Us lady-folk can become a bit tricky to understand once we’ve had a baby. Dads are often ready, willing and able, but aren’t quite sure what to do.
One of the stumbling blocks is that mothers often have a fierce protective instinct after they deliver their baby. And this can leave dads tiptoeing around unsure how to help. As a dad, you need to be involved in the care of your baby – no question.
Connect with baby
Your baby NEEDS YOU and you both need to get to know each other. It’s a two-way street of learning. So you need time together.
Whenever you get the chance, hold your baby so you become increasingly confident. They are tiny for sure, but they don’t often break!
- Offer to burp baby if mum is a breast feeder.
- Cuddle with skin-to-skin contact - it helps them release soothing hormones.
- Talk as you cuddle, so they hear that voice they could hear from the months before birth.
Bonding is essential for you and your baby - cuddles and care help that essential bond to strengthen.
Start baby care early so you and your partner learn together. This is so important, to ensure you grow as equal parents instead of your partner becoming the sole expert.
You’re the father of this baby, so make the effort to bond with your baby and become the father you want to be.
Don’t be afraid to give it a go, you’ll be surprised how much you and your baby need this connection time.
- There will be bath times, so why not be the ‘bather’ while mum gets the clothes ready.
- If you’re not there at bath time during the week, then be the one who does it on the weekends.
- Nappy changes are part of care, so remember the golden rule - whoever puts it on, cleans up if it leaks!
Care for your partner
Pregnancy and birth are taxing on the human body, so pamper your partner after birth.
- Get meals, ensure water is reachable for the breastfeeding mother, or share the feed times if you’re bottle feeding.
- Bring home a meal occasionally.
- Don’t invite guests without consulting your partner who may be having an ‘off day’.
- Don’t wait to be asked what needs to be done, look around and do it. If it is not what your partner sees as a priority now, ask her what is, and just do it - it’s probably not the best time to disagree.
- It now takes ten times as long to get out of the house and into the car.
- It pays to take a clean shirt with you.
- A nappy bag may not be your style, but the contents are essential!
You’re both new parents, so respect that you’re both learning. Different doesn’t mean wrong.
You won't do everything the same, so agree to find common ground where you are both supportive of each other, and respectful of your differences.
- Give your partner breaks, take over the care, or take your baby for a walk.
- Talk to each other, tell her what an amazing mother you think she is … and mean it.
Parenting is relentless, and when you're not there, your partner is constantly parenting.
When you get home
- Ask how her day was because she may not have had an adult conversation all day.
- Listen to her response.
Listen to hear, not to respond. Acknowledge it’s tough and avoid minimising or talking it down. If a baby vomiting all over the furniture makes her cry, then have empathy and recognise she’s feeling overwhelmed and fragile.
- NEVER sound as if you’re asking ‘so what have you been doing all day?!’
- Ask how it has been today - the response will be what the baby has done.
- If the place is untidy, that means your baby has been cared for - appreciate it.
- If your partner hasn’t showered or had a meal, get her food and sit with her or offer to take your baby while she has a moment to herself.
- Never assume that being at home is always fun, it can be isolating, frustrating and overwhelming.
- Never say to others that ‘she gets to stay home’, because there are days she would rather work the hardest job in the world if it meant a small break for the relentless responsibility of parenting.
It is exhausting
- Share the load - the house still needs to be functional so just do the dishes rather than ask.
- If you’re not sure what to do, then ask. What you see as urgent may not be what your partner sees. Then REMEMBER it for next time.
- Perhaps your partner assumes you’ll know what to do - just write it down so next time you won’t have to ask.
- Encourage your partner to rest, then take your turn to rest. It won’t be like this forever, but there is a post-birth recovery phase where extra support is needed.
Keep it light
- Try to keep your sense of humour
- Learn from your mistakes, we all make them!
- Avoid coming home with baby ‘things’’
- Bring home some flowers, dinner or some supplies
- Baby things create clutter. Your baby and partner need you, not things.
Some days are rotten
There are days that may leave your partner feeling yuk - that's normal. What's not normal is when it's happening all the time, or when you can see she's struggling emotionally but won’t let you help.
Post natal depression occurs in both men and women, so be proactive. If the bad days are persistent and more frequent, reach out because there’s an enormous range of resources. You probably don’t know about them because you’ve never had to use them. But they are there because there is a demand.
Author: Helen Stevens. RN. RM. MCHN. Manager of Clinical Services, Education and Research.
Parent Infant Consultants. 0411880720.