The first few weeks of becoming a dad are the greatest and most frustrating. You’re there for every moment, wanting to help and contribute. Ultimately, it’s difficult for new dads to connect and bond with a newborn baby the same way a mother can. We can’t soothe with breastfeeding. There’s that special connection between mom and baby that we can’t replicate. However, it doesn’t mean dads can’t be a tremendous help! Here are some notes I took after my daughter Adley was born on how I can help my wife the most. These are more than just suggestions. With another baby on the way this spring, they are good reminders for me, too!
13 Ways for Dads to Be Involved in Baby Care
Here are some ways to be a better dad and partner when your baby arrives:
1. Find Out What Your Partner Needs
This may seem simple, but it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the craziness of childbirth and the aftermath. Your partner likely just went through a traumatic experience giving birth and will need time to recover. Ask what you can do to help her during that time. Sometimes, a new dad should take care of the baby for a couple of hours so she can take a nap. Other times, it means watching the older kids so she has time to bond with the new baby. Ensure your partner feels loved and supported, especially in those first few days.
2. Clearly Communicate the Division of Labor
One of the biggest hurdles new parents face is not communicating wants and expectations. It’s an easy thing to set aside when you’re sleep-deprived and dealing with a completely new reality. Making sure you’re both on the same page leads to more understanding and a happier environment for everyone (baby included). A 2020 study on fathers’ involvement with newborns found both parents were happier when things were communicated clearly and tasks distributed fairly, compared to leaving most of the work to the mother.1
3. Help With Overnight Feedings
This is one I can’t recommend to dads enough. There can be pressure on mothers to handle all the overnight feedings, particularly if they are breastfeeding. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. When my daughter, Adley, was born in 2020, my wife and I would rotate feedings through the night. I would give Adley a bottle of either breastmilk or formula when it was my turn. This not only allowed me to remove some of the burden from my wife but also allowed us to get a little more sleep. Five to six consecutive hours can make a big difference.
4. Take Advantage of Your Baby’s Portability
Speaking from experience, it can be easy to fall into the trap of keeping your baby inside the house too much. It’s safe, everything you need is close by, and it’s predictable. But take advantage of your baby’s portability. Dads, if you need to run to the hardware store or see a friend, bring the baby with you! Getting outside in different environments is good stimulation for a baby. Plus, it’s much easier to do before they get too mobile.
5. Take Time off From Work
Let me preface this by saying I know this won’t be an option for everyone. Only 11 states and the District of Columbia offer paid family leave, with the time varying from state to state.2 But if your job offers paternity leave, or you have vacation time saved up, TAKE IT! A 2019 study found children whose fathers took at least two weeks off work felt a closer bond nine years later.3 This can also help establish a routine with your baby to make life easier for mom and dad.
6. Have Fun With Your Baby
Those first few weeks involve learning your baby’s needs and finding a routine. Soon, you’ll start noticing them more awake and aware of what’s happening around them. While doing things like skin-to-skin contact with baby and dad is essential, don’t forget to take time to enjoy the fun moments, too. Play peek-a-boo, make silly faces, and do tummy time. These moments you’ll never forget will help create a stronger bond between daddy and baby.
7. Offer Your Partner a Break
Giving birth is the equivalent of major surgery. But unlike major surgery, a tiny human comes home with you, and it’s your job to keep it alive. Between recovery and breastfeeding, your wife/partner will likely be drained physically and mentally. Offer to step in and help as much as you can. Take the baby for a walk in the neighborhood or offer to put the baby down for a nap. Even the smallest gestures can make a difference and lead to a happier and healthier partnership.
8. Master the Diaper
Before my daughter Adley was born, I changed zero diapers. I can probably count on one hand how many babies I held, too. This is to say I had no experience and no idea what I was doing. The good news is I learned how to change a diaper quickly. You will, too! I assigned myself the job of diaper changer. I’m sure this is in the “How to be a Good Dad” handbook. It’s a task no one likes to do, but I knew it was something I could take off my wife’s plate. Practice on a doll before the baby comes, and watch how the nurses do it in the hospital. You’ll be an expert quickly, making you very popular at home.
9. Clean Bottles and Pumps
After becoming a father, I never expected how much additional cleaning it entails. Washing bottles is a daily, time-consuming task. If your partner is breastfeeding, the pump must also be cleaned regularly. My suggestion is don’t ask; do it. This is one of the best ways to make yourself useful when the baby is napping or spending time with mom.
10. Help Manage Visitors
When the baby is born, EVERYONE will want to meet them. It’s a special time, and it can be wonderful to share. But it can also be overwhelming. Act as the gatekeeper. Identify when is a good time and when is a bad time to have visitors. Also, don’t be afraid to end a visit early or cancel. They will understand. It’s your baby; you get to make the rules.
11. Read to Your Baby
It may seem strange to read to a baby who’s only opening their eyes for minutes at a time. But it can make a big difference. An Ohio State study found that kids who are read just one book a day by their parents will hear around 290,000 more words by the time they enter kindergarten compared to kids who aren’t read to.4 Even early on, the benefits can be significant.
12. Cook Dinner
This isn’t directly related to caring for a baby, but dads who do this know why it’s crucial. Between recovery and possibly breastfeeding, your partner will be even more tired than you are. Cooking her favorite meal or something simple for the two of you will take a weight off her shoulders. It’s one less thing she has to think about. It’s also something you can both enjoy together.
13. Plan a Date Night
Nothing changes your life like having a baby. You no longer have the freedom to go out when you want or spend time together like you used to. Once your partner is fully recovered, find a babysitter and have a night for yourselves. It can be easy to get lost in parenting and forget about each other, but nothing makes a family stronger than a happy mom and dad.
Seeing your baby born will be one of the most memorable moments of your life, and that’s when the hard part begins. There is no shortage of ways for dads to help with baby care, especially in those initial days and months. That doesn’t mean casually saying, “Let me know how I can help.” Offer specific ideas, learn what chores are most burdensome on your partner, and, most importantly, listen. Being an attentive dad is a skill that will come in handy. It will also allow for bonding between a dad and newborn, creating a connection that can last a lifetime.