Congratulations! You are about to have or just had a baby!
Whether you have read all of the baby books or not, you still might not feel like you are fully prepared for this new addition and change in your life as a new dad. Over the years, I’ve assisted many new parents during their transition into parenthood. With everything that I’ve seen and experienced with new dads, I wanted to create a list that would better prepare them for what’s to come and how to make this new chapter in their lives easier.
While writing this list, I also asked several experienced parents what they wished they would have known before baby. I’ve included some of their words of wisdom in this post as well.
Here are my top 10 things that every new dad needs to know:
1. Her Baby Belly Doesn’t Immediately Go Away
You may think that her belly will go right back to normal because baby isn’t pushing it out anymore. Well, I am here to tell you that her baby bump will not go away immediately. The uterus takes about six to eight weeks to get back to its normal pear-shaped size, but that’s just her uterus. Her body will take longer to adjust back to normal. Be prepared that she will still look like she is six or seven months pregnant after she has had the baby. It also depends on how much weight she gained during her pregnancy. I tell moms that it took nine months to grow a baby, so it can take nine months to get back to her “normal” self.
From giving birth to her hormones changing and her body recovering and taking care of a new baby at all hours of the day and night, your wife/partner is going to need your understanding and support. Be gentle and patient with her during this time. One mom, Sarah, said, “Be her voice of reason when she’s feeling anxious, her cheerleader when she feels she’s failing, and her pillar of support when she needs strength. Postpartum emotions can be such a roller coaster, and having a husband there encouraging her through those ups and downs makes such a huge difference.”
It’s common for women to experience baby blues, which occur within the first 14 days after birth. About 70-80% of women will experience baby blues, so it is something to be aware of. If she is still showing signs of sadness or any other changes beyond the first two weeks (including six months and beyond), she could be experiencing postpartum depression. Let her know that there is nothing to be ashamed of and that many women experience this. Tell her that her health and happiness are a priority. Contact a local counselor or therapist specializing in working with families during the postpartum time for her to talk to for help.
Some dads have expressed some jealousy after the baby is born. New dads can feel like the baby prefers mom over them, making them feel less loved and valued as a parent. My friend, Aimee, had a comment about this and said, “You may not be the favorite (parent) for several months. Be prepared that baby will most likely only want to be comforted by mom for a while. It’s normal and okay. It doesn’t last forever, and you can still be helpful and useful in other ways.”
Fellow doula, Nicole, added, “Daddies aren’t mommies. And mommies aren’t daddies. Partners bring their own special way of parenting to parenting. Don’t expect to soothe your baby the way mommy does. And vice versa. Your baby’s life will be much more enriched by YOUR love and guidance as a companion to the mother’s way of doing things. Your way is just as important and amazing and needed. Never feel like your contribution is not enough or not the right way.” So even though you may feel a little jealous at times, what you do and your role as a dad is just as important and needed.
As they say, “everything will change once you have a baby,” so communication with your partner is key! An experienced dad, Aaron, said, “Be honest and communicate your wants and needs to your partner (keeping in mind, timing is everything.)” Timing really is everything. And not only that, your tone in how you communicate is everything as well. (Remember those hormones of hers. She is very sensitive right now.) Yes, the mother is going through a lot, but we know that dads are going through a lot, too, so talk to your wife/partner and express how you feel.
Aimee said, “Communicate with your wife and be open about your feelings. It’s a sensitive but exciting time, and you will need to rely on each other a lot until you get in a groove. Don’t let yourself get too frustrated because it’s all temporary.”
5. Paternal Postnatal Depression Exists
Most people know that postpartum depression exists for women, but most people don’t know that paternal postnatal depression (PPND) exists for men. “Depression among new dads is not uncommon, and they’re not alone,” says Will Courtenay, Ph.D., LCSW, author of Dying to Be Men (Routledge, 2011). “The fact is, one in four new dads in the United States become depressed. It’s normal for dads to need help as they enter fatherhood.” This is another reason why communication is so important. If you feel like you aren’t feeling better or like yourself after a few weeks and need to speak with someone, find a counselor or therapist in your area specializing in working with families during the postpartum time.
6. Breastfeeding Can Be Difficult
New dads usually think that breastfeeding is natural, that it should come easily to the mother, and it’s something that she has to figure out on her own. This is not necessarily true. Breastfeeding can be difficult for a lot of women. She needs your help during this learning curve. Dads usually tell me they don’t know how to help when she is breastfeeding, so here are some things that you can do:
- Help her get a good latch (watch some videos on YouTube about it).
- Get baby in the right position for feeding.
- Help assemble and dissemble the breast pump and sanitize it.
- Help burp the baby and change the diapers between feedings.
- Keep track that your wife/partner is eating enough food (500 extra calories) and drinking enough water for good milk production.
- For 13 ways dads can help with breastfeeding, read here.
If this is her first baby, then she knows just about as much as you do about breastfeeding. Having your encouragement and support means everything to her. If things aren’t getting better, get in touch with a local La Leche League group or a lactation consultant. By doing all of these things, you can help both of you have a better experience in the beginning.
7. Conquer the Car Seat
Your baby’s safety is essential! One thing that is a requirement before you can take baby home is to have the car seat installed correctly in the car. The problem is, up to 59% of car seats are installed incorrectly. Most dads think that they can figure it out themselves, but you don’t want to mess around with your baby’s safety. This is why I recommend getting your car seat checked by a child passenger safety technician (CPST) to make sure that you put yours in correctly. If you didn’t put it in correctly, a professional will show you how to install it properly. Make sure that you get this done and know how to use it before baby arrives! Read here for more information about car seats and where to get yours checked.
8. People Want to Help, So It’s Okay to Ask for Help
In America, we feel like we have to figure out and do everything on our own, so we don’t become a “burden” to others or look like we are incapable of taking care of a baby ourselves. But let me tell you a little secret. When it comes to newborns, people want to help. There’s a reason why they say, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Because everyone needs a helping hand, you can’t do this on your own. If you need someone to pick something up for you, bring you food, watch the baby so you can have some rest or alone time, or whatever it is, people are more than happy to help. So take it! And if you live in a new area and don’t have any family or friends nearby, know that there are postpartum doulas that can help you during this transition as well.
9. Be Present–Showing Up is Half the Job
I once heard someone say, “As a dad, showing up is half the job.” He explained that you might not know the right thing to do or the right thing to say in certain moments, and that’s okay. Just being present and showing your support makes you a good dad and partner. So, if you’re feeling clueless in a moment and wanting to walk away because you don’t know what to do or say, don’t, and instead, just be present for your partner and listen to her. That sometimes is all she needs.
10. LOVE Your Partner
As John Wooden once said, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” And I couldn’t agree more. By showing your love and affection to your partner, you teach your child what love is, how to give it, and how to receive it. You are creating peace and stability in your children’s lives. You teach your sons how to properly love and respect others–including their mother and sisters–and future partner. And you are teaching your daughters what real love looks like and that she should never settle for less.
These are my top ten things every new dad needs to know. What are some things that you would want new dads to know?