What Do New Fathers Need to Know?
On a long plane flight recently, I started talking with the man next to me. He and his wife were expecting their first baby – due in just 3 months – and he was excited to get home to her. She was enjoying pregnancy and preparing for life with a baby.
He turned to me after describing all this and said earnestly:
“What do I need to know? Sometimes I feel like all the advice we hear and read is targeted at her. What does a new father need to know?”
It’s a good question. There’s so much information for expectant mothers and parents but he was vocalizing something a bit different. What specifically does a dad need to know about having a baby?
New fathers feel all the thrill of new parenthood and all the worry that comes along with it. They can also at times feel unsure of their role. His question was a natural one, and yet the answer is challenging. Here are some thoughts I left him with.
Enjoy bonding with your new baby. Your connection to them is invaluable and you can strengthen it by spending as much time at home in the beginning as possible.
Hold your baby often. Time spent skin-to-skin with you allows your baby to smell, feel, and hear you – it lets them get to know you.
Be involved in your baby’s care. Sometimes it can feel like your partner – who carried the baby, gave birth, and is often breastfeeding – is thebaby expert. Dads can start to feel a little inadequate!
But there are many things you can do to get more involved, such as:
- Carry your baby in your arms or in a front carrier often. The closeness helps both of you bond, while the rocking motion soothes your baby.
- Give baths to, take walks with, and read and sing to your little one.
- Support “tummy time”, which is incredibly important for your baby – but sometimes they don’t love it. You can help by lying on the floor with your baby and talking them through tummy time!
Help your partner with daily tasks. The “fourth trimester” is the time right after birth. It’s when there’s incredible growth of the baby and the mother adjusts to life after delivery as emotions and hormones swing wildly. To help her get through it, you can:
- Remind her often how wonderful you think she is! Your encouragement and understanding will go a long way.
- Cook, clean, wash – make it generally okay for her to focus on healing herself and feeding the baby.
- Share the feeding responsibility, if your partner isn’t breastfeeding. You’ll come to love the quiet times holding, feeding, and getting to know your baby.
Help your partner feel more comfortable when she’s breastfeeding.If your partner is breastfeeding, you don’t need to be left out! You can do lots to help the breastfeeding relationship start off well. Here are some ideas:
- Bring her pillows to get the baby in the right position for nursing.
- Bring water – lots of it. Nursing makes you so thirsty and drinking lots of water helps her make more milk for your baby!
- Help her relax. Being relaxed can help her milk supply – and you probably know just the things that help your partner relax the most!
- Let mom stay in bed while you get the baby for feeds.
- Change the baby’s diaper afterward.
- Stay nearby to talk and listen. At first, breastfeeding can be hard – she may need to talk about how things are going. After it gets easier, she’ll still feel it’s nice to have someone to talk with.
After 3-4 weeks, it’s okay to introduce a bottle of pumped breastmilk so that you can share in the feeding.
I asked a group of fathers if I was missing any advice. Almost universally they said being a father is the best thing that ever happened to them!
One dad’s words sums it all up:
“There’s nothing better than being a parent. Make your kids a priority. Shower them with love. Enjoy the time: it will be crazy, busy, hectic, and stressful. But soon it will be over and you’ll miss when it was crazy, busy, hectic, and stressful.”
Congratulations, you’re a father!
Resources for fathers
My Doctor Online:
American Academy of Pediatrics:
Dads Can Get Depression During and After Pregnancy, Too
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