Congratulations on becoming a dad. It’s exciting and exhilarating but it’s also exhausting and it can be damn confusing too, as you not only get to know your new little baby but you find yourself trying to figure out how to support your partner who seems to have turned into a completely different woman. She is exhausted from giving birth, flooded with hormones that make her cry whichever way you look at her and she seems so overwhelmed with love for your baby, you wonder if she even needs you anymore. If you are expecting a baby or you have a newborn, here are some things every new mum wants her partner to know (even if she hasn’t realized it yet.)
1) Take a babymoon
Just like a honeymoon is about getting to know each other away from the distraction and stresses of every day life, a baby moon is a time for getting to know your baby and adjusting to becoming a family. Take as much time off as you can and please don’t plan renovations.
Of course you will be so proud of your new baby that you will want to show him off to all your friends and family. Please stop right there! it’s important to limit visitors in the early days as your partner is recovering from birth and learning to breastfeed. She will be exhausted, hormonal and vulnerable. She’s also sore, self-conscious and overwhelmed. If she is struggling with breastfeeding, call the Australian Breastfeeding Association, get an IBCLC lactation consultant to come to your home or take your partner to a breastfeeding clinic (your maternity hospital may have one). Your support is the single biggest factor in her breastfeeding success.
Remember, the more rest and privacy your partner has now, the quicker she will recover and develop confidence Good friends will understand you asking them to give your new family some space. And, If you want to ‘wet the baby’s head’ with your friends, please do this before your partner comes home from hospital – she doesn’t need a hung-over partner slumped on the couch when she has been up all night with a newborn (newborns don’t get day and night sorted for weeks).
2) Give her a break
When you come home from work and the house is a mess and your partner is still in her pyjamas, in the chair you left her in with the baby, don’t ask her what she has done today and don’t give her advice. She doesn’t want to hear, “you could have got dressed while he was asleep (he didn’t damn well sleep. That’s why she’s still sitting in the chair in her pyjamas!).” And don’t dare ask “did you call the bank/repair man/my mother?” She doesn’t care. She is tired (even though it looks like she has done nothing except sit in a chair and cuddle the baby – who now seems perfectly calm because she has sat in the chair and cuddled and fed and burped him all damn day).
Give her a kiss and a cuddle and ask her what you can do to help (see also, tell her you love her) Or, even better, make her a drink, get her some food and offer to hold the baby or take him for a walk while she enjoys a HOT cuppa or a shower. Tomorrow night, bring dinner home with you – she may have had a better day but she will love you even more for caring.
3) Put her to bed
Sleep deprivation is hard to cope with – you will be tired too but she needs rest to recover from growing, birthing and making milk for your baby. Rest now will see her recover and have more energy to enjoy being a mother – and more energy for having fun (and sex) with you, much sooner.
Take your baby after the early morning feed and let your partner sleep in or take baby for a walk in a carrier (see, wear your baby) or pram in the evening or on weekends and send her to bed. Every hour of sleep is precious and will help her be a more patient mum and partner.
4) Do tell her you love her. A lot.
Tell her she’s beautiful. Thank her for your beautiful baby. It’s hard to feel beautiful and lovable when you are covered in milk and vomit and can barely find time for a shower or clean clothes because you are so busy sitting in a chair holding and feeding and burping your baby all day. And if your partner is being irrational it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love or need you. Remember, she is exhausted, hormonal and vulnerable, it’s normal for her to be emotional or teary.
But do keep an eye on things, and support her to get help if she needs it – one in five women will develop postnatal depression. This is an illness. It is treatable, the sooner the better. If you are worried, call PANDA or Beyond Blue or go with her to your GP.
5) Wear your baby
Have a carrier ready before your baby is born. Beware though, a man wearing a baby becomes a ‘chick magnet’ (mostly to little old ladies) when he is out on his own with the baby. Suck up the attention but take the advice with a pinch of salt – and don’t suggest any of it to your partner. She will be receiving so much advice from others, she doesn’t need any more noise in her head – unless its so bloody ridiculous it will make her laugh.
6) You’re not “helping out” your partner.
You’re parenting! Family, friends and complete strangers will coo over every thing you do (see, wearing your baby). That is lovely, because parenthood is a huge adjustment for both of you, but please remember to point out to everyone how wonderful your partner is too, and all the things they’re doing right –mothers tend to get taken for granted or even criticized for how they do things.
7) Take her side – even (or especially) against your own mother
Always take your partner’s side, no matter what your mother and friends say. When people ask you, “is he a good baby?” remember the next question will be “does he sleep all night?” This is none of their business (are they offering to do an overnighter or have they come with casseroles?). Be polite but throw them off at the pass with the first question: Tell them, no he’s a bad baby, he’s already robbing banks/getting a tattoo/ we are putting him on Ebay next week.
With luck, they will forget to ask, ’how is he sleeping?” And you just might get away without hearing about the ‘bad habits’ you are creating. If you are making different choices to your family and friends, read up, take classes, be informed, so you can defend your choices as a team (remember, your partner is exhausted, hormonal and vulnerable).
8) Just do it!
If you’re not comfortable doing something, like dressing or bathing your baby for fear you might do it ‘wrong’ or hurt the baby, just do it anyway. The more you try, the easier it will be, And, when you are going out, get yourself ready then help get the baby ready while your partner gets herself ready. If you don’t want it all to end up in tears (hers) or having to wait while she feeds the baby. Again! pitch in and help get everyone out the door. “Stepping up’ and being a team player right from the start is an investment in your relationship with your baby and your partner relationship.
9) Don’t mention the mess. Ever.
There will be mess – baby stuff, washing (how can one tiny person create so much washing?), all the gear you haven’t unpacked from hospital, dying flowers and all the gifts people give you for babies that you haven’t put away yet. Pick up after yourself (and her) and don’t make a fuss. She doesn’t want to hear that you popped on a load of washing – really? You found the laundry detergent and pressed the buttons all by yourself? Now go and hang it out, it doesn’t matter that its night time and it won’t dry now. It could be lunchtime or later (see, sitting in the chair all day feeding and burping and cuddling) before she gets to hanging it out tomorrow and it won’t dry then either but if it’s out now, it could just catch some sunlight tomorrow and she can bring it in when she gets a break.
If you work long hours or feel overwhelmed too, organize for someone to help- hire a cleaner or ask grandparents for help.
10) Tell her she’s doing a great job – every day.
Be specific so she believes you. Tell her, “I love the way you…..” Or “I love watching you…….” (fill in the gaps ). She will get loads of advice but hardly anybody tells a new mum she’s doing a great job. And there’s not much positive feedback from a newborn – they can’t even smile yet! Remember, she’s exhausted, hormonal and vulnerable – she needs her tank filled to help her make it through the tough stuff.
11) Take photos of mum and baby
You will no doubt be taking photos of every little grimace your baby makes and every cute little outfit you dress him in. You will take photos with visitors, photos with relatives but so often, it is the mother who is taking most of the photos. Then, down the track, months later (or when your child looks through his photo album), you realize there are very few mum and baby pics. Get photos of mum and baby and of you both together with your baby – when these moments are gone, they are gone.
12) Hang in there
Babies cry. Babies cry – did I say that, already? Often you won’t have a clue why they are crying. Neither will she. So don’t ask, “what is wrong with him?” Remember she’s exhausted hormonal and vulnerable so she might take this as criticism. Instead, say, “how can I help?” You will both work things out as you go and it will get easier. For now, encourage your lady to trust her instincts – she knows your baby best. You are the voice of common sense (but tread carefully, you can’t ‘fix’ a baby). If you aren’t sure what to do, filter advice by asking, is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right? Remember, you have got this. You are going to be an awesome dad!
Pinky McKay is Australia’s most recognised breastfeeding expert and gentle parenting advocate. She’s an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), mum of five (so she has had her fair share of sleepless nights) and best-selling baby-care author of Sleeping Like a Baby, 100 Ways to Calm the Crying and Parenting by Heart (Penguin Random House). See Pinky’ s books, baby massage DVD and recordings HERE.