Becoming a father is one of the most important and fulfilling jobs you will have in your life. Being a loving, involved dad is the best thing you can do for your child.
Some aspects of this page focus on men who are becoming fathers in a heterosexual relationship. You can find more specific information for same sex parents in this article.
The importance of fathers
Children have a unique relationship with their parents. Fathers these days generally do a lot more than men did in previous generations. Being involved from early on is better for your relationship and for your baby.
Research has shown that fathers play a crucial role in their children’s emotional, social, physical and brain development. The type of father you are when they’re little will influence them right through to their adult life.
Children need close, stable relationships with both parents. They do better when fathers spend time with them and interact with them in a positive way. Fathers can help their child’s development through play, by being a good role model, and by being warm, loving and engaged.
Even if you’re not the biological father of a child, being a father figure who gives them love, support and involvement will benefit the child.
What will it mean for me?
Finding out you’re going to be a dad can be an incredibly happy and exciting time, but it can be daunting too.
Many dads-to-be find they are confused and worried. You might be concerned about providing for your family, how you’re going to balance your work, social life and a baby, and how you’re going to be the best father you can be — especially if you’d like to do things differently from your own father.
Some things in your life will change. Instead of going out whenever you like, you may need to start negotiating time off with your partner. You might feel like the world revolves around your partner and the baby at first, and you may have to lay off sex for a while. All of this can be worked out if you and your partner discuss your needs and feelings honestly and openly.
Many men aren’t used to asking for help and advice, but now is the time to seek support if you need it. Remember, you and your partner are in this together. Working as a team and being prepared for the changes ahead will give you the best start possible.
During the pregnancy
You can start preparing for your role as a father during the pregnancy. It helps if you can be as involved as possible, for example, by talking to your partner about the birth options, going to appointments and attending antenatal classes.
For many men, the pregnancy doesn’t become ‘real’ until the third trimester. Now is the time to plan for how you will manage work, book parental leave, and make changes to your lifestyle like cutting back on drinking or quitting smoking if you haven’t already.
You can also make plans for the future. What sort of father will you be? What special times will you have with your child? Imagine yourself taking them on an outing such as a sporting event, teaching them music or playing games with them.
When the baby is born
You might feel overwhelmed when you first see your baby — but remember, you can do this. Learn how to do everything along with your partner – how to dress, bathe, change nappies and settle the baby. Try not to give the baby back to mum every time they cry. You’re a parent too, and the more you practise, the better you’ll get.
If your partner is breastfeeding, there are plenty of ways in which you can be involved in your baby’s care. Spending as much time as possible with your baby will strengthen your bond and give your partner a break. Talking and singing to your baby, playing with them and having fun are all important for their development from the moment they are born.
Depression and anxiety in fathers
If you are feeling very tired, irritable or angry, you feel overwhelmed or that you can’t cope, it’s very important to talk to your doctor. It can take courage to seek help, but it’s the best thing you can do for your family.
Where to go for help and advice
If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, or feeling like you might hurt yourself or your baby, call the PANDA Helpline on 1300 726 306 (Mon to Fri, 9am – 7.30pm AEST) or Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
Mensline offer support and counselling services on 1300 78 99 78.
Beyond Blue offer support and advice for new dads on 1300 22 4636. You can download their book, Emotional health and wellbeing: A guide for new dads, partners and other carers.
QLife offers anonymous peer support and referral for the sexually and gender-diverse community — call 1800 184 527 or access their webchat from 3pm to midnight every day.
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak with a maternal child health nurse.
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Last reviewed: November 2020