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New dads: 10 tips for making a great start to fatherhood

New dads: 10 tips for making a great start to fatherhood

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Life as a new dad

Becoming a dad will probably be one of the biggest events of your life.

Making the most of any time you have off work to get to know your baby is a great way to start your life as a dad. You might also be tempted to get a few things done around the house. In the longer term, though, there's a bigger pay-off for using this time to begin your relationship with your child.

But if you're going through the intense emotions - not to mention lack of sleep - that often come with a new baby, you might be wondering where to start and what to do. You might even be thinking your partner has it all covered, and feeling unsure of what's left for you to do.

In fact, as a dad, you're going to have a huge impact on your child's life. And that impact starts now. Newborn babies come into the world ready to connect with both their parents.

Becoming a dad can be a steep learning curve. It might help to hear from other dads in our videos on bonding, changing nappies, holding your baby and helping with your baby.

New dads: tips for getting started

1. Get hands on from the beginning
Getting involved in the daily care of your baby - dressing, settling, playing, bathing and nappy changing - is the best way to build your skills and confidence. These everyday activities also create lots of one-on-one time with your baby, which is the building block of a positive relationship. Another bonus is that it's also good for your baby's other parent to have a break.

2. Learn your baby's cues
Babies give 'cues' or signals to what they need through their behaviour and body language. By really paying attention to your baby's cues, over time you'll learn how to work out what your baby needs.

3. Connect through touch
Physical touch makes your baby feel safe and secure and builds trust and connection with you. This kind of bonding with newborns also stimulates your baby's brain development. You could try carrying and holding your baby as often as you can. If you hold her to your chest, she can hear your heartbeat.

4. Talk to your baby as often as you can
Talk while you're carrying or changing your baby. For example, 'Let's get this nappy changed. That feels better, doesn't it? Here's a nice clean nappy. Don't cry - we'll be finished soon'. Every word baby hears helps develop his language and learning and strengthens your relationship with him. Telling stories, reading books or singing songs has the same effect.

5. Help with breastfeeding
Breastmilk is the best food for your baby. Your support for breastfeeding can be vital while your partner is learning. You could give practical support - a glass of water, another pillow or whatever she needs. Or if she's having trouble, you could encourage her to get help. If your partner finds she can't breastfeed, you could reassure her that it's OK and consider learning about bottle-feeding and formula.

6. Have some one-on-one time
This kind of time is about you and your baby. If you can create moments when your baby has your full attention, you can really tune in to your baby. This gives the two of you a chance to connect and bond. For example, it can be as simple as making faces at each other while you dress your baby.

7. Get the information that you need
Whether it's your first or fifth baby, there are always new things to learn. You can find information by searching this website, talking with other dads and attending parenting groups, for example. And one of the best ways to learn is by doing - spending lots of time caring for your baby.

8. Accept or ask for help
If someone says, 'Is there anything I can do?', it's OK to say 'Yes!' Talk with your partner about when you'll accept help from family, friends, colleagues or neighbours. It might be as simple as asking someone to buy some milk for you when they come over to visit.

9. Look after your relationship
Having a new baby can put extra strain on your relationship with your partner. Try to stay positive and support each other as you learn how to parent together. Asking how your partner is going lets your partner know you care. Negotiating and sharing expectations is good practice for later parenting. This can be about everything from deciding on paid work arrangements to who cooks dinner.

10. Look after yourself
If you're well, you'll be better able to look after your baby and support your partner. You can keep your energy up with healthy lifestyle choices and as much sleep and rest as you can - even if it's not at night.

If you or your partner is having trouble coping with your baby or either of you is feeling really low, get help from a health professional. See your GP or ring MensLine on 1300 789 978, Lifeline on 131 114 or PANDA on 1300 726 306. You can also read more about postnatal depression and women and postnatal depression and men.