Fathers-to-be in Cornwall get prepared for parenthood with DadPads

An information pack developed by dads for dads is helping fathers prepare for family life and tackles the mental health issues which can affect new parents.

The DadPadTM was created by InspireCornwallCIC in partnership with NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group and Cornwall Council and with the help of a young fathers’ advisory group to give clear, practical advice on looking after newborns, their partners and themselves.

It covers a range of issues, such as the support dads can give while mums are breastfeeding, being aware of perinatal mental illness and the anxiety and frustrations that come with parenthood, as well as hands-on advice on issues like nappy changing.

Health visitors in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have been giving the laminated pack of cards to new dads as part of a DadPack to help young fathers and those who need more support to become more confident of their role.

Julian Bose, a founding director of InspireCornwallCIC, said:  “It was an idea we had in Cornwall as colleagues were talking about the lack of information for dads around pregnancy and the postnatal period.

“We came up with the idea of cards for dads, something they could have around the house or take in the gym bag, even hang on the fridge, so it was easily accessible.

“There was a Young Fathers’ Advisory group linked to our organisation and they came up with the themes, which we have added to, so there’s breastfeeding, bottle feeding, holding and handling, even information if someone’s not in a relationship. They asked for all of these things they could practically use to help.

“It’s been a great tool for Health Visitors to use to engage with dads who are traditionally an excluded group. “

Work on the DadPadTM began following concerns around safeguarding of infants and a study of serious case reviews across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.  Health professionals knew it would also help to raise awareness among new parents of mental health and when and how to seek help.

Perinatal mental health problems affect one in five women and can include anxiety, depression or more severe illness like post-partum psychosis.

Without treatment it can have a devastating effect on families. Suicide is the second leading cause of maternal death and perinatal mental illness can also affect the health and wellbeing of infants and children.

A sense of anxiety for new dads is common but fathers can also become depressed, particularly where partners suffer from perinatal mental health problems or where they feel unable to cope.

Mr Bose added: “Coming from a probation background, I’ve been putting plasters over people while arguing for more prevention for years.  This allows you to judge the dynamics of the relationship and protect the child at the earliest possible time, before any problems become entrenched.

“It can help professionals that go in early to see families, remembering that should a mum have depression; the first person they’re going to speak to about it is the father, according to the statistics. So it’s vital the father is switched on to receiving the message, and open to helping.  It’s vital that the man is engaged early on.”

DadPadTM was first commissioned in 2012-13 by the former PCT, and 2,200 were distributed. Another 5,000 updated versions, produced with input from the specialist perintal mental health team, were commissioned by NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group and Cornwall Council’s public health team last year, using CAMHS transformation funding in support of the local strategy around infant mental health.

Ruth Wellings, Programme Manager for Women and Children at NHS Kernow CCG, said:  “Young dads find it difficult to ask for help, particularly where their partners can become expert in the practicalities quite quickly and they don’t.

“This is about Dads being prepared for some of that tension and strain of being a new parent, but without being overwhelmed and knowing that it’s not just mums who can access the help and advice that’s available, even if they don’t live with their partner.”

Father-to-be Ross, 22, received his DadPack during his partner’s second routine antenatal visit. He and partner Georgia, 19, are expecting their first child in September.

“Obviously all the appointments are based around Georgia but getting the pack means I’m involved and I thought it was really cool,” he said.

“I was a bit scared when we found out we were having a baby, obviously happy, but a bit scared and in the beginning I was a bit clueless. It’s quite hard to pick things up, but the nurse and the information helped.

“The child development part is my favourite bit, but there’s things in there, like things about mental health, that I didn’t know about and that I didn’t know you needed to know about.”

Giles Berrisford, one of NHS England’s two Associate National Clinical Directors for Perinatal Mental Health, said: “While perinatal and maternity services need to focus on mums and newborns, the DadPadTM gives support to new fathers who can often feel left out and unable to help when they’re needed most, and this can put a strain on both parents.

“Simple and effective tools like this can help dads prepare for that life-changing moment which should be a happy time but one we know can lead to terrible distress for some parents and babies unless help, treatment and support is given early.”