Help and advice for new dads with DadPad
Working on the basis that all it takes is a little guidance to help get them started, the DadPad was developed with the NHS to give new dads and dads-to-be the knowledge and practical skills needed to support themselves and their partner. Drawing on the expertise of a range of experienced health professionals working within the perinatal, paediatric, and parenting fields, the DadPad was written for and with input from dads.
Here to support
A neonatal version is also available; this resource was written with the help of consultant neonatologist Prof Minesh Khashu to be used within neonatal units. The goal is to assist the staff in engaging with and supporting new dads and their families, helping to ‘steady’ each new father and familiarise him with the situation and surroundings. Like the DadPad, it also includes crucial content on emotions and mental health. DadPad strives to provide sources of information and support for dads throughout the perinatal period (which is the period from pregnancy through to the baby’s first birthday), including being part of the newly-formed Paternal Mental Health Alliance. We spoke to DadPad about the possible mental health issues new dads can face, how you can spot them, and what help is available.
Why was DadPad developed?
Julian Bose – CEO and founder of DadPad – had previously worked as a Probation Support Officer in Cornwall, where he concluded that the best way to reduce offending and reoffending amongst men was to get to them before they began to struggle with mental illness, addiction, and crime. He also realised that the best time to intervene was when they became dads; when fatherhood goes well, men on a troubled path tend to change tack. DadPad is not just for those men, though; it is for any man who wants a better chance of a more fulfilling life.
Plenty of dads struggle to bond with their babies, yet bonding is key to a family’s long-term emotional security and success. Lots of men also feel confused and overwhelmed around the birth of their child. The danger then is that they withdraw, isolating themselves, which sometimes leads to relationship breakdown, estrangement, mental health issues and the associated problems with employment, addiction, and debt.
DadPad is all about inclusivity!
Research tells us that dads-to-be and dads often feel disregarded by maternity services or, at least, are not as involved as they should be. One research paper from 2018 even went as far as to suggest that “the father’s position is little different from that of visitor”. This attitude has the effect of putting enormous pressure on both parents. Parenting is hard, whatever your gender or situation; there are new skills to learn, new experiences to deal with, new relationships to negotiate, and new pressures to survive. Furthermore, expecting mothers to be the conduit of all pertinent information for and from dads as they prepare for fatherhood is unacceptable. Dads need to be actively engaged as 50% of the parenting team throughout the perinatal period and should expect to receive information tailor-made and appropriate for them. However, unfortunately, one of the biggest hurdles faced by new dads in being properly involved is a lack of information and support, which has been unavailable historically.
Jeszemma Garratt, Head of Training at the Fatherhood Institute, explained to us:
Unless you explicitly address fathers, they are overlooked and implicitly excluded: most people… see the word ‘parents’ and read it (consciously or subconsciously) as meaning ‘mothers’. [Changing this] is important because it helps create a situation where dads, as well as mums, feel comfortable and valued – in the context of a culture which still privileges women as more naturally suited to caring, and more important as parents (and, by extension, less important in other contexts – e.g. the workplace).
DadPad, therefore, needed to be written for male dads with a female partner to ensure that this significant demographic has access to the information, acknowledgement, and support they need and deserve. That does not mean that we don’t recognise the many other parent demographics out there, but one size does not fit all. Like DadPad, a resource for other non-birthing parents would need to be written from scratch, with a focused, evidence-based and expert approach to be similarly successful, authentic and valid. And that’s what we’ve done - our new PartnerPad (a resource for LGBTQ+ non-gestational parents) is in the final stages of development and will available soon.
Why our mental health matters
One of the focuses within DadPad is mental health – the good mental health of mum, dad and baby. There are so many reasons why it’s essential to maintain good mental health, and when you become a parent, those reasons increase. A parent experiencing low mood, for example, is less likely to want to read with, play with and interact with their baby. The close emotional relationship that babies, infants, and children have with their carers will influence them, and potentially their own mental health, for the rest of their lives. Staying positive and emotionally well will impact your child’s future for the better and give them the best start.
The perinatal period
For many reasons, maintaining our emotional wellbeing can be especially hard when becoming a new parent. Firstly, there are the altered hormones that both parents will experience. Yes, that’s right; it’s now known that just like mums, dads also experience hormonal changes around the time of their child's birth, including a drop in their testosterone. It might sound surprising, but there’s a perfectly logical reason for it. Dr Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist, explains that this drop in testosterone helps dads become more sensitive fathers, enabling them to meet their child's needs. [If this interests you and you would like to know more, check out some of the many videos featuring Anna on YouTube].
On top of these hormonal shifts, both parents will also experience situational changes. These changes will vary between families, but having a new baby can bring about or highlight existing issues related to the following: income, housing, your relationship with your partner, having close family nearby/alive (or not), education, previous mental health, ability to cope, and so on. When also considering the lack of sleep, the added responsibilities, and the pressure of managing relationships with the wider family, it's easy to see why many find their mental health and wellbeing impacted when they become a parent.
What this all means is that, no matter what you might have heard, been told, or believe, postnatal depression doesn't just affect mums. Men can and do suffer from PND. Statistics suggest that around 10% of all new dads experience postnatal depression - similar to the figure for new mothers. Importantly, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it doesn’t mean that you are, or are going to be, a bad father.
What are the symptoms?
It's worth being aware of the symptoms you might need to look out for, perhaps in yourself, your partner, or a friend. For men, symptoms of postnatal depression may be felt or recognised differently than in women, which can make it harder to spot. We spoke to perinatal mental health expert Dr Jane Hanley, from Perinatal Mental Health Training CIC, who advised that you should keep an eye out for the following symptoms of PND in men:
- Physical changes – disturbed and disrupted sleep patterns; eating less healthily or consuming more junk food; consuming more alcohol and self-medicating; paying less attention to personal hygiene; complaining of vague aches, pains, and headaches; loss of libido.
- Emotional changes – questioning his ability to be a good father; feeling worthless; behaving aggressively; irritability; lacking in patience; finding it hard to concentrate on small tasks.
- Behavioural changes – avoiding home life, friends and/or family; avoiding sexual contact; working longer hours; spending more time in the gym etc.
- Father-child relationship changes – being less attentive, less patient and/or less playful; avoiding nappy changes, bathtime, etc.
- Attitude changes – having an increasingly bleak mood; talking of being worthless; indicating that his family would be better off without him; taking more risks than usual; becoming more pensive; talking of suicidal thoughts and ideas.
One of the best things that you and your partner can do in the run-up to the baby’s arrival is to read up on potential mental health difficulties that you might encounter and talk together about how you might deal with them if they arise. Even if you and your partner have no history of mental health problems, it is crucial to understand that it's something that you might need to deal with; preparation and communication are key.
It will be hugely helpful for you, as a dad-to-be, to learn as much as you can in advance to help you gain confidence and reduce the risk of feeling overwhelmed or anxious in your new role. In turn, this may help reduce the risk of your mental health suffering. Getting hold of the DadPad, or downloading the DadPad app, is a great place to start because both resources are packed full of good advice. Not only do they include essential skills for new parents, but they also hold loads of information on mental health for both parents, and the app will also have links to sources of local and national support and crisis response.
So, if you do find yourself struggling, what should you do? First and foremost, you need to talk to someone. The obvious people to go to first are your partner, family, and friends, but this might not always feel possible for many reasons. Another option is to speak to a health professional, such as your family GP, your health visitor, or your midwife. Remember that all these people and services are there to support the whole family, not simply mum and baby, so don’t think that they won’t be able to help.
If these options don't feel attainable at the moment, you could attend a local peer support group or, if there aren't any nearby, there are many online support groups. It may sound too simple but, as Kieran from DadMatters told us, sometimes the mere act of unburdening yourself to someone might just enable you to then “take the steps that you need to fix [your situation]. Acknowledging how you’re feeling before you get to the point of needing professional support means that you’ll be less likely to need professional support.”
Importantly, whichever path you choose to take, remember that your baby needs you. Don’t be ashamed if you’re struggling – reach out and seek help, because YOU matter!
Links for further information and support
PANDAS Foundation UK (PND Awareness and Support)
- FREE helpline: 0808 1961 776. Available on all landlines from Monday – Sunday 11.00 am-10.00 pm.
- Email Support: firstname.lastname@example.org, available 365 days a year, and they will respond within 72 hours.
- PANDAS also have two Facebook groups that you can follow: PANDAS Foundation page, providing updates on current perinatal mental health news and reports, and PANDAS Dads private group, where volunteers are on hand seven days a week to offer support and information for dads and carers affected by perinatal mental illness.
- FREE helpline: 116 123. Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Samaritans’ volunteers will listen to you, with no judgement or pressure, to help you work through what is on your mind.
- You can also email them at email@example.com (with a 24-hour response time) or write them a letter.
Dad Matters provides peer support for dads via resources, online and (in the Greater Manchester area) face-to-face support. Visit their webpage and Facebook page for more information.
Mind‘s website also includes a list of mental health crisis helplines and listening services, as well as a partners’ perinatal mental health page.
NCT have a PND in Dads webpage.
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