Men's Health Week 11-17 June The Transition to Fatherhood is BIG!
Men’s Health Week 11-17 June The Transition to Fatherhood is BIG!
By Scott Hall and Kerrie Gottliebsen
June 11 – 17 is Men’s Health Week which coincides with Tweddle’s roll out of Working Out Dads, an innovative parenting and health program for dads of 0-4 year olds held in fitness centres across Melbourne’s west.
The objective of Working Out Dads is to connect, support and strengthen the capacity of dads in the very early years of parenting. So why help dads? Research confirms dads play a significant role in the social, cognitive, emotional and physical well-being of their children from infancy with lasting influences into their adult life.
A supported, healthy dad is critical for families and communities but early intervention and prevention programs remain scarce. According to research, one in ten Australian fathers experience poor mental health in the critical early years of their children’s lives. Thirteen percent report poor physical health; 10% report depression, a fifth drink moderate to harmful levels of alcohol and smoke cigarettes daily; and two thirds are overweight or obese.
Significant barriers limit fathers’ access to healthcare including lack of after-hours programs, inflexible and long working hours, and stigma around dads attending groups. Tweddle’s innovative approach to hosting therapeutic, facilitated groups for dads in fitness centres is helping to change this.
Here, Working Out Dads facilitator Scott Hall talks about how he became interested in educating dads and their babies and the importance of programs supporting dads in the very early years.
As an experienced men’s group-work consultant, the pathway of supporting new Dads started for me as a nursing student over 20 years ago.
As a part of my studies I had the option to do a 5 week maternity placement. I was living in Windsor in a shared house and rode my bike along Punt Rd, gardens, paths and streets into St Andrews Hospital (now a Cancer Hospital). Morning, noon and night, I had to do different shifts, because babies arrive when they want, not when it is convenient to adults.
I can’t honestly say I was that comfortable in the hospital environment, ironing my cricket pants and blue shirt as my nursing uniform, going up lifts to the delivery suites and nurseries.
But it was an amazing learning experience. Amongst the new mums going off for C-sections, the nurseries, the birthing suites and post natal support, I’ll never forget late one night a mid-wife handing me a 3-hour old baby with a brand new dad and saying, “can you teach dad how to bath this baby while we get some stitches into mum…. take your time, we could be a while.”
New dad looked at me, scared witless, like a kangeroo stunned and frozen in the car headlights, as I held the baby, contemplating all the hospital equipment preparation for baby’s first bath. Little did baby or new dad know I was pretty new at this business too, so we got on with the bath, and towels, and holds and washing and gentle drying.
I showed the new dad a couple of holds and let him have a go, he says, “he’s so little, I’m scared I mightn’t hold him safe, am I doing this ok?”
I’m showing him the baby holds that I learnt at college, and they seem to be working.
The new dad was getting the hang of it and his bub enjoyed the water for a little while. “Good job man, I reckon he likes your bath technique and safe hands” I say.
“Thanks mate, I was freaking out there for a while… it’s so scary, everything’s so new, the baby, everything, just everything!” the exhausted and ecstatic new dad blurted out.
“No worries, bubs is in good hands, you look like a natural… give us a yell if you need anything else buddy” I said as I left to attend some more hospital duties.
I’ll never forget my first real life bath instruction with that new dad and baby. That was about 25 years ago, but I still wonder how we are doing with men, and men’s transition to this crazy, fantastic and scary world of fatherhood.
We really need to take the time to listen to what its really like for blokes in this critical time. Just providing that space to let them learn and listen, and take on the tasks involved, and just adapt to their new reality and responsibilities.
Tweddle are doing their part to support dads and men’s health by providing the Working Out Dads programs across the Melbournes West. Investing in these sort of programs is vital for bubs, mums and all of those new Dads.
This week have a conversation about new Dads and Men’s Health!
Working Out Dads key funding partners are the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare (CFECFW) and The Bennelong Foundation. They are joined by community sponsors Hede Architects, Alan Mance Motors, The CWA of Footscray, The Seddon Community Bank (Bendigo Bank) and local resident and dad Mr Craig Rowley.
Here are some tips and resources for dads (an extract from The Dad Project published by the NSPCC – All babies Count In Britain)
Our top ten tips for anyone working with parents before and after a baby is born
- Think of dads as service users in their own right, not only as mums’ supporters. Know, record and use dads’ names.
- Learn about the research around the psychological and social elements of both mums’ and dads’ experiences of pregnancy and new parenthood. Educate yourself about the challenges they can face.
- Ensure your communications, workspaces and materials communicate that dads are equally valuable and welcome.
- Reflect on and challenge your own assumptions and stereotypes about fathers. Seek feedback from dads about their experience of your service.
- Help mums and dads to understand each other’s experiences of pregnancy and new parenthood. Show them concrete ways in which they can help each other.
- Teach mums and dads about babies’ early cues and encourage them to watch and interact with their baby.
- Talk to mums and dads about the challenges of new parenthood so they know what to expect. In every contact, ask both parents how they are doing, and listen and respond respectfully to their answers.
- Teach mums and dads how to care for a baby (for example bathing and nappy changing). Specifically encourage and acknowledge dads’ involvement in caring for their baby when speaking to the family.
- Utilise scans as an opportunity to help both parents to engage in the pregnancy and get to know their baby. Ensure dads are explicitly invited to the scan and acknowledged when they are there.