Ask the Expert: How to Prepare for Fatherhood
Disponible en Español |
In this Q&A, Glenn Flores, M.D., FAAP, the chair of pediatrics at the University of Miami Health System, discusses how men can embrace one of life’s most important roles, being a new dad.
What can fathers do to feel more involved in the pregnancy and birth experience?
Dr. Flores: There are several steps fathers can take:
- Go to all prenatal visits with your partner.
- Attend Lamaze (childbirth) classes with your partner.
- Talk to your baby while in the womb. Babies in the womb can recognize their father before birth if they hear his voice frequently. They may not understand what a father is, but they will recognize their parents’ voices and feel reassured by familiar voices and sounds. Hearing your voice after birth will comfort them because they have heard it for months in the womb.
How can couples start discussing their co-parenting styles? What should they do if they disagree?
Dr. Flores: Have the discussion as early in the pregnancy as possible. When disagreements arise, a pediatrician or therapist can be helpful.
What resources are there if an expectant dad’s own father was not a good role model?
Dr. Flores: Your baby’s future pediatrician is an excellent resource. Many father support groups are available in-person, online, and on social media. Some examples are the Miami Dad’s Group; boot camps for new dads; as well as a helpful clearing house of fatherhood support groups.
Combined with sleep deprivation, not being able to soothe a crying infant may trigger frustration and anger in new parents. How do you counsel parents to navigate these challenges?
Dr. Flores: You can’t care for your newborn and your partner until you take care of yourself.
Get enough sleep, exercise, and eat right so you can be there for your family.
Take advantage of the resources noted above to have support and learn how to soothe your crying infant while avoiding anger and frustration.
How can new fathers set realistic expectations about sex after pregnancy?
Dr. Flores: Check with your partner’s obstetrician/gynecologist to understand any limitations, when it is safe to resume sexual relations, and the importance of birth control if another pregnancy is not desired right away.
And always communicate with your partner to discuss their desires and expectations.
Babies and small children go through many phases. Fathers may feel disconnected or less important than the mother. How can they stay engaged and enthusiastic even when the baby “prefers” their mom?
Dr. Flores: Multiple studies show that an engaged father has a tremendously positive impact on the growth and development of young children. The father-child relationship can be equally as important as the mother-child relationship in child development. Paternal engagement is associated with positive health outcomes in infants, including improved weight gain in preterm infants and higher breastfeeding rates.
On the other hand, lack of father engagement early on has serious negative effects, including harming development from early infancy through childhood and even into adulthood.
What is the key thing expectant fathers should understand?
Dr. Flores: Your baby will benefit enormously from your parenting contributions, such as those listed on The Fatherhood Project. Some of those benefits include:
- When both parents are involved with a child, infants are attached to both parents from the beginning of life.
- Paternal involvement using authoritative parenting (being loving while setting clear boundaries and expectations) leads to better emotional, academic, social, and behavioral outcomes for children.
- Children who feel close to their father are twice as likely as those who do not feel close to enter college or find stable employment after high school; 75% less likely to have a teen birth; 80% less likely to spend time in jail; and half as likely to experience depression.
- The quality of the father-child relationship matters more than the number of hours spent together. Non-resident fathers can have positive effects on their children’s social and emotional well-being, as well as academic achievement and behavioral adjustment.
- High levels of father involvement are associated with greater sociability, confidence, and self-control in children. Children with involved fathers are less likely to act out in school and engage in risky behaviors as teens.
- Children with engaged fathers are 43% more likely to earn A’s in school and 33% less likely to repeat a grade than those without engaged dads.
- Father engagement reduces the frequency of behavioral problems in boys and decreases delinquency and economic disadvantage in low-income families.
- Father engagement reduces the risk of psychological problems and rates of depression in young women.
Any final thoughts on the importance of fathers?
Dr. Flores: The famous psychiatrist Sigmund Freud once said: “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”
Dr. Flores is a professor and senior associate dean of Child Health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He also serves as physician-in-chief at Holtz Children’s Hospital.
Q&A compiled by Nancy Moreland, a contributing writer for the UHealth Collective. She has written for several major health care systems and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can also find her writings in the Chicago Tribune and U.S. News & World Report.