Get help from our network of more than 300 experts on changes big and small, personal and professional.
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton on New Fatherhood
T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., founder of the Child Development Unit at Children’s Hospital Boston, is clinical professor of Pediatrics Emeritus at Harvard Medical School and professor of Pediatrics and Human Development at Brown University. A famed advocate for children, his many internationally acclaimed books for parents include To Listen to a Child, Infants and Mothers and, with Stanley Greenspan, M.D., The Irreducible Needs of Children. His new book, Touchpoints: Birth to Three deals with a child’s emotional and behavioral development. Here, Brazelton shares his keys to success for any new dad.
For someone who has just become a new dad, what’s the most important thing for him to do during the first 30 days?
I think it’s to be involved—both with the baby and with his wife. We know now from various brain and hormonal studies that fathers who are involved and diaper the baby, feed the baby when his wife is asleep at night and help her build back up and sleep a normal eight hours, have a burst of female hormones. They become more nurturing and more available to both baby and mother—and this is fabulous. They also have a drop in male hormones, which is nature’s way of saying, “Wait awhile to have the next baby.”
Why is it important for the baby to have contact with its father in the first 30 days?
We [the Child Development Unit at Children’s Hospital Boston] have evidence from our own work that the newborn baby knows the father’s voice and face within the first 14 days. By six to eight weeks, a baby has an entirely different behavioral set for the father than the mother. To me, that shows the kind of passion the baby has for two different ways [between mother and father] to react to his or her world. The baby sets the tone.
During the first 30 days, what type of fears and questions do new fathers have about this significant life change?
“Will I drop the baby?” “Did I hurt the baby?” They may regress back to “Should I have had this baby?” “Will I ever learn to be a good father?” All of us have these fears, and they are perfectly normal signs for building up a passionate relationship with a baby because they are all generating energy to go around learning about that new baby as a person.
When a new dad has these fears, what should he do to overcome them?
I don’t think he should. He should just revel in them and say, “Oh, my gosh, I am learning to be a father.” The main thing is generating the energy to go with being a part of a working family.
Who does the father really have to be during the first 30 days of being a new dad for the baby?
Well, available. The one thing that needs to be mentioned is that there is always gatekeeping. That means every adult who falls in love with the same baby is in competition with every other adult, so they gatekeep. When a new father picks up the baby, the mother is all too likely to tell him, “You shouldn’t do it that way.” She will make little cracks all the way through, unconsciously, making it competitive, as if she wants the baby for herself. Well, the father wants the baby to himself, too, if he cares enough, and he has to be ready for that kind of competitive gatekeeping. It is just a sign of how much he cares about that baby. Sit down and talk about it once a month.
How important is the communication between the parents during this time?
This is a time when the mother needs the father to communicate with her more than at any other time in their lives. Absolutely—fathers need to communicate.
What mistakes do most new fathers make when it comes to the first 30 days of dealing with his child?
I think not being available is the biggest mistake. I don’t think fathers make mistakes intentionally; I think they make mistakes because they feel their wives are better mothers than they are fathers. So they duck out and leave it to the mothers, not because they don’t care but because they care so much.
What can you recommend for a new father to do to help prepare and be ready for the first 30 days?
He should read my book. He needs to be available, offer to diaper the baby and hold the baby whenever he wants. Talk to the baby whenever you diaper the baby, that’s a wonderful time. And do offer to feed the baby at least once a night so your wife can sleep through the night.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
That it’s inevitable.
The best thing about change is…
…it’s an opportunity to see that even more success follows.
What is the best change you have ever made?
The best change that I’ve ever experienced I think is getting married and having my first baby. Those were enormous changes in my life.
For more information on Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, visit www.brazelton-institute.com.