Handy hints for Dads
The early days, weeks and months of parenthood are often incredibly fulfilling and joyous times, but can be equally exhausting and challenging as new parents get to know their newborn baby and its care needs, start to lay down new routines, and learn to cope with the many sleepless nights. At this time, attention frequently focuses on the needs of the new mother and her baby, which can often leave new dads feeling totally overlooked and excluded. Research shows however, that fathers’ have a crucial role in their baby’s development and maternity services, lay groups and organisations are increasingly looking to ensure dads’ full inclusion in their partner’s maternity care, the baby’s birth and their subsequent postnatal care.
During the early weeks of being a new dad, it is quite likely that you will feel unsure about your new role. Where this is your first child, it can take time to gain confidence in handling such a tiny human being, familiar routines will disappear overnight and life will suddenly seem to revolve around the needs of your new baby. Your partner will also doubt their own abilities to meet the needs of the new baby, particularly, if breastfeeding isn’t going as smoothly as they had anticipated, or the baby is unsettled and won’t sleep. However, as time passes, both you and your partner will gain confidence and get to know your new son/daughter. Dads and their new baby also develop their own very unique relationship – one that is every bit as special and important as the baby’s relationship with mum!
Try and talk to other new dads as well; these may be fathers-to-be that you met during your antenatal birth preparation sessions? New mums benefit hugely from the support they get from other mums at postnatal groups and coffee mornings, and dads do just as much. So find out what’s available in your area!
Being a new dad includes being involved in all aspects of family life – now that you are a family or where you have just made it bigger by one. Therefore, it is to everyone’s interest that you get through the things that need doing together. This can mean getting stuck in with the everyday chores, housework, cleaning, shopping and helping with other children as well as helping directly with the new baby. For some reason there is a lot of fun poked at dads about nappy changing, but once you have information about how to take off the old nappy safely, how to clean the baby’s bottom and then replace the nappy, it is one more job that can be shared. On the point of tackling those dirty nappies, you may find yourself wondering how something so very small, can produce so very much? Also being involved in the direct care of your baby may mean that you are in a position to observe that everything is normal, and pick up something that isn’t. The most usual case for babies is that their poo is too runny or they become constipated. If both of you are changing the nappy, you need to talk to each other about what you are noticing.
Babies can get through so many changes of clothing each day and so the background hum of the washing machine soon becomes a familiar backdrop to the daily routine. In fact, the very early days of parenthood can seem like an endless round of baby feeds, nappy and clothing changes, where making time for a bath or shower can prove the biggest challenge of all. It’s a question of practice is perfect and the sooner you get involved with baby care, the easier it becomes to share the tasks and help each other. Dads can get involved with everything – Bath times, nappy changes, dressing/undressing, playing with the baby (particularly as they get older and wish to be kept occupied for longer), as well as helping to settle baby down after they’ve had a feed. In fact, being dad can have a number of distinct advantages over being a mum, particularly when trying to settle a fractious baby. For a start, it can be much easier to settle a crying baby, when they can’t smell mummy’s breast milk and as your baby grows bigger, dads often have the extra shoulder width and arm strength that’s needed when carrying a bigger baby and providing a comforting shoulder to snuggle into. Babies often settle quicker when they can feel motion, so rocking your baby in your arms or taking your baby for a stroll in their pram/pushchair can really help and, at the same time, also gives you and your baby special time together, with the added benefits of exercising outdoors.
Supporting your partner in which ever method of baby feeding they have chosen is also something that dads should always try to do. It is recognised that breastfeeding provides the optimum health benefits for both mum and baby, but it takes a few weeks to establish breastfeeding and is a skill that needs to be learnt. It is not uncommon to find that breastfeeding in the early days doesn’t always go as smoothly as anticipated, and dads can sometimes feel helpless or left out. However, your midwife, health visitor and local GP can answer any questions that you may have, so that you too can encourage and support your partner. While you might not be physically able to feed your baby, you can really help make this a better experience by ensuring your partner is in a comfortable place, and has whatever privacy she wants you can pass the baby to her, and, ensure that she has a glass of water/milk/fruit juice and a tasty snack to hand – breastfeeding is thirsty work and also burns up plenty of calories.
If your partner has chosen to formula feed, then you can be involved with preparing bottle feeds and washing and sterilising the necessary equipment. Getting up and making the night feeds, in particular, can also be a great help for tired mums. While week day nights may be more problematic, particularly where dads are at work during the day, taking over night time duties at the weekend can mean that your partner can sleep longer between baby’s feeds. The important thing to remember is that it’s all about team work, being flexible and always being considerate to each others needs.
Recouping after the birth
Having just given birth, mums are left feeling physically exhausted, but there is little time to recover lost sleep because of the care needs of your newborn. One method of coping with the ongoing sleep deprivation is to try and catch a nap whenever your baby is asleep; this is something that new dads can encourage their partner to do. If your partner had a Caesarean birth, this will also mean that she is unable to do any physical exertion for six weeks (eg vacuuming, lifting, driving and exercising) because her body will be recovering from a major operation and her wound needs the time to heal.
Getting involved with household chores, cleaning, vacuuming, doing the weekly grocery shop and cooking might seem strange if these are aspects of home life that you aren’t familiar with, but the early weeks of parenthood often mean increased flexibility and the need to work as a team – more so than ever before. This also includes accepting offers of help and support from your family and friends, whether they’re bringing round a plate of food for you both, helping out with the ironing, or grocery shopping for you.
Your family and friends will be keen to meet your latest addition and whilst offers of help are much appreciated, more socially orientated visiting may not always be in the best interest of you and your partner. In all the excitement, visitors can easily forget that mum and dad have actually been up most of the night and are suffering from significant sleep deprivation. Therefore, another aspect of care that dads can get involved with is acting as a gatekeeper for telephone calls and visitors appearing at the door. Don’t feel bad asking callers to defer visiting until both you and your partner are sufficiently rested and ready to have people over. The bottom line is to do what you feel is right for you, so if that means having a few days to yourself, to get to know your baby and find your feet with the new routines – go for it. Alternatively, if you want to surround yourself with family and friends and their support during the early weeks of parenthood – that is equally fine too!
Time for each other
Love-making is usually well off the agenda in the early days/weeks following your baby’s birth. Mums are sleep deprived and exhausted and the area around the birth canal (vagina) is often bruised and tender. Where your partner has needed stitches the area is also likely to feel uncomfortable and needs time to heal. Combined with the fluctuating hormones that are part and parcel of postnatal adjustment, sex is probably the very last thing on her mind. However, it is important to realise that from about six weeks after the birth, if you do have sex, it is possible for you to be making another baby, so please get advice on contraception earlier rather than later.
New mums often feel that they have lost their identity as a woman and so times of closeness are very important. Reassuring cuddles – whether this is a quick hug or snuggling up on the sofa together, a shoulder massage or running her a relaxing bath to soak in are all important. Don’t forget to value and appreciate each other for the support and encouragement you’re giving; it’s all about being sensitive to each other’s needs, keeping each other going through the tough times, keeping talking and listening…
There are several useful publications and websites that can provide additional information and support, which include: