Trina’s husband Cole here for a “guest” post on a dad's guide to a new baby, or simply how dads can best support their partner when baby arrives.
So much of the blogosphere, and Pinterest, is targeted towards expectant mothers, and understandably so. But a dad’s role when baby arrives is crucial and, in my opinion, so many of the books out there for expecting dads are sub-par (they take an amount of info similar to this blog post and then stretch it out so they can sell a book).
Note: this guide perfectly applies to same-sex couples as well, none of these tips require being a male.
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When Trina was pregnant with L, I was fortunate to have a job (grad student) that allowed me a lot of flexibility to go to all of the pre-natal checkups. I realize most dads won’t have this luxury, but try to make a few of the appointments if at all possible. The really exciting appointments are of course the ultrasounds, but also try and go to the appointment where they test for gestational diabetes. Trina had to drink this huge sugary drink, on a mostly empty stomach, and then wait for an hour plus before getting blood work. The sugary drink made her a bit nauseous and the extended wait made it quite uncomfortable, so it was good to be there to support her.
Specifically in the first trimester, and especially if your wife is expecting a girl, morning sickness can be brutal. Except the name is a total myth and the nausea can occur any time throughout the day. You can support your partner by reminding her to snack throughout the day, a lot of small meals is easier on the stomach then three traditional larger meals. And of course, be prepared to go hunting for a specific type of food or an item. The one wild goose chase I went on during Trina’s first trimester was for sea-bands. At the time we were studying abroad in Germany so ordering these online wasn’t as easy. So I had to hunt around town and describe to retail employees, in my broken German, what I was looking for. Trina wrote a great post with more tips on how to handle morning sickness.
Your baby will come out of the womb recognizing his/her mother’s voice. After all, the baby spent the last 9 months going everywhere with her. If you want to start building the relationship early, pick a kids book and read it every night to your partner’s belly. I read Hop on Pop every night while Trina was pregnant, to the point I had it memorized, and I swear that L recognized my voice when I read her the book after she was born.
After L was born I still read Hop on Pop but I also started reading Daddy Hugs, which Trina got me for Christmas. After reading it approximately 14,000 times, it became one of L's favorite books and now that she's walking she also goes and gets it and asks me to read it.
Something I’ve heard multiple times from expecting fathers is how excited they are for the baby to arrive, so they can play with him/her. I was certainly guilty of this myself. The reality is, once baby arrives, 90% of their time will, and should, be spent with the mother. This is just the reality of biology. Your number one job will be to support the mother and her number one job will be to support the baby. You will have some opportunities to bond with baby, check out the 7 Best Ways I found for Dad to Bond with Baby.
When your wife/partner goes into labor, you will become their biggest supporter and advocate. Sure, she will be surrounded by nurses/doctors/midwives, but they are all there to ensure that things are progressing safely from a medical perspective for the mother and the baby. Unless you hire a doula (which is a great idea IF you can afford it), it will be up to the dad/non-birthing partner to support the mother both physically and emotionally throughout the entire labor process.
I wish I better prepared myself to be Trina's support system during labor. While obviously we made it through and everything turned out okay. I really felt helpless and useless throughout much of the labor simply because I was unprepared.
Before L arrived, Trina did most of the grocery shopping and the laundry, while I did most of the cooking and the cleaning. After L arrived, her household roles shifted to me. Having a newborn, and breastfeeding, is so exhausting that the mother’s time away from baby should be spent resting and not doing housework. If you don’t have the cooking skills necessary to take over that role, ask your partner how you can help during dinner time. Better yet, prepare before baby arrives by stocking your freezer with easy-to-cook crockpot or stove-top meals. Alli has a great post on how she did that before her daughter arrived.
Breastfeeding is hard, especially at the beginning, but it is one of the best things your partner can do for your child. Breastfeeding a lot at the beginning is crucial for a woman to build her milk supply so the baby can get enough to eat. Sometimes, if things are not going well, you will be tempted to just say that you should switch to formula. Don’t do that, it’s not helpful. All it will accomplish is your wife/partner saying “screw you, I’ll figure this out myself”. What you should do is help your partner in any way possible to get it figured out. Your life will be so much easier if you don’t have to use formula (no prepping a bottle at 3 AM). One way I helped Trina was holding and shushing L when she was really distraught so she could calm down and finally latch.
Other ways a dad can help is by helping set up the breast pump, cleaning bottles, feeding baby a pumped bottle when mom really needs a break, and helping find breastfeeding groups. You can only do so much as a dad when it comes to helping your partner figure out breastfeeding. What you can do is help find lactation consultants and/or breastfeeding support groups in your area. Your partner won’t have a lot of time and energy (or free hands) to do this research, so get googling and make some calls. Figure out what time they meet, if they’re open to patients of any clinic or just a specific practice and if it’s free (or at least covered by your insurance). These sorts of group were so essential for Trina figuring out breastfeeding with L.
Your wife/partner has given up her body, her freedom, and potentially her career (or at least put it on hold) to carry and birth your child. The least you can do is take a break from poker night, or play less golf, or watch less football, or do less of . Your friends will understand your absence (and if they don’t they are crappy friends). You won’t have to give these things up forever, although you may have to scale them back forever, but in the first few weeks and months with a newborn your wife/partner needs you home and able to help.
The “baby blues” occurs with 75-80% of new mothers and is a result of crashing hormones post-pregnancy. You may think your wife/partner is being irrational, and she probably is, but be extra sensitive to her feelings in the first two weeks as her body biologically has made her this way. If the “baby blues” extends past two or three weeks then it is considered postpartum depression and should be medically treated. Pay special attention to your partner’s mood post-birth. Besides your partner herself, you will be the best person to have a sense of if she’s doing well or not. If you do have concerns, try and go with her to her first OBGYN follow-up so you can chat with her doctor/midwife.
Your partner will hold the baby way more often than you will (if breastfeeding) and that’s something that you need to accept. The baby should be nursing A LOT, which means it’s a lot of time spent in the mother’s arms. I know you want to hold the baby and work on building your connection, but don’t be grabby. The worst thing you can do to a new mother is take baby out of their arms. Your best times to interact with the baby are during diaper changes (I did 90% of diaper changes with L in the first six months) and during burping.
After the baby is well fed, a great way to hold the baby is by getting him or her to sleep on your chest, this was one of my favorite activities with L as nothing beats a sleeping baby on your chest. Just make sure to not doze off also as this isn’t a safe sleeping position for baby if you’re not awake to ensure that they can breathe. Another thing I did was wore a Boba Wrap and had L sleep in the wrap. (Related post: 7 Ways Dad Can Bond With Baby)
Another way you can be helpful is that when your family visits baby for the first time, you are in charge of making sure that your partner is comfortable with the amount, and duration, of time that your family is holding the baby. If you’re still in the first few weeks in the “baby blues” phase, pay special attention to your partner’s body language when your family is holding the baby and intervene when she wants her baby back. She probably won’t be as comfortable speaking up to your side of the family as you would be.
This is definitely not an exhaustive guide for dads, but hopefully from reading this you are now better prepared to help your wife/partner once baby arrives.
Expecting dads/moms, do you have any specific questions? Ask in the comments.
Experienced dads/moms, what did you or your partner do that was really helpful when you had a newborn? Let me know in the comments.
For more resources to prepare dad for baby, check out Trina and Alli's free email series: Bump Smart. You'll receive an email each week with advice on how to prepare tailored to your specific due date. While most of the weeks focus on preparing the mom, many focus on preparing dad as well. Also check out their Nesting Planners, the Nest Smart and Bump Smart versions both contains checklists and worksheets to prepare as a couple for your new arrival.