It’s something that is not talked about enough but it’s a fact that, as a new dad, you can feel left out and isolated after a the birth of your baby. In the first few weeks and months your partner will naturally spend a lot of time with your baby. She may take on the lion’s share of feeding and soothing your baby to sleep, especially if she is breastfeeding. It can leave you feeling unsure of your role and more like a bystander. If you return to work after a short paternity leave you may feel even more excluded. It can seem like your role is as a breadwinner first and a parent second. Having a new baby is supposed to be a joyous and wonderful time, making it so much harder to speak up when you struggle with any negative feelings.
Jealous of the close bond between mother and baby
In 2017 a viral post on social media by a new dad, Terence Mentor , caused a stir when he admitted feeling jealous of the close bond between his baby son and his wife. He wrote:
Ever since my youngest, Boy2.0, was born, he was totally his mother’s child. I honestly found their immediate and intense connection beautiful, but even more honestly…it made me jealous. It is quite a thing to be a dad who can’t comfort his child, who is constantly told “No, I go to mommy”, who never seems to have a real, relational moment with his own son. I know, I know. It’s silly and childish but the jealousy was real and disheartening.
His Facebook post prompted a flurry of responses from other dads, praising Mentor for breaking the taboo and opening up about these feelings and admitting they felt the same. It might be something we don’t talk about often but a recent survey revealed that nearly 20% of dads feel left out after of their child’s upbringing. The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) believes that it is inevitable that new dads may feel left out in the early weeks. They say:
it’s almost inevitable that the baby will have a closer bond with mum at first, especially if she is breastfeeding. Dads can feel sidelined and slightly unsure about their role at this time. They may even feel jealous of the attention that the baby gets.
Inevitable it may well be but that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with.
Going back to work exacerbates the feelings
Although dads can now share parental leave for up to 50 weeks after the birth of a new baby only 2% of fathers tend to do so. Typically as a new dad, you return to work after just a couple of weeks. And it can be hard to do so. Writing for The Guardian , Alex Walsh described his return to work as ‘devastating’. He said:
When the two weeks were over, and it was time to go back to work, I felt genuinely devastated. I was torn between my role as the primary wage-earner in our family and my role as a new dad.
Walking to work that first day gave me a palpable sense of dislocation. Physically I was going but emotionally I was still rooted at home with my family. We had worked so hard to have a family that it seemed absurd to have to leave it for five-sevenths of the week after such a short time.
When your partner is at home with the baby and you return to work, your lives run on different tracks. It only exacerbates any feelings of being left out of family life.
How having a baby tips couples into traditional gender roles
More often than ever before couples enter into a relationship or a marriage on equal footing. Research shows that they mirror one another in terms of educational achievement and earning power. They divide household chores equally and eschew the traditional and outdated gender roles of husband and wife. Then you have a baby. Suddenly you find yourselves thrown into gender roles you fought so hard to resist. Writing for The Guardian , journalist Susan Maushart, describes the effect of this sudden change in the balance and how, as a new dad, it can make you feel left out of family life. She writes:
For an increasing number of men and women, the reversion to traditional gender roles after the birth of a first child is not only unwelcome, it is downright mysterious. One day a woman is conducting herself like an emancipated, autonomous adult, and the next she has metamorphosed into “Mummy”: a sub-human pod person who cares about the whiteness of her laundry and gets off on discussing the ins and outs of breast pumping.
US researchers Carolyn and Philip Cowan describe how bewildering this sudden shift can be for couples
It’s not just that couples are startled by how the division of labour falls along gender lines. But they describe the change as if it were a mysterious virus they picked up when they were in the hospital having the baby.
Baby in the middle
Norah Ephron, a screenwriter, famous for her films such as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, once said that having a baby is like throwing a hand grenade into a marriage. How right she was. Having a baby changes your relationship with your partner irrevocably and overnight. Before the birth you and your partner had time to talk, to be together and to give each other your undivided attention. When your baby comes along suddenly there is a tiny new human taking up so much of your partner’s time and attention and getting all the cuddles that were yours pre-baby. Once again it is hard to voice these feelings. Going back to Mentor’s words it may feel “silly and childish” for you to complain about your new baby displacing you, at a time when it is so important for new mums to bond and find their way into their new role as a mother. But it is a very real feeling and one that is important for you to voice.
Can dads get postnatal depression too?
Postnatal depression is something that we talk about more openly now and we know that it affects as many as one in ten mums. But it is believed that dads can suffer with depression after the birth of a baby too. Again it is something that we don’t talk about often, but paternal perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PPMADs) are beginning to be discussed in the media and recognised as something that a new dad can go through. A study from 2010 found that postnatal depression affects 10% of all dads and is most likely to be worse 3-6 months after birth. Currently there are no official symptoms documents for PPMADS but experts agree that it can make you feel angry, anxious, irritable or out of control. Physical symptoms may include headaches, sleeplessness, digestive problems and sexual dysfunction. Christina Hibbert is a clinical psychologist from Arizona . She explains how men can struggle after having a baby, saying:
Having a baby is a most stressful time for everybody. In addition to sleep deprivation, men also undoubtedly experience interesting hormonal issues when a baby is born, and these issues can lead to other [psycho-emotional] complications.
Top tips for dads to feel more involved
There’s no denying that dads rock. There are many things you can do as a new dad, to feel more involved and to strengthen your bond with your baby.
- After your baby is born be the one to cut the umbilical cord.
- Hold your baby as soon as possible after birth and have as many cuddles as you can. New babies feel safe and secure in their Daddy’s arms and love nothing more than snuggling up on your bare chest.
- Take an active part in looking after your baby. It might feel like your tiny baby spends almost all their time breastfeeding but you can be the one to do bath times, nappy changes, cuddles and walks.
- Talk openly about how you feel. If not to your partner then to family or friends or even online in parenting forums. It’s totally normal to have conflicting feelings after the birth of a baby. It never helps to bottle them up.
- Be there for your partner; give her cuddles and reassure her she’s doing great. You might now be a family of three but you’re still a team of two.
- Be patient – your time will come.
- “Dad blogger admits feeling ‘jealous’ of his two-year-old son in facebook post.”, Independent
- “Kids Love Time With Dad – But Dads Feel Left Out Of Family Life”, HuffPost
- “A father’s view of going back to work: ‘I felt genuinely devastated'”, Alex Walsh
- “The truth about babies”, The Guardian
- “Prenatal and Postpartum Depression in Fathers and Its Association With Maternal Depression – A Meta-analysis” James F. Paulson, PhD; Sharnail D. Bazemore, MS
- “When Dad Struggles After the Baby Arrives”, Matt Villano