Dads lose friends too: Transition to fatherhood is tough for Aussie dads

Dads lose friends too: Transition to fatherhood is tough for Aussie dads
Dads lose friends too: Transition to fatherhood is tough for Aussie dads Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

Losing friends after welcoming a baby is a common experience for many mums as limited time, differing priorities and sheer exhaustion make socialising far more difficult. According to a new survey, however, it's not just mothers whose social circles shrink after having a baby - dads lose mates too. 

About 20 per cent of fathers say that the number of close friends they had decreased in the 12 months after becoming a father, with almost a quarter describing it as an isolating time. And 19 per cent admitted that no one was "looking out for them" when they became a first-time dad.

They're just some of the findings from a large survey of global fathers commissioned by the Movember foundation, which highlights just how stressful - and lonely - the transition to fatherhood can be for many men.

The Ipsos MORI research focused on men's social connections, with an emphasis on fatherhood and the impact of becoming a dad. Men from the UK, Australia, Canada and the USA, aged 18 to 75 answered online surveys, with a total of 1,000 men from each country. And while the findings are interesting across the board, what stands out is just how much Aussie dads are struggling.

"Australian men appear to find the transition into fatherhood the hardest," the report notes. "The research suggests that Australian men experience greater difficulties when becoming a father, with American men (and to some extent Canadian men) faring better." 

Aussie men are more likely to have felt isolated when they became a father, to say that they did not cope well with the stresses of becoming a father, to say they felt lonely in the first 12 months after their baby was born and to say their friendship numbers decreased when they became a dad. They were also more likely to say that modern dads are more under more pressure "to be a good father" than dads of yore. 

Looking more closely at the data, a concerning 70 per cent of first-time fathers indicated that their stress levels increased in the 12 months after becoming a dad. For most new fathers, stress was predominantly related to lack of sleep, (56 per cent) followed by finances (50 per cent), work commitments (38 per cent) and a lack of me-time (35 per cent).

Having a baby also changed men's behaviours in ways that affected their physical health. For many dads this meant doing less exercise (34 per cent), weight gain (23 per cent) smoking more (12 per cent), drinking more alcohol (10 per cent) or all of the above (6 per cent).

And friendships matter. The research found that close friends are important for fathers' mental health, helping to ease some of the stress of those exhausting and overwhelming early months of fatherhood.

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"This research adds to the evidence which shows that the transition into fatherhood can be a stressful time for men which impacts on both physical and mental health and leaves some men feeling isolated," the authors note. "Having close friends, and good quality friendships, can act as a buffer to these stresses though there is some evidence to suggest that men can lose friends when they become fathers and that they are not in touch with mates as much as they'd like."

Dr Nicole Highet of the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE) says the findings highlight just how hard the transition to parenthood can be for many fathers – particularly Aussie dads.

"While we often talk about the way motherhood can change women's friendships, it's interesting that this new survey shows just how many men experience this change too," Dr Highet continues. "And yet, as the research also notes, strong social connections are important for dads as they adjust to new parenthood and act as an important buffer against some of the stress."

According to Dr Highet the stress of fatherhood can often come as a surprise, with many men unprepared for just how much a baby can impact their work life, their physical and mental health, and their relationships. "That's why, with the support of WorkSafe Victoria under the WorkWell Program we've just released our Ready to COPE emails series for dads, to ensure expectant and new fathers are supported as they adjust to the many unknown and often unspoken of, challenges of becoming and being a dad."

With many dads experiencing stress, and one in ten fathers experiencing postnatal depression Dr Highet says it's important for men to be able to identify when they might need further support and treatment - or when stress becomes something more serious.

"Dads need to be aware of how they are travelling, be aware of the signs of distress and know that there's no shame in asking for help. As this research shows, many men find the transition to fatherhood hard. They're not alone," she says.

June 17 is International Fathers' Mental Health Day. Find more information here

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