So much of the blogosphere, and Pinterest, is targeted toward expectant mothers, and understandably so. But learning how to prepare dad for a new baby is also crucial. 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).
Having been through labor and delivery and the newborn phase twice with my wife, I want to share everything I’ve learned to help the dad-to-be prepare for the life-changing experience.
Before Baby Arrives
When my wife was pregnant with our first, I was fortunate to have a job that allowed me a lot of flexibility to go to all of the prenatal checkups. I realize that many 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. My wife had to drink this huge sugary drink, on a mostly empty stomach, and then wait for an hour-plus before getting her blood drawn. The sugary drink made her nauseous and the extended wait made it quite uncomfortable, so it was good to be there to support her.
Morning Sickness, Food Cravings and Aversions
Specifically in the first trimester, and especially if your wife is expecting a girl, morning sickness can be brutal. Sidenote, the term “morning sickness” is a total myth and nausea can occur at any time throughout the day. You can support your partner by reminding her to snack throughout the day, a lot of small meals are easier on the stomach than 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 the first trimester was for sea sickness bands. At the time we were studying abroad so ordering these online wasn’t as easy. I had to hunt around town and describe to retail employees, in my broken second language, what I was looking for. We have a great post with more tips on how to deal with morning sickness.
Read To Baby
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 kid’s book and read it every night to your partner’s belly. I read Hop on Pop every night while my wife was pregnant, to the point I had it memorized, and I swear that my daughter recognized her dad’s voice when I read her the book after she was born.
Temper Your Expectations About Playing with The Baby When It’s Born
Something I’ve heard multiple times from expecting fathers is how excited they are for the baby to arrive so they can play with them. I was certainly guilty of this myself. The reality is, once the 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.
Prepare Dad-to-be for Labor and Delivery
When your 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 you to support the mother both physically and emotionally throughout the entire labor process.
I wish I better prepared myself to provide a 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.
After Baby Arrives
Re-Think Your Household Division of Labor
Before my oldest arrived my wife did most of the grocery shopping and the laundry, while I did most of the cooking and the cleaning. After the baby arrived, her household roles shifted to me. Having a newborn, and breastfeeding, is so exhausting that the mother’s time away from the 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.
If Your Wife/Partner Chooses to Breastfeed, Support Her
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. If your baby is colic, a good feed can be one of the best colic baby remedies, so supporting your partner is crucial.
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 was by holding and shushing my daughters when they were really distraught so they could calm down and finally latch.
Ways Dads Can Help with Breastfeeding
Other ways a dad can help with breastfeeding is by helping set up the breast pump, cleaning bottles, feeding the 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 groups were so essential for my wife to figure out breastfeeding with our first.
Be Prepared and Willing to Sacrifice
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 [insert stereotypical guy thing here]. 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 will have to scale them back) but in the first few weeks and months with a newborn your wife/partner needs you home and able to help.
Understand The “Baby Blues” And Be Extra Sensitive
The “baby blues” occurs in 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 few 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.
Accept That You Will Hold the Baby Less, Help in Other Ways
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 the baby out of their arms. Your best times to interact with the baby are during diaper changes (I did 90% of diaper changes with both my daughters) 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 both of my daughters 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 the baby.
Another thing I did was wore a Boba Wrap and had my daughters sleep in the wrap. Once the baby is soundly asleep, the wrap enables you to still get some stuff done around the house (albeit less efficiently).
Be Your Partner’s Bouncer
Another way you can be helpful is when your family visits the 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 of 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.
Prepare Dad for a New Baby Today
Hopefully after reading this, you are now better prepared to help your partner during pregnancy, through labor and delivery, and beyond. Remember, your primary job is to support your partner, as her primary job will be to support the baby. And lastly, don’t forget, your partner doesn’t hate you, it’s just stress and sleep deprivation, and it will get better. You got this.
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I am a wife, teacher, and mother to two awesome girls. I write about what I am passionate, which is sharing my experiences, failures, and successes on everything from family, marriage and motherhood to home improvement, DIY house projects and home making. I also always enjoy sharing with my readers tips I learn about selfcare, beauty and skin care for women. Let this space be a resource for you to pursue your very best day.