Dean Beaumont knows more than most about what it's like to be an expectant dad. Not only is he father to two gorgeous children – with another on the way – he is the boss and founder of DaddyNatal: the country's first ante-natal service specifically aimed at dads-to-be.
Now 45-year-old Dean has put his experience and wisdom into his 'Expectant Dad's Handbook' to help new dads through the experience of becoming a father, before, during and after the birth of their new arrivals, with top tips for how to bond with their babies and how to be as useful as possible to mum!
Dean said: "The birth of my son, Oren, five years ago, was pretty life-changing. I thought I was well informed as an expectant father; I'd been to antenatal classes with my other half and had read a couple of books (after being nagged about being more involved!).
However, when the big event came it was not as straightforward as I had imagined. I realised I didn't know what to do to help things along and to help my partner cope, or how to advocate for her when it became necessary.
"This in itself, was a shock, as I am a pretty confident sort of guy. However in the environment of the labour and birth I was totally out of my comfort zone. This led to memories of the birth of my son being tainted with feelings of guilt for not being better prepared.
"Within a few months of our son's arrival, we found we were pregnant again (with Willow, now four). This gave me the opportunity to revisit the classes and books I had used to prepare for the birth of my son, and to work out what it was I had missed the first time around.
"And that's when I realised it – all these resources were, in fact, letting dads down. The antenatal classes were very mum-orientated, with little tailored advice for the dads. The books which did exist which were aimed at dads were gimmicky, with an overly 'humorous' or light writing style, at the expense of proper, useful information.
"Given that numerous studies show that birth partners (whether the dad, a relative or a doula) have a huge impact on labour and birth and that fathers are so important to child development, I thought it was bonkers that there were no good resources specifically for men. So I set off to train to become an antenatal educator, to help other men to be better informed when their time came to being fathers and to help them to become fully hands-on in helping their partners – and DaddyNatal was created.
We started off with the first few classes being held in fantastic pubs, our approach was no-nonsense, practical and informative, providing the essential information for dads in a way that was relevant and made sense.
"Dads loved the style of the class and our reputation quickly started to spread; in 2011 we were awarded a contract to run the classes with Peterborough City Hospital and today now run classes around the UK.
"However, not all dads can access our classes and many more wanted a one-stop resource comprising all the information in our courses. So I decided to write the book that I felt was still missing, one aimed at dads which covers all the things we need to know to prepare for pregnancy, birth and fatherhood."
DEAN'S TOP TIPS FOR EXPECTANT DADS
(1) Take time to bond with your baby before they're born.
Bonding doesn't just start at birth, it can and does start before. Mums do have an advantage in antenatal bonding, but dads-to-be can do it too with a little effort. Why is bonding important? Well, it benefits your unborn baby's neurological development, it helps with your own self-confidence, it promotes your baby's confidence in you after birth, and it enhances your relationship with your partner.
Here's how to do it:
• Go to the scans and get a photo to keep and look at. As men, we find it hard to attach to things we can't see, hear or touch. This will help you start to think of your baby as a real person and start the bonding process.
• At around 20–24 weeks you will be able to feel your baby move or kick. With your other half's permission, take time to feel these movements through her tummy. This is a great opportunity to become physically connected and bonded.
• Talk to your baby. From 24 weeks they can hear your voice – so take the time to greet them, or read them a story so they become familiar with you.
• Become a Dad Blogger! You can record details about the scans or appointments, how you are feeling or specific milestones. This will all help reinforce the fact that your baby is another person in the family already.
(2) If you plan to be at the birth, then LEARN how to be a positive influence, not just a bystander or worse, a hindrance!
You have it within your power to affect the length of your partner's labour, the degree of pain she may or may not feel during labour, even the outcome of the birth – whether interventions are required or even whether she has a Caesarean section. All of these things impact on your partner, but also on your baby (as they do experience birth too!).
So rather than making jokes about being a 'spare part' in the delivery room, take responsibility for your role, and accept and make sure you are doing everything you can to ensure that our impact on the birth is positive and not negative.
One of the crucial elements is about being clear of your role – I define the dad's role as being protector and advocate for their partner/baby/family.
But we also have some innate instincts, such as our 'fix-it reflex', which can be detrimental during labour, and how to keep this impulse under control!
As a protector, your role during birth is about making sure that the birthing environment is conducive to birth and helping mum produce the cocktail of hormones which are needed in order for labour to progress.
Post-natally, the role of protector continues, with dad being the gatekeeper of visitors, the deflector of unhelpful parenting 'advice' and general supporter for your partner while she recovers from the physical and emotional changes which take place after birth.
The second part of dad's role, I define as being the Advocate, making sure that mum's wishes during birth (but also post-natally) are heard and respected.
A really practical way to make this easier for you, is to be actively involved in the writing of the birth plan – you can only act as advocate if you know what she wants and WHY she feels like that.
You cannot guarantee things will go to plan, but you can only help different elements of the plan be respected by knowing what they are.
(3) Accept that your life will change.
There is no point being in denial about this (unless you want lots of arguments once the baby has arrived) - once your baby has been born, you will find that your life has changed forever.
Your baby might be tiny, but once that little person arrives, his or her impact on everything you know is huge – especially when it is your first baby.
Therefore, communication between you and your partner is key: keep talking about how you both feel, don't feel pressured into expecting life to 'get back to normal'; make sure that there are lots of opportunities for you both to be hands-on with Baby to help prevent feelings of resentment.
Life has changed and sometimes it takes a little time for everything to settle. For example, something I get asked about all the time is how to deal with sleep deprivation... and I have a few tips on this one, but a key one is definitely to learn the art of 'power napping'. This means quite simply a nap, even of just 10 minutes, that can leave you feeling refreshed.
A power nap should not be more than 30 minutes and this is probably where most of us go wrong; we are so tired that we effectively go right off to sleep. After 30 minutes you are likely to go into a deeper sleep phase, which can mean that you will have difficulty waking up and you will also find it harder to sleep at night.
For both mum and mad, learning to power nap is a great way to combat sleep deprivation. One of the oldest pieces of advice to new mums is to sleep when Baby sleeps – and it makes sense to do this rather than rushing around trying to get the chores done.
If you are like my wife, Stephanie, and you find sleeping during the daytime difficult, get yourself a blackout blind or an eye mask to use for your daytime powernaps."
The Expectant Dad's Handbook, RRP. £10.99 Published by Vermillion (Random House) is available from WH Smiths, Waterstones, The Book Depository and Amazon, and can also be downloaded on Kindle.
More on Parentdish: 10 things not to say to your partner during labour
More on Parentdish: 10 things not to say to your partner during labour