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First time dads ‘need more help’

Breaking down barriers for first time dads to feel more at ease in their life-changing role will help them reach full potential, a new Flinders University study says.

First time dads can feel alone, disempowered and even belittled by the system. This includes in their engagement with health-care professionals, the report warns.

“Fathers need tailored support to be better equipped to provide the best support to their partners and new baby,” says Flinders University mental health researcher Dr Anthony Venning.

“Effectively targeting men with well-designed interventions has the ability to improve not only paternal outcomes, but those for the child and mother.

“With a small change of focus and more inclusive approaches, this can the best experience of their lives.

Co-parenting techniques for first time dads

Co-parenting techniques, covering father involvement in feeding, settling baby and attending appointments, can develop more seamlessly if first time dads are made to feel comfortable and involved in parenting programs.

Other support systems are needed in the lead up to and after the arrival of a baby, including:

  • Services accessible outside of business hours or via phone or online methods have the potential to reach more fathers. This will overcome barriers to engagement such as stigma, masculinity, fatigue and time restraints.
  • Perinatal services and parenting resources need to promote themselves and be inclusive of fathers of new children, particularly given the tendency of fathers to ‘wing it’ and only seek information in a reactive manner.
  • Social support networks by baby-friendly communities to facilitate fathers’ role, particularly for stay-at-home-dads.
  • Mix face-to-face support from family doctors, midwives and community nurses with more informal, interactive resources using positive father role models.
  • Make fathers feel more informed and knowledgeable about practical matters. For example infant crying, postpartum depression, partner wellbeing, and breastfeeding. With this they will not feel like a secondary ‘shadow in the room’. Instead, they are active and well-connected players in their parenting role.

The report, prepared in collaboration with the SA Mental Health Commission, aims to build an evidence base to develop strategies to support new fathers and their families. It concludes that the perinatal period is a ‘teachable moment’ that can be fully harnessed to support the mental health and wellbeing needs of new fathers.

“Our study aims to inspire more work and investigation into engaging fathers to be ‘supportive and involved’ in their family unit,” Dr Venning says.

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