It’s month 6 of your pregnancy, and according to the new book The His and Hers Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, it’s time for the dads-to-be out there to start thinking about paternity leave. This handy extract outlines the facts surrounding paternity leave, when to ask, what to expect, and why it’s important to consider taking some time off once the baby arrives to support mum, and have time to bond with baby.
Although it may still feel like a way off, month 6 is the time to start putting into place arrangements for your paternity leave. In the UK fathers are entitled to at least two weeks’ paternity leave following the birth. Depending on your employer, you may be offered longer than this, but this is the minimum you can expect if you wish to take it. How much you get paid will depend on your contract and duration of employment. You will need to let your employer know of your intention to take paternity leave 15 weeks before your baby is due (week 25 of your partner’s pregnancy).
Paternity leave is important and has so many benefits for you, your partner and your baby. It gives you crucial bonding time with your baby, as well as time to learn about how to care for him or her, and how to get stuck in with being an active and hands-on dad. The more you are involved, the more confident you will feel, and the more confident in you your partner and baby will also feel.
Paternity leave is also shown to be hugely beneficial in establishing breastfeeding. One study showed that when fathers took paternity leave, their partners and babies were significantly more likely to be still breastfeeding at two, four and six months. Having support and care from their partners in those first few days when learning a new skill, makes a difference to how confident, competent and supported a woman is likely to feel. Support to get breastfeeding off to a good start, and the opportunity for dad to learn how he can support mum, has a long-lasting impact.
It is not uncommon for men to feel a sense of anxiety or pressure when it comes to providing for the family. The desire to look after and protect the economic wellbeing of the nest can mean that we feel we need to get back to work as quickly as possible. While this is undoubtedly important, so is being with your family, and it can be helpful to think about how you can balance the two. Look at options like taking annual leave instead of paternity leave to maintain a salary, or budgeting before baby arrives to allow you to take time off without having to worry about money.
If leave is important to you as a family, it is helpful to make sure your plans are informed. One study looking at fatherhood highlighted the numbers of fathers who said they ‘cannot afford’ to take paternity leave. Interestingly, in the majority of those cases, it was an assumption, rather than a fact based on financial calculations.
You may feel different when you return to work after the arrival of your baby. Some dads find having to leave their new family behind brings feelings of guilt, jealousy or resentment. You might feel as though you are missing out. Your baby changes and grows so quickly, you might sometimes resent the fact that you are not there to see it all. You might feel jealous that your partner got to see something special, and you missed it. You might feel guilty if something happens and you are not there to be a part of it. Sometimes these feelings can be quite overwhelming, and you can take them out on your partner by being critical or snapping at her. Being aware of your feelings, and why you are feeling them, is the first step in helping prevent this happen. It is a pretty vulnerable time for both of you.
You might notice that you feel different about work after the arrival of your baby. Even dads who love their work can feel they no longer want to stay late in the office, but rather get home to be with their family. This can cause difficulties if colleagues have expectations of you, but your priorities have changed. This happens more often than is discussed, and can possibly be attributed to the fact that men go through hormonal changes too. Studies show that new dads can experience a drop in testosterone levels of up to 30 per cent, which, it is hypothesised, is nature’s way of ensuring dad becomes a more stable parent. This can mean that even the most career-minded of men suddenly find that work just isn’t that important anymore and that family is.