Welcome to Dad Village, Huffpost Canada’s series about all things fatherhood.
A quarter of new dads feel socially isolated, and supports for fathers tend to be lacking even though this generation is more involved in parenting than ever before. That’s why it’s so important to connect! We hope this series will get dads talking: to each other, to their partners, and online.
There’s a lot of focus on a mom’s health when a new baby comes along, and rightly so.
But whether a dad is supporting a female partner, parenting solo, or in a same-sex relationship, parenting takes a toll. Recent studies have shown that fatherhood can negatively impact mental health, and men can get postpartum depression, too. Dads can also get burnout, and the stress of it all can impact men physically.
Experiencing high stress and lack of sleep can increase a man’s risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and mental illness, according to the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation. The foundation also found that men are skipping meals, eating unhealthy snacks, and not taking breaks.
That’s not great, dads! You need to start taking care of yourselves, too.
But how can a new dad, in all his sleeplessness and stress, make his own health a priority? Especially when there’s a baby that requires most of your attention?
Here are five manageable tips for dads to take care of their mental and physical health:
1. Get outside
Sunlight and exercise have both been proven to help tired people stay awake, and fresh air is a natural mood booster. So get outside, whether it’s for a brisk walk around the neighbourhood, a weekend hike, or a quick run at lunch.
“Nature is fuel for the soul, ” Richard Ryan, researcher and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, previously told the University of Rochester. “Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature.”
Not sure how you can squeeze it in? Take baby with you! This is why strollers were invented, people. You can also invest in a jogging stroller if you’re craving a good run, or take baby in a carrier for a (low-impact, easy) hike.
2. Resist eating junk
There’s nothing like a lack of sleep and an increase in stress to make you reach for the chips, try to live off your kid’s dinner scraps, or say eff it and order in burgers every second night. None of this is particularly ... great.
Parents are also prone to late-night snacking if and when the kids go to bed, which may induce weight gain and higher levels of blood sugar. In fact, a 2010 study found that a father’s risk of obesity climbs by four per cent with every child!
We get it. You are keeping humans alive. You deserve a treat. But a little more focus on what you’re actually putting in your body will benefit you in so many ways. Try to eat dinner together as a family, which increases your likelihood of consuming a balanced meal. Stock up on healthy snacks like fruit with yogurt, veggies and dip, and crackers with hummus or peanut butter.
And if you’re just snacking out of boredom or stress, Dietitians of Canada recommends going for a walk, listening to music, or reading instead.
3. Talk to other dads
A 2019 study found that a quarter of new dads feel socially isolated, with 20 per cent saying they lost friends after having kids. That same study found that friendships are important for a dad’s mental health, however, as those without close friends were more likely to experience stress in the first year of fatherhood.
There are tons of support groups and playgroups for new moms, and Facebook groups a’plenty. But support for new dads tends to be lacking. So, unfortunately, it’s often up to you to seek out fellow dad kinship, but it’s so important to try!
Chat up another dad at the park. Ask about the baby pics your co-worker displays proudly on his desk. Get to know the other dads at daycare drop-off, and suggest a playdate. Use the kid as an excuse: that’s what they’re for.
Dad Central also provides a database for programs and organizations that serve dads across Canada. Get out there! Make some buddies who will nod in agreement when you occasionally refer to your baby as “the jerk that took all my sleep.”
4. Schedule downtime
Every parent needs a break, and dads are no exception. You cannot run on an empty tank, pour from an empty cup, insert alternate cliche here. You get the picture.
It can be hard when baby is young, but try to do at least one thing for yourself every week. Maybe it’s an exercise class or quick trip to the gym. Maybe it’s 30 minutes alone in a coffee shop to read the newspaper. Maybe it’s a massage (babies are heavy!). Whatever floats your boat, schedule it in the calendar and stick to it.
If you have a partner, return the favour and make sure they do the same for themselves. You’ll both be happier.
5. Practice mindfulness
The stress of new parenthood is no joke. One recent study found that some new parents experience a drop in happiness even larger than the drop that occurs from unemployment, divorce, or a partner’s death.
When you have a million things on your mind, a little introspection can go a long way. That’s where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness meditation allows us to train our brains to react different to stressors, and it can make you a better parent.
“Think of it as doing push-ups for the brain,” parenting expert Alyson Schafer previously wrote in HuffPost Canada.
Practicing mindfulness will help you to be more present, calm your reactions, and focus your attention. Here are some easy ways to get started:
- Start your day with a few calming breaths, thinking about what you’re grateful for, and setting your intentions.
- Put down your phone around your kids to be more present.
- Take breaks to refill your cup (figuratively ... but literally if you need a coffee)
- Try some mindfulness apps such as Dan Harris’s 10% Happier or Sam Harris’s Waking Up, and Meditation Timer or Calm.
WATCH: Dad opens up about postpartum depression.