Refresher course for grandparents

REFRESHER COURSE: Diane Kynnersley freshens her technique at the Epworth maternity hospital.
REFRESHER COURSE: Diane Kynnersley freshens her technique at the Epworth maternity hospital.

Men in their 60s and 70s begin to shuffle in their seats as they watch a DVD about the changing role of fathers. ''I'm very much outside of the equation here,'' one new young dad on the video laments, speaking of the exclusion he has sometimes felt since the birth of his first child.

The DVD, being shown to a room full of expecting grandparents in a class at an Australian hospital encourages new fathers to use ''skin-to-skin contact'' with their infants, to speak to and make eye contact with new babies in order to strengthen their bond.

Midwife Liz Jackson pauses the DVD to ask the would-be grandfathers who was present at the birth of their own children.

One man, 60-year-old Peter Kynnersley, laughs as he recalls almost fainting at the birth of his first child. Another, 67-year-old Alan Rennie, adds that both his children were caesarean and back then men ''weren't really invited in''.

The changing role of fathers is one of many topics, ranging from swaddling to demand breastfeeding, that Ms Jackson raises in her classes at the hospital. ''So we've got to make sure the fellas are getting a lot of the support, too,'' she says to about 20 participants, most there at the request of their heavily pregnant children.

The monthly classes have been running at the hospital for almost a decade, and as the hospital's average-aged mother is 34, often new grandparents are well into their 60s.

Most grandparents in Ms Jackson's class report change in the areas of sleeping and demand breastfeeding (from recommendations that infants stay in the parents' room in the early months to keeping babies on their backs and feeding babies when they like as opposed to every four hours). Sue Davies, 61, says much of the sudden infant death syndrome and sleeping information she learnt in the class is new to her.

''There's no bumper on the cot, no lambswool ... a lot of people used to swear by lambswool,'' she says.

Ms Jackson says she also likes to talk about what will be expected of grandparents once the babies are born. ''Many of them are working, have their own commitments, their own lives ... and children need to understand that even if they are retired they need to be able to do their own thing and are not just a childcare service,'' she says. ''It's something I always tell [grandparents] they need to talk to their kids about before the baby is born.''

She also delicately touches upon other common issues raised by new parents, including a tendency of grandparents to sometimes offer too much unsolicited advice. ''Sometimes they just need to button their lips,'' Ms Jackson says with a laugh. ''They didn't like to be told how to do it when they were young, so let them make their own mistakes.''

Grandmother-to-be Gail Fruehwirth, 62, says that while it's good to know about new approaches to parenting, most things have remained the same.

''You give them cuddles, lots of kisses, do what comes naturally and everything else follows on,'' she says.

Guide for grandparents

  • Look after baby so parents can sleep
  • Bring over a casserole
  • Invite new mum and dad to dinner
  • Help with the housework
  • Ring prior to coming to visit
  • Be supportive of birth decisions and breastfeeding decisions
  • Help control the number of visitors
  • Encourage friends to make hospital visits short
  • Offer to look after older children so that parents can spend time with the new baby


The Age