Today, dads are more involved than ever in parenting, particularly when it comes to caring for babies. Looking after a baby isn’t easy, however. It’s challenging, but more than that it’s rewarding. And by being more involved in parenting at this early stage, you’ll form a better bond with your child. You’ll also help your partner and get to experience the excitement of watching your baby grow and develop.
Even though fathers are more hands-on these days, there’s very little advice for new dads-to-be. So, here is a quick and simple guide to what new dads should expect, what they need to know, and what you can do to help both your baby and your partner.
What to expect in the first few months with your baby?
Every baby is unique and new parents’ experiences will vary. But generally, looking after a new-born baby will involve a cycle of tasks.
Babies sleep a lot, often between 15 and 17 hours a day. But because they need to feed relatively often, they tend to sleep for short periods, usually two to three hours. Although it can be shorter or longer. This defines the cycle of tasks.
Most babies sleep for a few hours then wake up for a feed. You’ll then change their nappy, play with them whilst they’re awake, soothe them if they cry or seem unhappy, then put them back to sleep again. Sometimes you’ll also bath them and change their clothes, to really mix things up.
This whole cycle could last two hours, or three, or four. And at first, your baby likely won’t behave any differently at night. So you or your partner may have to wake up multiple times in the night. Continually unbroken sleep is one of the main reasons looking after a new-born baby can be tough. But by getting involved, you share the burden and the fun with your partner.
So what can you do to get involved in caring for your new-born and how can you help?
Take paternity leave if you can
Firstly, try and be at home as much as possible. If you can take paternity leave in those first few months, we recommend it. If not, try to find other ways to spend more time at home, like taking holiday days or working from home.
You’re only going to be a new dad once. You don’t want to miss out one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of your life. Your partner needs your support at this time too, and the more you can help out the smoother and happier your new family life is going to be.
Get involved with the everyday tasks
We mentioned that looking after a baby mostly breaks down into a cycle of tasks. Think of each of these tasks as a set of new skills to learn. Make sure you become a master of these skills and you’ll be well on the way to becoming father of the year. Mastering them also means you can look after your baby alone, allowing mum to catch up on sleep or to escape the house for a bit.
These are the main baby care tasks in the first few month, and briefly what you can expect them to involve:
· Feeding: This obviously depends on how your baby is fed. If you bottle feed or combination feed, learn how to make a bottle and get involved with feeding. If your partner breastfeeds, you can still help out by learning how to burb your baby.
· Nappy changing: OK, let’s talk about poo.A lot of new parents-to-be are wary about changing poo-filled nappies, but you really don’t need to be. New-born baby poo is pretty inoffensive – it doesn’t smell bad, and it doesn’t even really look like poo. Lots of babies enjoy having their nappies changed too, so it can be a fun part of the daily routine.
· Changing clothes: This sounds super simple, and it mostly is. But new-borns often don’t like having their clothes changed, so you’ll soon learn to do it quickly and efficiently, with minimum fuss.
· Bathing your baby: Whether you sponge bath at first, or go straight to bathing your baby, learn how to get the right temperature water (around 38 ºC) and how best to hold and wash your baby.
· Playing with your baby: In those first few months, your baby won’t be actively playing games with you. During this time, they’ll mostly want to be held by you, look at your face, and hear your voice. Spend playtime looking at each other, talk lots, and carry your baby around. You’ll probably spend a lot of time walking around your home pointing at things and telling them what they are. Your baby won’t understand but will love it anyway.
· Soothing your baby: There will likely be a lot of crying during those first few months. Babies can cry because they’re hungry, tired, cold, or too warm. Because they have trapped wind, because they have indigestion, or for no discernible reason. By spending time with your baby, you’ll learn to decode why they’re crying (most of the time) and how best to soothe them.
· Putting your baby to sleep: Some babies will fall asleep easily, some won’t. And it won’t help to tire them out either, as over-tired babies find it harder to fall asleep. You’re going to have to learn to judge when your baby is sleepy enough to be put down to sleep, and how best you can help them drift off.
· Taking your baby out for a walk: During their first few months, your baby won’t have the strength to sit up and will have to lie down flat in a pram or buggy. But taking them out for walks can be good for both of you. They can stare up at your face, which they’ll love, and may sleep better when being gently rocked as you walk. It can give you a chance to get out and get active too. As well as giving mum a well-earned break.
We’ve touched briefly on each of these tasks here to give you an overall idea of what to expect and how to get involved. Try to devote a bit of time to each of them during the first few weeks of your baby’s life, and you’ll be amazed at how fast you master them.
Support your partner
During those first few months, at times you’re going to be exhausted, emotional, and stressed. But the chances are, it’s going to be tougher for mum.
Your partner is likely to be sore from childbirth, at the very least. Her body is going to be awash with hormones and she may experience some level of postpartum blues. If she breastfeeds, it can time-consuming and exhausting. She’s probably also not going to be feeling herself and her body will have changed. Mothers often face more pressure and judgement in parenting than fathers do too. She’s going to need your support and plenty of it.
It’s also common for new fathers to feel like a bit of a spare wheel during those first few months. Your partner may spend more time with your baby, especially if she breastfeeds, and may have a more instant bond. She may appear to instinctively adapt to parenting in a way that you don’t.
This is the time to set your ego aside. There can be no jealousy, no resentment, no irritability or sulking. You need to give your partner and baby the support they need, whatever that is. Master the skills of caring for your baby and try to give your partner time off so she can sleep, rest or go out. Help out in any other way you can too – go shopping, cook meals, clean the bathroom, whatever you can do to support your family.
Look after yourself
Having said all the above, there still needs to be some balance. It can be easy to lose yourself in those first few months of parenting. There’s so much to learn and do. But you need to make sure you look after yourself too. You’re going to be a better partner and dad if you’re fit, happy and mentally healthy.
Try to carve out some time for yourself to rest and to do whatever it is that makes you happy. It can help to take it in turns to look after your baby at night, so one of you gets a decent night’s sleep. It can also help to set aside specific times of the week that you and your partner can take as free, alone time.
Looking after your new-born baby will be a challenge, but can it also be one of the happiest times of your life. Focus on learning to care for your baby, on supporting your partner