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We asked experts in Westchester County, NY, including pediatricians and psychologists, how new dads and fathers-to-be can overcome their anxiety about being a parent. Read on to benefit from their wisdom.
So many parents recount stories of driving home from the hospital with their first newborn...going five miles per hour. Ah, the responsibility of it all - for that teeny-tiny living creature that you made! Parenthood doesn't come with a handbook - rather, these days it comes with a gazillion websites and must-have tomes (often with conflicting advice) that are sometimes so daunting they go unread on the bedside table until the baby is born - only to gather more dust as mom and dad are now too tired and in the thick of it.
And the worries of fathers-to-be can be subtly different from those of their female partners. "Prospective dads have valid feelings, hopes, and fears about protecting their family on all levels," says Rich Esposito, a family counselor in Cortlandt Manor. Men have been hardwired over time to adopt the role of provider, and bringing a child into the mix ups the ante. "Everyone imagines living in a world of family values, station wagons, and suburban homes with white picket fences. We see nostalgic Norman Rockwell posters," he says. "But the reality in today's society is a rising unemployment rate that especially affects men. They may face financial insecurity, the pressure of holding a job, and healthcare concerns."
How to allay the anxiety? Remember: Becoming a parent is an exciting time, so relish it - and be assured that all of the things that you are worried about are things that every new parent worries about. For more specific advice, we asked local experts:
What is your best advice for a nervous new dad about to head home with baby?
"Follow your instinct. As a parent what your heart tells you is almost always accurate. Secondly, enjoy life day by day. There will be easy days and there will be tough ones. There are no specific techniques on baby holding, just make sure the baby is breathing properly. Diapering is not very complicated, just avoid rubbing excessively. I know being a new dad is very nerve-wracking, but babies are very resilient creatures. If you see your pediatrician and talk with your family and friends and you follow your feelings, that baby will be happy and healthy!"
- Dr. Florencia Braier, pediatrician and board-certified lactation consultant, Village Pediatric Group, Tuckahoe, NY
"Knowing what to expect and careful planning can help to facilitate the transition from pregnancy to parenthood. Expecting parents should contact their hospital to find out about the classes that they offer for preparing for childbirth and caring for their newborns. Classes for caring for newborns will include information about feeding patterns, common concerns of parents, physical assessment of the baby, the role of the pediatrician, and the how to's such as feeding, bathing, and changing your baby.
After the baby is born, new parents begin to take care of their baby in the hospital under the watchful eye of the nurses and pediatrician. They can provide encouragement, support, and useful advice that will help the new moms and dads to develop confidence in their new role as parents. Some slow deep breathing and positive self statements can also help to calm anxious parents. There are numerous books written on this topic and a visit to your local library or bookstore will have many offerings. If possible, it would also be a good idea for expecting parents to observe and to get some practice in holding and caring for their relatives' and friends' babies.
- Gail Benzion-Beyer, Psy.D., Mount Kisco, NY
"Feeling nervous and having anxiety is completely natural for all new dads, especially if you have had little to no experience caring for children before. Have no fear. Though. There are a lot of ways to overcome those fears.
One of the best things to do: Prepare beforehand. Read all the books, articles, and information related to having a baby and baby care that you can. This can also include going to parenting classes and support groups that focus on new dads.
People love to talk - and they also love to share every little thing that went wrong during and since the birth of their kids! While it's nice to converse with other parents, listening to negative stories can make new dads even more nervous than they already are. If someone starts telling you about a bad experience they had, you can choose to listen if you believe that it will help you prepare, but just remember that things that happened to other people are not going to necessarily happen to you.
If you have a close friend or family member that has recently had a baby, volunteering to help out with their baby for the day can help relieve some of the anxiety you may be feeling. After you feel comfortable, you could even volunteer to babysit for a few hours. In the event that you have an emergency or just a simple question after your new baby comes home and you are alone with him or her, it is helpful to post telephone numbers where you can easily find them. Having grandma's or mom's number hanging in plain view will prevent you from becoming nervous if you need to reach out for help.
If you are nervous about the delivery process or caring for your infant while still in the hospital, going to labor classes with your significant other is helpful. Even if your significant other does not want to participate, dads can still go and watch to learn. At any point that you feel nervous or have a question, do not hesitate to call the doctor. Doctors expect that every new parent, both moms and dads, are going to be nervous when they have a new baby. Do not ever feel embarrassed or unsure if calling the doctor is the right thing to do, especially if you have a fussy baby.
If you are going to be alone with your new son or daughter for the first time, make sure that your little one's mom writes down the baby's schedule and leaves favorite toys out. New dads and nervous dads tend to get anxious when their baby starts to cry. Not every cry, though, means that the baby is in distress or in pain. It can mean that the baby is hungry, tired, bored, or needs to be burped. Make sure to keep track of when and how your baby cries so that you will be able to effectively read his or her cues.
If you are in a pinch and cannot reach anyone if you have a question, you can find information on the Internet. Looking online for answers should not be used if the baby is sick or there is an emergency, but the web can help answer some questions. For example, not quite sure which way that outfits goes on? You don't have to give away your dad pride and call someone, because simple answers such as those are normally available online.
Finally, and most importantly, take a deep breath and remember that every single dad was in your shoes once - and most definitely experienced similar anxieties. It's normal!"
- Rich Esposito, M.S., Hudson Valley Family Life Family Counseling, Cortlandt Manor, NY
Also see: More advice for nervous new dads
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