I’ve recently joined the dad club and I’m reaching out for some advice. I am a casual worker who does full-time hours. I’ve had two weeks off work for our daughter’s birth and she is nine days old now. She has begun “cluster feeding” from like 5pm-2am. My wife suffers with anxiety and self-doubt and I’m supposed to go back to work tomorrow. How do I cope going back knowing she hasn’t slept and is in pain?
EXPERT 1: DR NICOLE HIGHET,
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF COPE
This is the perfect example of the modern dad who’s trying to be the provider and the supportive husband. You’re caught in this position where you’re trying to be both at the same time and it’s leading you to feel conflicted. Research shows that a lot of dads are feeling stressed. Stress is really when you’re feeling like what’s required of you exceeds what you think you can provide at the time.
First of all, there’s a lot of strategies that you can try here to deal with your wife’s sleep deprivation. At COPE we have a whole program under the New Parents section and one of those is lack of sleep. You can find some strategies here.
You also refer to the fact that your wife is experiencing anxiety. We know that one in five women experience anxiety in pregnancy and the postnatal period. If she is anxious it’s worth getting her assessed properly by a health professional to see if she has an anxiety disorder as that can enable treatment and management.
Another thing that you can do is think about looking at other support that you might be able to call on. Do you have any parental in-laws who might be able to come over and give his wife some time to look after the baby so she can have an opportunity to sleep? That could also be reassuring for you to know that she’s getting care.
For more info go to the COPE website
EXPERT 2: SHARLENE VLAHOS,
DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION AND BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT AT KARITANE
In the first six weeks with babies, it’s really a time of establishing the feeding patterns. So although it’s really hard to deal with – particularly if you’re sleep-deprived and run-down – this is all quite normal in these early stages. It’s not unusual for little babies around this age to feed up to 12 times a day.
That particular time-frame of late afternoon going into evening is the witching hour. Babies up until the age of 12 weeks, will be quite unsettled, and it’s not an uncommon thing for them to be feeding frequently. It’s just a really exhausting and demanding time.
Unfortunately, you kind of have to go with it in the first six weeks because, if you don’t try to control it too much, babies can fall into their own patterns much easier. So I would suggest carrying the baby in a pouch like a Baby Bjorn, and trying to stretch the feeds out as much as you can. That might be one hour-and-a-half or two hours between feeds. But bear in mind that feeding can, in these early stages, almost take an hour to do anyway.
When you’re trying to stretch them out, sometimes it’s helpful if dads take the babies out for a little walk in the Baby Bjorn. Often babies are really in tune with the smell of mum’s milk so that can set them off a little bit.
If mum is becoming really stressed out and really needs some time and space to calm down, then she can also try and express so dad can give the baby a bottle.
There’s no doubt that this is a really, really hard time. But this is actually pretty normal behaviour.
For more info go to the Karitane website
EXPERT 3: CHRIS BARNES,
CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST FOR THE GIDGET FOUNDATION
I’d encourage you and your wife to reach out and get some help as soon as possible. They could start off by just talking to their GP, or even seek help from someone like a perinatal Psychologist at the Gidget Foundation. It’s just about trying to work out some practical steps to get them through this early stage.
Regarding the cluster feeding, it might be worth getting some help from a lactation consultant. Alternatively, you can try your local child and family health clinic and speak to someone when the baby has her two-week check-up. When the baby gets weighed you or your wife can talk about all of your worries.
The mum could also join a mother’s group – often these include education sessions on various topics about having a baby. That might give her some extra social interaction too, and the opportunity to speak to other people about what’s happening with their babies.
You also need to make sure that you’re doing some exercise and self-care yourself. You need to look after yourself so that you can support your new little baby and partner. Sometimes when guys have to cope with this sort of thing, their physical health goes downhill too.
You’re in a hard bind caught between having to go to work and supporting your family. But one in five women and one in 10 men experience some form of perinatal anxiety and depression – it’s actually really common.
For more info go to The Gidget Foundation website