When a child is born, the new mother and baby get most of the attention, but dads are undergoing change too. Here are eight quick tips to help first-time fathers adjust to having a new baby in the house.
1. Be a hands-on dad. Get involved in all aspects of childcare: bathing, feeding, reading, changing diapers and putting your baby to sleep. Note to moms: If dad needs a little coaching, give him the basics and let him develop his own style. Don’t criticize; offer encouragement to help him feel competent in his new role. Experience is the best teacher.
2. Recognize challenges. Some babies, such as those with colic, may be harder to soothe. If your baby is crying, look for obvious signs of discomfort: diaper change, hunger, fatigue or gas. Spend five to ten minutes on any one strategy. If it doesn’t work, try another one. Newborns can also suffer from over stimulation due to lights, motion, sounds and people; things that may seem normal are a drastic change from a quiet womb.
3. Communicate with outsiders. Take on the role of communicating with family and friends, setting limits and boundaries, if needed. If others offer to help, suggest practical ideas such as dropping off meals, running errands or watching the baby so you and your partner can take a walk. Extended family can be a huge help or significant stressor. Encourage well meaning but intruding relatives to refrain from giving unwanted input with regard to childcare.
4. Be supportive of Mom. One of the father’s biggest roles is to support the mother. Keep a constant line of communication open with one another and discuss how the adjustment is going. Talk about things that are working, and make suggestions for change where needed. Also, keep an eye out for signs of postpartum depression, which may have a delayed onset.
5. Find personal support. New dads may need an outlet where they can share their own concerns or stresses. Find a father support group or look for a friend who is or has gone through this stage in life. Also be aware of your emotions. If you feel anxious or depressed for an extended period of time, talk with your physician.
6. Nurture the couple relationship. This will benefit parents and child. If extended family members are local, schedule occasional date nights. If this isn’t an option, look for creative ways to give the relationship attention: back or foot rubs, a note in one another’s lunchbox, a quick email sent to the office. Communication should include more than just baby talk. Also make time for intimacy; be sensitive to each other’s needs and work together to find a compromise.
7. Make time for self. While it may be impossible to maintain the before-baby lifestyle, determine what is most critical for each parent to relieve stress—sleep, exercise, time away from the house—and work that into the week.
8. Give it time. The more time fathers spend with their baby, the easier it will get. Right now things aren’t normal, but life will take on a new normal in time.
Denise Morrison Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.
Published: June 2015