When my daughter was born, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I’d never even held a newborn baby before she was placed into my arms, six hours after going into labour, let alone been responsible for one. And as for nappies? I had no idea.
Thankfully, my husband was a ‘hands-on dad’ – very hands-on. So much so, that I didn’t change a single nappy for the first three weeks of my baby’s life. I was too busy... oh, you know, recovering from birth and keeping her alive by feeding her.
And it wasn’t just helpful, but a matter of survival. I couldn’t move around easily, for a start – after a third-degree tear and stitches, the idea of walking up the stairs to get to the changing mat was unpalatable, to say the least. But it also made me feel supported. It took the pressure off. It was far less lonely than it might have been, doing it all by myself – because we were a team.
When he went back to work, though, it was a shock to the system. I suddenly found myself having to learn all about wipes and creams and the fiddly sticky tabs at the sides; not to mention how to stop your tiny infant from weeing all over themselves, or somehow – somehow – in your face.
But it made me appreciate how good it felt to share the mundane routine of looking after a small baby in those first few weeks, while he was there: the constant washing and feeding and changing and clearing up. Because, truth be told, maternity leave can be boring, as much as it can be rewarding.
So it makes for sobering reading to discover that a study has found mums have lower happiness levels and are more stressed compared to dads. Researchers say these differences may come down to how and when childcare activities are split between parents: dads tend to do more weekend, recreational activities with their kids, while mothers are more likely to do childcare activities that produce more stress, such as nappy changing – and be on their own doing it.
If you ask me, hands-on dadding is both the right and the best way to make for two happy parents. So, how to reverse this trend – and make mums happier?
One suggestion was to try and change the type of activities ‘traditionally’ done by mums and dads – and yes, we’re talking to you, Jacob Rees-Mogg. The Commons leader revealed in 2017 that despite having six children, he had never changed a nappy, because he was “not a modern man”.
I call crap (ahem) on that. And so does the research – study author Cadhla McDonnell said that, contrary to the traditional view of mothers finding caregiving for children more “meaningful”, there was no difference in gender.
I exclusively breastfed my daughter when she was born, so it simply wasn’t possible for my husband to do the night-feeds – a conundrum that other parents have concerns with, if this Mumsnet thread is anything to go by.
So he did the nappies, and got me food, and I did the basic ‘keeping our baby alive’, bit. It worked for us. If he hadn’t taken on those caregiving duties (it helped that he was on paternity leave for three weeks, so could be around), then I simply don’t know how I would have managed.
Things still need to change, however – during those initial three weeks, he recounts going into a public toilet at an art gallery in the middle of London to look for a changing table. There wasn’t one. He had to change our daughter on the floor of the men’s restroom – and of course, she had explosive diarrhoea.
Even now, the majority of pubs put their changing tables in the women’s loos, as though men couldn’t possibly take their turn. The issue has become so widespread that it’s even sparked a campaign to get it addressed.
But overall, it’s the conversation that needs to change – as well as the action. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard friends say, “oh, you’re so lucky. He’s such a hands-on dad.” But that’s not on, is it? Shouldn’t all dads be as ‘hands-on’ as mums? It’s their child too, after all.