Tips for making the most of your parental leave


8. Take regular time out to look after your physical and mental health.

It is often overlooked, but men also go through physical and neurological changes during their partner's pregnancy period which can have long term affects. Upon entering the parental leave period, a dad may already be feeling over-exhausted from months of sleepless nights while juggling a full time work commitment. They may be feeling higher levels of stress than usual, and are likely to have experienced both a decrease in fitness and an increase in weight since the pregnancy period began. Parental leave is a great opportunity for dads to focus on getting their health back on track.

According to the New York Times, fathers gain an average of 14lb (6.35kg) during the pregnancy period, with another source suggesting this could be as high as 30lb (13.62kg). The research contributed the weight gain to:

  • eating out more frequently before the baby arrived (42%)
  • increased availability of snacks around the house (41%)
  • desire to make their partner feel better about their own weight (25%)
  • being served larger portions during this period (20%).

Another reason men gain weight has been attributed to changes in cortisol, testosterone, and prolactin levels during and after their partner’s pregnancy, also synonymous with insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, a decrease in fat metabolism, and of course, weight gain.

In another study, 10,000 men were tracked over a 20 year period from adolescence to adulthood. These scientists found that dads gained weight even if they did not live with the newborn, gaining 3.3 pounds (1.5kg) in comparison to the 4.4 pounds (2kg) gained by dads living with their babies. Alternatively, men without daddy duties actually lost 1.4 pounds over the same time period. 

Another form of physical and chemical changes that can be experienced by some fathers is known as 'couvade syndrome', or 'sympathetic pregnancy' and is rarely talked about in new dad circles. Symptoms of couvade syndrome other than weight gain includes altered hormone levels, morning nausea, disturbed sleep patterns that mirror the symptoms of the pregnant partner.

Being organised and making full use of your baby's nap times can help you get your eating and exercise routines under control. Simply getting outdoors each day to take baby for a walk will help get your physical and mental wellbeing back on track. You may struggle to fit in individual exercise activities like visits to your gym (although some do offer child minding services as part of their membership benefits), but you have a great opportunity to figure out a routine that works for you while still completing the household chores and general childcare duties each day.

Finding something that can help you relax and get into a good headspace can also help make dealing with the stress and monotony of looking after a baby more sustainable. During my parental leave, I fell in love with American football (NFL), which is televised on Mondays for Australian viewers. Monday therefore became my laundry and chores day, which I kept free religiously, making sure I had my recharge time and was in a good headspace for the week ahead. It was also something I could do while still being productive, being able to complete most of the big ticket household chores like washing, vacuuming and cleaning while having the football on in the background. I could also do this while looking after my son, all while my wife was at work so it didn’t compete with family time (i.e. without annoying my wife!).

Something else I was fortunate enough to do was to take my son for walks along the beach on almost a daily basis. Having a good walking path nearby that I could access without having to drive anywhere meant that I could get out and about, keep up a regular exercise routine and explore my local neighbourhood all at once. This was even more impactful to my headspace and overall well being than reserving Mondays to watch football, and I was able to rediscover my local area, which for a corporate dad, is actually a luxury in itself!