ORLANDO, Fla. - Fatherhood can be one of the most challenging things a man will face -- thrilling, overwhelming and terrifying all at the same time.
But there is help as dads-to-be are shipping off to boot camp -- at least for an evening -- to ease their fears and learn how to get through those tough times.
"I'm pretty sure the stress level is going to be bumped up quite a bit," said Ryan Rivas.
Life will change for Rivas in just about 8 weeks and the thing about becoming a new dad is sudden, and there's no going back.
"I'm getting a little nervous," said Rivas. "Nervous enough that I have to come to this class just to make sure I know what I need to know."
The class could make all the difference for these future fathers. It's part of a national program called Boot Camp For New Dads, run in Orange County by Bryan Nelson.
Nelson said he thinks the class is helping to save lives.
"I believe it is. Anytime we can talk to a dad and at the end of the class, it's one of the things we do, I ask every dad, I point to him and I call him out and I say, 'Will you ever shake a baby?'" said Nelson. "It's uncomfortable, but we do it on purpose. I want that dad to say, 'No, I won't shake my baby.'"
Nelson said 74 percent of the time, shaken baby syndrome happens in the hands of a male. He said and often, it is not because that man is necessarily a bad father, but because he's overwhelmed.
That is why Nelson said a goal of the class is to educated men and teach them how to deal with frustration and being overwhelmed in a healthy way when things get tough.
"They taught us to say a safe word to our partner if we're getting a little too frustrated and things are getting a little too hard to handle," said Yrad Torres. "Go to her and say the safe word, just say it's 'Take your baby,' that way they know things are getting out of hand."
The class teaches patience, as well as the baby basics. It also teaches empathy; understanding and appreciating that the new mom is also struggling, possibly more so than the new dad. One in five mothers experience postpartum depression, but that's not the only difficulty. If the couple has chosen to do so, breast feeding can be challenging, as well.
"I guess one of the biggest things I learned was how difficult it is for women to breastfeed," said David Weaver, now a veteran dad. "I didn't realize going in that it was really something you have to work at. I figured it was natural, you know, it's meant to happen. Women have breasts and babies like to feed, and I figured it was a just a natural thing, but it's definitely something they have to work on. It's something you kind of have to work on as a couple, as well."
Veteran dads like Weaver help Nelson teach the class. They typically return when their babies are between the ages of three and nine months. The babies are then retired at about nine months, because they start to become more capable of indicating to mom and dad what it is they want.
Nelson said Boot Camp for New Dads is the only class he knows of in the nation that has actual, live babies in it. He said it's a great thing for a new dad to experience, because not only do they learn how to hold a baby and change a diaper, they get to see another dad take care of his infant for an extended period of time successfully, without needing help from mom.
"Like we always say in class, it doesn't make diapers smell any better, it doesn't make sleep any easier to find, but those first three months where you're figuring things out the hard way, then try, fail and adjust, the biggest plus side of this is you can learn from someone else's experience," said Nelson. "Let them try fail and adjust, and you learn from it. You never have to recover from a mistake they made, so it makes it a lot easier... Every dad fails, you get peed on, you get pooped on, you put diapers on backwards, that's fatherhood, really, that's parenthood really as a whole."
The class also address the issue of staying married. According to a study done by the charity OnePlusOne, almost two-thirds of couples have problems that didn't exist before the baby was born. The boot camp teaches dad that it's important to communicate to mom and other family members to minimize stress. If mom and dad aren't happy, the baby won't be happy, either.
Nelson said dads should attend the class when they are roughly about two months away from their due date, though fathers who already have children are also welcome to attend.
Right now, the classes are free. The Orange County program is currently funded by the Heart of Florida United Way with Healthy Start Coalition Orange County, but those funds are set to run out in just a few months.
If you would like to get more information on Boot Camp for New Dads Orlando or help fund the program, click here.
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