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Dad sleeping with newborn baby on his chestBeing a mom isn’t easy, and being the male in this newly remade relationship isn’t always like a picnic in the park either. For men, the birth of a firstborn child begins a journey from man to father, a terrain filled with emotional landmines men are often unable to recognize or talk about. The first three months of a new child’s life can be so disruptive that it’s sometimes called “the fourth trimester” for the men. As many as two-thirds of fathers report some form of the “blues” during this period, experiencing worries about being up to all that’s needed, feeling a loss of control, and dealing with a new strain in the relationship with the new mother. The focus on forming a strong bond between mother and baby means men can feel ignored.

The most effective medicine for the men is to physically connect with baby. Studies now show how important both parents are to the development of the child and the healthy development of the entire family. Being present is important, but cuddling, baby talk, and caring for baby help create a foundation for everyone’s emotional well-being.

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Babies detect and learn from the different ways men and women hold and cuddle them, and even when men are very familiar with caring for babies, men and women interact with them differently.

Babies whose fathers help with diapering, bathing and feeding are more resilient to emotional stresses than babies whose fathers aren’t actively involved.

WHAT ABOUT MEN AS PRIMARY CAREGIVERS?

If men and women are different in the way they interact with babies, are women better for children as primary caregiver? Extensive research shows that when men are the primary caregiver, children develop normally but may exhibit slightly greater curiosity about new experiences. Children with men as primary caregivers are otherwise psychologically indistinguishable from children raised by female caregivers. Women report men as primary caregivers tend to be more emotionally available, and more patient with both child and mother.

(This article is part of Virginia Gay Hospital’s bi-annual publication, “Thrive” Spring/Summer 2018 issue. An online version of the entire publication can be found at https://myvgh.org/thrive/)

Virginia Gay Family Medical Clinics provide prenatal care to 30 weeks for pregnancies without complications. Well-child visits are available beginning after the first postpartum assessment, and children are cared for through adolescence. To schedule an appointment, call the clinic of your choice: Atkins, Urbana, Van Horne or Vinton Family Medical Clinic.

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