What do new and expectant fathers need to help them on their journey into parenthood? There’s a lot to learn and potential stressors like sleep deprivation or financial insecurity mean it can be a pretty challenging time.

There’s no doubt that babies bring changes. So dads need support – just like mums – to enable them to navigate their way through. We know from working with fathers’ mental health experts and campaigners like Mark Williams, Scott Mair and Andy Mayers that one really important area is enabling fathers to look after their mental health and wellbeing. It’s also vital that dads know where to go to get help if needed.

Sadly, depression in new and expectant dads is higher than you might think, with around one in ten dads affected, according to one large study [1].

More support, better screening programmes and mental health services are very much needed. And this year on International Fathers’ Mental Health day we have news of some free support available to dads from July onwards.

Here at Best Beginnings we have long held an ambition to work with more closely with fathers. So we’re delighted to be on the verge of launching a new version of our Baby Buddy app. It’s going to be the world’s first app offering daily information updates for dads (and mums!) all the way from conception up until when their baby reaches 1 year old.

It’s been a great partnership project, drawing on the expertise of organisations who work closely with dads. We’ve spent a lot of time, together with Future Men, talking to new and expectant fathers to get a better understanding of the challenges they are facing. And we commissioned the Fatherhood Institute to write the entries in the app.

Dads from a wide range of backgrounds shared their stories about the challenges they face, including the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic:

"I've struggled quite a bit mentally. I was sleep deprived and down in the dumps. The health visitor always asked my partner how she was doing. I know this sounds awfully selfish but I was trying to get help too. I needed someone to speak to."
Father to baby born March 2020 (3 days pre-Lockdown), 36 years old

"Exclusion of dads causes unnecessary stress and worry and makes expecting mums feel unsupported and dads unvalued. Encouragement and support for dads to be involved at every stage is very important."
Father to baby born during Lockdown, 32 years old

There’s no doubt that when fathers have been excluded from antenatal appointments, and sometimes even from labour and birth, during this last year it has had big impacts on both mums and dads.

Dads have also told us about their challenges related to financial pressures and job insecurity, juggling family time and work, the return to work and the impact this has on bonding with the baby. Many dads were worried about a decline in the relationship with their partner outside of communication about their baby’s needs. Dads also reported feeling side-lined by healthcare professionals who sometimes don’t address or include dads at appointments, while some dads felt side-lined at home by their partner or family.

The new Baby Buddy app is designed to support dads to be confident and engaged as parents, to strengthen family relationships and the father-baby bond. We share a wealth of practical tips and learning to take dads every step of the way through pregnancy, childbirth and caring for a newborn.

Bite-sized resources also help dads to prioritise their health and wellbeing. We invite dads to check-in with their feelings, give tips on nurturing positive relationships and encourage ways to avoid feeling side-lined.

One crucial part of the support we are giving involves enabling mums and dads to both be alert to changes in each other’s mood and to take action. Sometimes all that’s needed is a bit of rest, to make time to talk, or simply to take some deep breaths.

At other times dads and mums alike will need more help. Checklists can help parents to spot the signs of mental ill-health, while signposts sharing resources online help them to know that they are not alone and help is out there. We also encourage parents to seek support at an early stage by reaching out to their GP or health visitor.

With around one in ten dads suffering depression it’s vital that dads feel confident to ask for help. Together with other fathers’ organisations and campaigners we’re working to address the stigma around mental ill-health and to help dads to see that there is a way through.

If you’d like to register to test drive the new Baby Buddy app before it is launched, please register your interest here.

Sources of help and information
If you have been experiencing symptoms of depression over two weeks or more it's important to talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP.

If you're in emotional pain or a crisis, you can receive free 24/7 confidential support via the Baby Buddy Crisis Text Messenger.

You can find out more about depression and men from the Royal College of Psychiatrists

You can also get help and support at MIND (www.mind.org.uk helpline 0300 123 3393 or text 86463), PANDAS (www.pandasfoundation.org.uk helpline 0843 2898401), APNI www.apni.org, helpline 0207 386 0868) or Dads Matter UK. www.dadsmatteruk.org/

Blog by Best Beginnings Content Lead, Nicola Cadbury

[1]Paulson, J F, Blazemore, S D (2010)Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: A meta-analysis. JAMA, 303(19), 1961-1969.