When it comes to a baby’s diet dads have a big effect. Once your baby is eating solid foods dads can help manage what they eat. We asked a qualified dietitian to give us answers to some common questions from dads.

Dad: I’m not sure she’s growing properly, what should I do?

I would take your baby to a baby health clinic and have a talk to the early childhood nurse and it’s very easy to get an appointment there. Sometimes you’ll find early childhood nurses based out of pharmacies as well. So you may not even have to go to the clinic. The key thing is to have baby weighed and their length measured so the nurse can check how they are going on the growth chart. Several measurements are better than just one so you can see a pattern.

Dad: If it is a bit low, like I think it is, she doesn’t look as big as the other babies that we see. Do I then go to the GP about it or a hospital or what? Yep, you can go to your GP and the GP will make a referral to a dietitian and they can help assess their growth and provide you with some information to assist with that.

A worried dad talks to a Dietitian -

Dad: My wife’s not so worried about it, she’s the one doing the breastfeeding. Is it true, she says as long as the baby is getting breast milk it’s all it needs and there’s nothing to worry about even at 5 months? Well we would like to see complimentary foods started around the 6-month period, so 5 months it is still fine to fully breast feed your baby as long as they are growing. As long as it’s growing consistently it doesn’t matter if it’s small, it might just be a small baby.

Dad: Ok and when you say complimentary foods, what are they? That’s foods which are complimentary to breastmilk or formula. So basically means introducing solids, family foods in other words. Until about 6 months breastmilk or formula can provide all the nutrition a baby needs. Around 6 months of age and sometimes for babies it can be a little earlier than that, the iron stores start to dwindle so you really need to start to introduce other foods to provide those nutrients. So that’s why generally speaking iron fortified cereal is the recommendation for the first food that you try. But there is no reason why you can’t start your baby with pureed vegetables or pureed fruits as well.

A worried dad talks to a Dietitian -

Dad: What about allergies like peanuts?  Well there are some foods we wouldn’t recommend for children under 2 and that does include hard nuts but these days they are suggesting that you can still introduce peanut butter as long as there are no chunky bits in it. The key when you are introducing any solid food is to leave it a few days before you put another variety in place. Just in case baby does have a reaction to something. So, you want to say give them something for 3 days and observe if there are any reactions, if there is no reaction, try another food, then try another food.

Dad: And what sort of reaction are you looking for? Potentially the sort of typical reactions you might get would be a rash or maybe a bit of swelling around their mouth or they may get eczema or an itch. They could have loose bowel motions as well. That could be a potential reaction.

Commentary for SMS4dads by Anne Hills Dietitian at University of Newcastle (UON), Australia

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Richard’s research revealed possible long-term negative impacts on the children of dads with mental health issues. Fathers’ depressive symptoms in the first year after the birth predicted behaviour problems in their children years later.

“If dads’ mental health has such a dramatic impact then we need to be screening dads for depression, not just mums,” Richard explains.

In response to these limitations, Richard and his team have designed a smart-phone based program that allows mobile connection for new and expectant dads.

Participants receive texts containing information and links, and self-report their mood. If the mood tracker identifies dads as needing extra support, they will be offered a phone call from a counsellor trained in this area.

Following the success of the pilot of the SMS4dads program, Funding was received to enable a National roll-out.

“When dad’s miss antenatal classes or activities, they also miss out on contact and links to other people.  They may never get the chance to say to anyone, look I’m really stressed,” he points out.

“SMS4dads is a way of bringing dads into the health system and keeping them linked in with services and support,” explains Richard.

Richard Fletcher

Associate Professor, PhD

Richard credits a varied career, a talented and innovative team, and much life experience for affording him the insight needed to address the challenges related to actively engaging dads.

After completing his masters in Medical Science, studying epidemiology, Richard earned his PhD focusing on fathers and attachment.

“Fathers are invisible in many places, and that is endemic. Not because people dislike fathers, but because the system is set up to be focused on mothers.”

Some services and organisations are aware of the need to engage dads, but have been unsuccessful in their attempts.

“When people are challenged about this, they generally want dads involved,” Richard affirms.

“Often, however, they just don’t know how to do it.”

Richard works with health professionals on issues related to fathers, and has delivered many antenatal programs for expectant dads.

He credits his own family with giving him an understanding of the role of fathers needed to make his work relevant.

“I have three daughters and two stepdaughters,”

“My kids would say they taught me just about everything I know and they’d be right. They’ve taught me a lot, and still do.”