Learning the art of fatherhood

Class stresses importance of touch

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2001

"You got goggles?" somebody asks when the diapering demonstration is about to begin.

There is spontaneous applause when Brent Hopson successfully diapers Ian, 10 days old.

At Tuesday's Bartlett Regional Hospital prenatal class for fathers, there's lots of good-natured kidding as well as sharing of tips for Dad success.

"These diaper wipes, the Kirkland ones from Costco, are so much softer," observes Sacha Kotlarov, 34, as he changes his son Zander, 9 weeks.

Kotlarov next demonstrates bathing a baby for the group assembled in an administration building classroom. He has come prepared with a washcloth shaped like a frog puppet and a tiny rubber ducky.

"Zander is someone who doesn't like to sleep for long, but we have found that giving him a bath gives us an extra hour - from three to four hours," he says, dribbling warm water over his son's chest.


Eight dads, three with new babies and the others practicing on life-size dolls, are participating in the three-week course taught by Debbie Ballam. All Bartlett's prenatal classes are taught by Ballam, an obstetrics nurse who has been an instructor for more than 14 years. The dads' class is funded with a $9,032 grant from the Alaska Children's Trust and Bartlett funds. The grant also covers a monthly new fathers' support group.

"We have traditionally focused prenatal training on mothers, but that is changing," Ballam says.

Ballam shows how to test the temperature of the bath water with the inside of the wrist or the elbow.

"Wash the face before you put them in the tub, and do it without soap," Ballam instructs.

"How do you do that?" a dad asks.

"With a washcloth," Ballam answers.

Amber, the 5-week-old daughter of Keith and Lecia Kahklen, objects to having her face washed. Ian, the son of Dave D'Amore and Toni DeSanto, relishes having his scalp massaged with shampoo as D'Amore holds him in a swaddling towel. Everyone marvels at witnessing Ian's first immersion bath.

"I like to do the shampoo last because it calms them down and because the head is a large surface at this age. You can do it under a running tap. You don't have to have a special tub," Ballam says.

Related Links

Infant Massage One on One

International Association of Infant Massage

Touch Research Institute

In addition to bathing and diaper changing, subjects of the class include labor and delivery, post-partum depression, holding positions, communicating by talking or singing, infant sleep patterns, breast feeding, bonding and whether umbilical cords can be submerged (they can).

Fireman Craig House, 29, typifies men who have signed up. House and his wife Jennifer, married four years, are expecting their first child in February.

"I think the course is great," House says. "I'll take all the training I can get; I'm new at it."

Keith and Lecia Kahklen took Bartlett's childbirth classes and parenting class before Keith enrolled in the dads' class.

"They all have been really helpful and really good," Kahklen, 38, says.

The class segues into baby massage. The dads practice strokes that spell I, L, U or "I Love You" on the baby's stomach to encourage digestion, strokes around the mouth that soothe during teething, and more.

"It's magic," says Dave D'Amore, as Ian becomes completely relaxed.

Benefits of massage include stimulation, relaxation, improved circulation, decreased colic and improved emotional bonding, Ballam, a mother of two, notes.

"For the first two months, do a simple massage like stroking the baby's face, back and arms. Then massage can get more elaborate," she says.

"You don't need to be massaged to grow," she says, mentioning studies of European orphanages that show children with little one-on-one contact may have less brain growth. Older siblings and grandparents can massage, and you can "even practice on your partners," Ballam says, which brings a chuckle.

The next prenatal class for fathers runs 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Nov. 7 to 21. To register, call Bartlett Beginnings, 586-8424. A support group for new fathers begins Oct. 13. It meets from 10 a.m. to noon in the playroom at REACH. Call Bartlett Beginnings for details.

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