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Becoming a dad: a big adjustment

There’s a lot to think about when you’re a new dad. As you adjust to fatherhood, you need to look after your baby, yourself and your relationship. Getting hands-on experience is the best way of building your skills and your confidence. The key is to get in and give it a go.

The changes taking place in your life as a new dad are many and varied. This article touches on a few key things to think about while you settle into your new role. 

Getting involved with your newborn

You might feel overwhelmed at first, but even brand-new dads come fully equipped for fatherhood. Fathers are just as good as mothers at recognising and responding to the needs of their newborns. They’re also just as able to care for older children.

In fact, when you care for your child, you are doing so in ways only a dad can. For instance, you probably parent in a different way from your partner. Adapting to these different parenting styles helps your baby learn social skills.

Here are some tips on getting involved with your baby.

Try your hand at everything
Dressing, settling, playing, bathing and nappy changing – these are all great ways to bond with your baby. Parenting skills are partly a matter of practice – you get better and more confident the more hands-on experience you get.

Keep at it
Resist the urge to hand your baby back to mum when things get demanding. One-on-one time will build your confidence and skills.

Go solo sometimes
Spend time one-on-one with your baby. This is really important to developing a strong and lasting bond. It’s also good for your partner, who’ll get a much-needed break.

Show your affection
When you show your baby affection and respond to baby’s cues, a natural chemical called a neuropeptide is released in your baby’s brain. This chemical plays a key role in emotions. As well as making baby feel good, it builds connections between nerve cells, stimulating brain development.

You can also imitate your baby’s facial expressions – frowns, tongue-poking, sounds and smiles. All this helps the connection and communication between you and your baby.

Have a chat
While you’re caring for your baby, try talking to baby about what you’re doing. For example, ‘Let’s get dressed now – on goes your top’. Using a warm, sing-song voice (called ‘parentese’) helps your newborn feel content and protected.

Talk is like brain food for babies. It helps them build language and communication skills – from the earliest age. Babies don’t have to understand words to benefit from talking.

Make time for play
Your baby might be young, but you can play plenty of games together:

  • Placing babies flat on their stomach to play (tummy time) helps muscle and brain development. If your baby doesn’t like it, just try it for a short time.
  • Different sounds, sights and sensations will help your baby build skills in different areas. Try toys with interesting textures or varying sounds.
  • Words, rhymes and stories build language and memory skills. Start with some old favourites like ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ and ‘Old Macdonald’.  Check out our Baby Karaoke if you need some help remembering the words.
  • A game of peek-a-boo builds your baby’s skill at communicating and expressing emotions.
Video

Dads’ special moments

1:51

In this short video, men share stories of dads’ special moments with children. They talk about how they use bathtime, playtime and stories for bonding with their kids. Special moments between fathers and children can happen everyday. These moments can make the challenges associated with parenting worthwhile.

High levels of father involvement have been linked to better social and academic skills in their children. And it’s never too late to get involved!

Looking after your relationship

Most couples notice relationship changes after their baby arrives. At first, it’s very exciting, and couples often feel closer. But after about a month, couples often start feeling more tired, stressed and overwhelmed by child care demands and household chores.

Sometimes, they discover they have different ideas about family life or parenting.

Talking with your partner is the best way to deal with these changes and look after your relationship. For more information on looking after yourself and your relationship, read our articles on:

More than 15% of women and 10% of men develop postnatal depression (PND). Read more about PND and women and PND and men. If you think you or your partner is experiencing PND, see a health professional as soon as possible.

Understanding your changing sexual relationship

Baby’s arrival can change your sexual relationship with your partner. Both you and your partner might want to feel close again. But having sex can sometimes be difficult because of tiredness, physical changes after childbirth, changes in the way your partner feels sexually, or postnatal depression (PND).

Most couples do get their sexual relationship back on track. Here are a few things that might help this along:

  • Be patient. You’re both going through major changes. It’s important to reassure your partner and try to understand your partner’s feelings. Often, couples are advised to wait until the six-week postnatal checkup before resuming sexual activity. Everyone is different, though, and some mothers might need to wait longer.
  • Find other ways to be intimate . Try showing your love with extra kisses or cuddles, holding hands, giving massages or taking a bath together. Try whatever you both enjoy that makes you feel close and connected.
  • Roll up your sleeves . When you get involved in taking care of the baby or doing household chores, it gives your partner more time to recover.

These can be difficult issues to talk about. If you’re finding it difficult, you might want to see a counsellor together.

Video

Intimacy after baby

2:47

In this short video, mothers share stories of intimacy after having a baby.

Intimacy following childbirth can be hard to achieve. This video covers physical and emotional difficulties, effects of sleep deprivation, and ways to cope with the changes in your relationship with your partner in the months after your child is born.

Parenting as a team

Parenting as a team means working towards shared parenting values, making decisions together, solving problems constructively, and resolving conflicts calmly.

Parental teamwork has several benefits:

  • When you and your partner handle the challenges and rewards of parenting together, you are stronger and better equipped to make any tough decisions.
  • Children learn how to behave from watching the way you interact with each other. When you meet challenges, solve problems and handle conflicts in positive and cooperative ways, you’re modelling good behaviour.
  • Children’s sense of safety and wellbeing is closely linked to how their parents behave towards each other. When your baby sees or senses you talking and working well together, baby feels safe and secure.

In the early days, the key is to stay positive and support each other as you learn how to parent together. Here are some more important tips:

  • Listen to your partner’s interests and concerns. Mothers often say they really value the chance to share what is happening – good and bad – with someone who really cares.
  • Be ready to step in when you’re needed, so your partner can take a break.
  • Back each other up in front of the children, and discuss disagreements when the children aren’t around.
  • Keep unwanted advice to yourself – sometimes your partner will just want to offload stress by talking to a caring listener.
  • Make a regular time to share ideas for dealing with problems – ideally a time when you’re both rested and unstressed.

Working out new roles

It’s important for couples to discuss their roles both inside and outside the home. For example, if a father wants to be closely involved with his children, he might be unhappy working a 50-hour week. Similarly, it’s not healthy for a mother to be at home full-time if her work is important to her and she’s unhappy without it.

Here are some starting points for your conversation:

  • What needs to be done? Make a list of your family’s requirements, whether it’s caring for the baby, doing shopping and laundry, cooking, washing dishes, or earning a salary. This will give you a starting point for planning who can do what.
  • How much does each of you want or need to work? Try to look at both the objective (who earns more?) and the subjective (does one of you feel particularly strongly about staying home with the baby?).
  • How much money do you need? Drawing up a family budget might help you decide whether one or both of you can afford to cut down your work hours to spend more time at home, if that’s what you want to do.
  • Whose job is more flexible? You might find that one employer is more family-friendly than the other. This can make a big difference when you head back to work.
  • What will make you happy? Research has shown that it doesn’t matter who takes which roles in the family, as long as both of you feel happy and fulfilled.
Video

Dads’ changing roles

4:08

This short video is about the changing role of fathers in raising children. Dads talk about being stay-at-home dads and getting more involved in caring for their children. They also share their experiences of being more involved in parenting than their own fathers were.

Read more about work-family balance for dads, and ideas on family management.

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Last updated or reviewed
01-06-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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