Not too long ago, men started attending antenatal classes with their pregnant partners. At first it was for dads who wanted to do something for the mum-to-be, and they came to give her support.
For a while it didn’t quite kick off. A range of studies in the ‘80s and ‘90s reported that men felt uncomfortable during and after classes. They felt frustrated, anxious, fearful. Not a particularly effective way to prepare them for a new baby.
The reason for the initial negative experiences was that the trainers and teachers treated the dads as outsiders. Dads felt like observers; more in the way than involved.
But over the past decade and a half, it has become almost common practise for dads to attend antenatal training. As many as 6 in 10 dads-to-be take part!
There’s a good reason for it. Although dads are not physically giving birth, they’re having a baby. Why does a mum need to learn what to expect and not a dad? Becoming a parent is difficult for everyone, whether they’re experiencing the pain of labour or not.
As a soon-to-be father, there are things you need to be prepared for…
1.The necessity of a good birth-partner
Let’s start with what dads’ classes can do for pregnant mums. Mums need you to be the perfect birth-partners for a number of reasons:
During pregnancy and labour, mums go through a lot of emotional turmoil. Most partners don’t “just know” how they can help – if you “just know”, your partner is a very lucky woman! Antenatal classes give you the opportunity to learn how you can give emotional support throughout the process, up until the moment your new baby is born.
Learning breathing and relaxation techniques is easy… when you’re in a class. During labour, it’s just as easy for a mum to forget everything she was taught when the pain hits. If you’ve been to the exact same classes as mum, will know how to help her through this.
Also, you can massage mum and attend to all her non-medical needs.
When mum’s in labour, it’s tough to make important decisions – even if you’ve thought them through together beforehand. However, you’re there to ask for the information, present it gently to mum, and help make those in-the-moment decisions.
2.What a newborn baby needs
What does a newborn baby need?
Milk probably comes to mind. Diapers. Diaper changes. Sleep. These are the bare basics for survival.
All dads need to learn to change diapers. If need be, you’ll learn to bottle-feed yout baby. And every human being knows how to rock a child gently in his or her arms.
But as a parent, you’re never just thinking about keeping your baby clean and fed. You’re worried about baby’s future. You’re worried about making parenting mistakes that will affect your child’s early learning.
Are you being too over-indulgent? Or not indulgent enough? Are you comforting your child too quickly? Or is he crying too much? Should you be sleeping in the bed together? Or should you maintain a strict parent/child separate sleeping situation?
There’s so much information and years of research on these very important parenting choices, which no one will “just know”.
Antenatal classes are where mums and dads both learn the answers to these questions, or at least guidance when dealing with the grey areas. Since dads play as important a part in raising a child as mums, it is vital that you learn this information too.
It’s especially hard to go through your child’s birth when you’re doing it alone. Mums are generally more communal. Any expecting mother can share her experience with hundreds of others, especially now that the Internet is full of us.
Dads traditionally find it harder to build a support group. As much as society is progressing, men still are expected to be “strong”. And strong often means keeping your feelings to yourself, never expressing the natural fears that come with being a new father.
Antenatal classes give you the chance to meet other dads going through the same process. It gives you a safe space to open up to others who will not judge them. After all, you’re all worrying about similar possibilities, and your emotional worlds share common ground as well.
4.Looking after mum post-birth
We’ve spoken about the support mums need during pregnancy and labour. Her needs don’t end there. After giving birth, mums are physically and emotionally exhausted. Dads need to learn about what this period entails.
Antenatal classes should prepare dads for:
- what physical effects the birth might have on mum
- how you can help manage the stress that she is going through
- different ways to take the home’s workload off her
- warning signs of postpartum depression and what actions to take or whether you need to get her to treatment
5.Taking care of yourself
It’s not all about mum. Dads are under a lot of pressure too, but you may think you’re not allowed any time out.
However, taking care of yourself is vital. You are a parent now. You have a child relying on you, but that does not mean putting all the pressure on yourself. Instead, you should be taking care of your emotional well being, as well as your physical needs.
Antenatal classes can give you tools to do so. You’ll learn how to fit time for your own needs into your hectic day. You’ll learn how to manage stress effectively even when you can’t take any time off. And you’ll learn skills as to how to get support from mum without placing any extra pressure on her.
As a dad, you’re one-half of the parenting operation. You’re as important as the other half to your child and are in just as much need of the extra support you’ll get from classes.
If you’re a dad who’s been to antenatal classes, let us know how they were for you. Did they give you all you were expecting? Or were certain skills left out? Leave a comment!