Antenatal Classes for Dads

16 September 2015

You might think your local pub is just a watering hole, but in one pub in Brisbane you’ll find something a little out of the ordinary…

The brainchild of Dale Ballentine – midwife and father of three boys, Lucas (4) and identical twins Harrison and Cameron (2) – is an antenatal class for dads-to-be held in an environment sure to relax them.

Dale joins us to share his surely unique approach to antenatal classes for expectant dads and how important he feels the role of the father is in pregnancy, birth and parenthood.

What is is an antenatal class designed exclusively for men. It is a one-off class held at the pub, so dads-to-be can relax in a familiar environment and feel that they can speak openly about their feelings. The classes are hosted by male facilitators who have experience and knowledge of the current Australian maternity healthcare system and have a special interest in men’s health. We are all fathers so we hope that we bring some authenticity to the class.

What inspired you to start

There were two main reasons that motivated me to set up The first was the interactions that I was having daily with new and expectant fathers in the hospital. While they were all very excited about becoming new dads, many of them didn’t feel prepared for the birthing experience or their new roles as parents, and didn’t fully appreciate the impact a new member of the family was going to have on their lives.

Secondly, despite being a midwife and having had experience in both delivering babies and educating new parents on how to look after their newborns, I also didn’t feel that I was prepared for the birth of my first son. Taking your own baby home from hospital and being responsible for them is very different to spending an hour here and there with new parents in a hospital ward.

This made me think that if I don’t feel prepared and I have all this experience, how does the average guy feel?

What are your beliefs regarding men, pregnancy and birth that drive your work?

I strongly believe that men play a vital role in all aspects of the pregnancy, birth and parenting journey. We know from some big international studies that when men are fully engaged and supportive during their partner’s pregnancy and birth, women have a more positive birthing experience, less pain medicine is required and medical intervention rates are lower. We also know that the role of an engaged father contributes to the overall social and emotional development of our children.

Fathers play such a key role in the health and wellbeing of the family that it is important that they take time to look after themselves as well as provide support and communicate effectively with their partners to ensure their needs are also met.

What do expectant fathers learn at your class?

The class is divided into three sessions. The first discusses the basics of labour and childbirth with a focus on the men’s role of supporting their partners. The guys then have a hands-on practical session with dolls that is designed to give them confidence in handling a newborn baby and allows them an opportunity to change nappies and do some safe wrapping. The last session is a bit more deep and meaningful, with the emphasis on how the men are feeling about becoming a dad. This part of the night allows the men to openly discuss their hopes and fears, and challenges their understanding of modern day fathering and masculinity. For many of the men, this is the first time they have spoken openly about these emotions and gives them confidence in knowing that they are not alone.

As a group we discuss our own father-son relationships and how they have shaped us growing up and explore the memories and legacy we each hope to leave for our children.

Many of the men are surprised to learn than 1 in 10 Australian men will suffer from postnatal depression in the first year of their child’s lives, thinking that only women are affected.

How often do the classes take place and how long are they?

The classes are offered once a month on a Thursday evening at the Norman Hotel in Woolloongabba. The class starts at 6pm and goes through to 9.30pm. On most nights the men are still chatting and exchanging personal details well after the session has finished.

How do men react when they learn there is an antenatal class just for them?

To be completely honest, I think most of the men attend the class because their partners send them. Once at the class, however, they relax very quickly and the written feedback at the end of the night is always very positive. A number of men have also been referred by their mates so word is getting out there. It is reassuring to know that past participants are talking positively about the classes and how it relates to their experiences, and see the value in attending.

Do you have any plans to expand in the future?

There has been some interest recently from a number of midwifery and obstetric practices on the Gold Coast and in the Ipswich area, which I am keen to explore further. I also get emails from as far away as Sydney and Melbourne asking if classes are available in these cities, so there is definitely a real possibility of expanding. I am also keen to partner with like-minded female midwives to offer something new and contemporary in terms of couples classes, with an emphasis not just on the birth but on the challenges we face as new parents.

I also attended an international fatherhood conference in San Francisco earlier this year and have been networking globally on something that I can’t share yet, but watch this space!

You also work as a midwife at the largest maternity hospital in Australia. How do you balance family life and work demands?

Until recently I was working typical hospital hours – 12 hour day shifts, 12 hour night shifts and every second weekend – but I realised I was always tired and not spending quality time with my children. Late last year my wife went back to work as an international flight attendant, so I made a decision to change my job and work Monday to Friday.

I don’t think there is one ‘perfect’ work-family balance formula that works for everyone, but for me it is important to have breakfast with my children every morning before I go to work and be home for dinner and weekend activities while they are young. Working office hours has meant taking a drop in my income, but it is well worth the sacrifice to be spending quality time with my children every day.

What has been your most rewarding experience at work?

Every experience at work is rewarding as I get to meet new and interesting people every day. I especially enjoy sharing my fatherhood experiences with other men, and giving them some confidence to get involved with their children right from the time they are born.

What memory of your past work stays with you the most strongly?

I will always remember the first birth that I witnessed as a student midwife. To be present at such a life-changing and intimate moment in a couple’s life was truly special. 

What parenting advice has had the biggest impact on you?

I know it is a bit of a cliché, but to make sure I enjoy the time with my children while they are young as they will grow up fast. I want my children to know that I am always available to them.

What life message do you most hope your children will learn from you?

There are so many to choose from but if I was to pick just one I would have to say that I hope my children learn that it is okay to fail, and that they should not be afraid to try things for fear of failure. I want them to dream big, stand tall as men and don’t let others define them.

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Written by

Natasha Higgins

Natasha’s editing and copywriting experience spans a range of industries from luxury travel to finance. Tash is mum to two gorgeous girls and two Burmese fur babies. She loves life in the Sunshine Coast hinterland and you’ll often see Tash out for a walk, at the farmers market or trying to find time for a yoga class or two. Her favourite food is chocolate ... though if you ask, she’ll tell you it’s something much more healthy.

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