Giving birth the first time was terrifying, traumatic, messy and beautiful all at the same time.
I was totally unprepared for the episiotomy, gigantic, postpartum mommy diapers, hemorrhoids, sleep-deprivation and cracked and bleeding nipples. And the emotions, oh, my!
I felt like I was alone in my suffering, because it’s human nature to feel that way in the midst of such shocking and excruciating changes.
My body felt like a betrayal.
Despite feeling like I was all alone on an emotional roller coaster, I wasn’t. My husband was riding it with me.
I had no idea at the time, because I was too caught up in myself.
And because our situations looked so different – my husband could actually sleep through the night and wear regular underwear. But this experience was every bit as unsettling for my husband as it was for me.
First, there was the economic factor, for which my husband was entirely responsible, since he had graciously agreed with me that our children should have a full-time, at-home mommy.
Diapers were suddenly a huge expense, but eventually this tiny daughter would need braces, a college education and a wedding!
Second, there was the fact that our family dynamics flip-flopped.
Whereas the two of us had previously been an adorable, newlywed couple, it was now the baby and me in one corner of the boxing ring and him in the opposite. At least it felt that way.
Every aspect of my life, literally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, was consumed with the baby.
My biggest concerns were the contents of the baby’s diaper, and getting her to burp. I rarely even thought to ask about my husband’s day.
Even after the enormous panties had been replaced by regular ones, my body was not the same, nor were my desires. My body had been traumatized, people!
All of you – mom, dad and baby will be much happier when both parents are involved in caring for baby.
Dad might need a little push to get started, though, so here are ten easy ways to involve new dads in baby care.
1. Ask Him for Help
Men don’t get hints at all.
They need to be asked outright, directly and specifically.
The fact that he can’t ‘see’ what needs to be done like you can and needs to be asked and directed doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you or that he isn’t willing to help. It’s just a trait of the male gender.
Trust me, your husband feels freaked out and intimidated by this tiny bundle, and has not had nearly the practice you have, but is still happy to help. He wants to be a part of this amazing miracle.
2. Trust Him
Let your husband work things out on his own. Refrain from being bossy or critical of his methods, especially if he isn’t up to speed (or doesn’t think he is).
If you fall into this destructive pattern, you’ll just erode his self-confidence, and your baby won’t get used to being comforted by him – which will leave you without a moment’s rest or peace.
This little bundle is not rocket science. Dads can absolutely figure out how to put on a onesie or change a diaper. The very act of completing baby tasks helps to build competence and confidence, as well as helping both dad and baby to build strong bonds with one another.
My husband is actually much better at soothing upset babies than I am because he is less emotional and because he gets more breaks away from the kids than I do, so he can see the big picture more objectively.
3. Play Time
Dad’s are exceptionally skilled at play time. Studies have found that babies whose fathers played with them more performed significantly better on cognitive tests at two years of age.
Dads and moms tend to play differently with their babies. Moms play more gently and dads are more rough and rambunctious, and babies require both both styles of playing to develop properly.
Studies show that rough and tumble play helps kids to learn to manage their emotions, socialize with others, and master problem-solving skills.
4. Nighttime Support
Let’s be honest – no matter how tired you are, it’s not easy to convince a dad who works days to spend his nights awake with the baby – especially if you’re a SAHM.
And if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, you’ll have to get up with the baby anyway. There’s no point in you both losing sleep.
So try striking a deal. If having him help out at night during the week won’t work for your family, try giving him the weekend night shift instead.
Or maybe it would work for mom to do all the nighttime feedings until a certain time, like 6 am, and then Dad can get baby back to sleep before heading off to work, allowing mom to sleep late.
It’s worth the effort to find an amicable solution that everyone can live with. And if you’re both working full-time, dad should absolutely share the nighttime responsibilities in a way that will help both spouses feel supported.
5. Feeding Support
Whether your baby is exclusively breastfeeding, bottle-fed or both, feeding newborns takes up an enormous portion of every day. I spent 40 hours a week at times, nursing each of my children.
And that didn’t include the burping afterward or getting my baby to sleep. It’s exhausting!
If your baby will take a bottle, Dad can help out a lot with feeding. If not, Dad can take over burping and getting her to sleep, which will be very helpful.
Dads can also be solicitous of moms needs while nursing and supportive of the time it takes.
6. Diaper Duty
Each baby will require thousands of diaper changes during the first few years of life. Why not make these hours count? It could be a fantastic opportunity for bonding when viewed as a fun time to socialize and play rather than a messy, distasteful chore.
7. Bath Time
We fight over who gets to bathe the baby at our house – it’s so much fun! So you might have to work out a schedule for who gets this fun chore.
8. Take Baby Along For the Ride
Just like dogs, babies need fresh air and sunshine.
Taking the baby for a walk is a great way to for dads to give moms a little peace and quiet. It’s fun to snuggle tiny babies in a sling on your chest. Older babies seem to prefer the stroller.
Integrate this fun activity into everyday life, and you can cancel your gym membership and save money.
Be sure to point things out to your baby and interact while walking, so your baby looks forward to this time every day. Your baby will open your eyes to all the wonders (bugs, rocks, construction equipment…) along the way that you would otherwise not even notice.
You can do more than just walk, too. We installed baby seats on the backs of our bikes for fun, family rides. Whatever your preferred exercise is, find a way to include your baby.
9. Let Dad Share His Favorite Skills and Talents
Some dads love to build things. From changing tables to baby swings and everything in between, there is a lot of assembly required when it comes to baby gear!
Dads can take charge and get all the nursery gear assembled.
Musical dads might like to hold their baby on their lap while playing the piano, singing, or strumming a guitar. My dad, a skilled craftsman, loved to invite us kids out to his workshop to pound nails into boards.
Look for creative ways to incorporate your little baby buddy into your life and the things you love to do.
It’s never too early to start a consistent bedtime routine, and a wind-down with dad may be just what the doctor ordered. Plus, dads always have the best funny voices and dramatic storytelling abilities.
And reading should not be limited to bedtime, if you want your baby to become an avid reader. Here are 7 Easy Tips for Creating Lifelong Readers you might like.
Your Husband is Your Partner
Above all, remember that your spouse is your partner, not your helper.
He should be as fully involved in child rearing as possible, (even if he’s the type to need a little shove to get going) because the bonds that will be formed as a result of his help and presence will be immeasurably satisfying and joy-filled to him and to your children.
But the partnership goes both ways, and a partnership doesn’t mean that both partners do an equal amount of everything. Rather, the best partnerships play to the strengths of each partner.
So don’t use this list as a method for dividing labor equally. It could be detrimental to your family dynamic to insist that 50% of each item on this list be performed by each spouse. Instead, use the list to discuss possible ways to involve dad more, in a way that you are both pleased with and excited about.
If your husband wants to take over all of the bath time and read baby a story before bed each night, consider yourself blessed.
Even if he rarely changes a diaper. The point isn’t doing everything equally, it’s finding ways to better involve dads, for the betterment of the entire family.
Now tell me – how do you support your husband as a new dad?