoy fatherhood and all that it brings.”
Clio Wood, founder of &Breathe
Men suffer from deprived sleep just as much as women
“Sleep is as much a dad’s issue as it is a mother’s after baby arrives. Dads often find it tough going back to work after just two weeks paternity leave, if that’s what has been agreed over the option of shared leave.
“When the non-stop cycle of colic begins, and the thought of uninterrupted sleep becomes a luxury, this can manifest as heightened irritability in men as much as women. All of this comes at a time when mums, who may still be recovering physically from the demands of labour, are most in need of their partners’ unwavering support, while dads need that extra help to bond with baby. Baby wearing and bottle feeding are both excellent options for dads to increase their connection with their baby at this time.”
It’s common to withdraw from your partner – here’s how to avoid that
“While the threat of losing your job may suddenly loom larger, due to your new levels of inefficiency brought on from a lack of sleep, new levels of stress and anxiety that weren’t experienced pre-baby, can start to manifest. This may leave dads withdrawing from their partners, overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, and frustration at the short recovery time that is paternity leave if sharing it wasn't an option.
“It really is important to find a system that allows equal rest time for both of you - taking turns at weekends to have a lie-in, for example. Or enlisting willing family or friends to take over for a few hours so you can both take some time to concentrate on the vital act of self-care like a long soak in the tub, a walk alone to reflect, an hour of gentle exercise, or a trip together to the cinema.
“Shared paternity leave is a move in the right direction but not everyone is set up to take advantage of this change in the law and splitting it between mum and dad isn’t always as idyllic as it sounds. More time off together as a family in the early days would allow dads to really get into the swing of parenthood, working out how best they can soothe and comfort their baby, as well as mum can. Postnatal classes for dads and day retreats are popular options with the families on our retreats because they allow mum, dad and baby to spend quality time as a unit, and offer solid, practical and emotional support that actually allows them to thrive, rather than just survive, in their new roles as a parents.”
While becoming a dad for the first time is tough, as long as you are open with your partner about how the process if affecting you so you can both support one another through the transition, you'll get through it.