“Anyone who tells you that the first weeks of their baby’s life were a walk in the park was either residing in another country to said newborn or seriously embellishing the truth. It’s exhausting but it’s not permanent.” Lucy Perry, Cheers to Childbirth: A Dad’s Guide to Childbirth Support, Pure Publishing, 2010.
I’m sometimes asked what men need to do to support their partner during pregnancy but to be honest, it’s during the birth and the weeks and months just after the baby is born when a man’s support is most needed. Beer + Bubs: childbirth education for dads at the pub focuses on a man’s role during the birth with life after birth covered briefly. Here are some tips which are featured in more detail in Cheers to Childbirth: a dad’s guide to childbirth support, which is available at all good bookstores and online.
TIPS FOR NEW FATHERS
- Your partner needs you more now than ever before. Arrange for the maximum time off work to look after her and your baby. Two weeks doesn’t cut it. Six weeks off work is more like it.
- Get your act together for the day you bring your partner and baby home. Have the house ship-shape with a freezer full of dinners ready to go.
- Arrange for extra help around the house if you can and accept genuine help when it is offered. Consider a post-natal doula to help around the house and also with settling and breastfeeding problems. Visit www.findadoula.com.au to find a post natal doula in your area.
- In-laws coming to stay from overseas? BAD IDEA. You and your partner need to lavish attention on your baby and each other, not a couple of well-meaning tourists. Have them wait for their big Australian adventure until your baby is at least 6 months old. Boundaries can be tough to put in place but a new father needs to fend for his new family and keep extended family under control. Man up.
- It’s not cool to be a klutz with your baby and parenting is not a spectator sport so get involved from day one. You are not “babysitting” when it is your child and a new baby is not your partner’s job alone.
- Manage visitors to the house with your partner and baby’s needs for rest in mind. One visitor in the morning and one in the afternoon, and a day off with no visitors, is more than enough.
- Make nappy changes your job. Forever. It’s a perfect opportunity for more one-on-one dad time.
- Keep an eye out for the baby-blues, which hit about 80% of women on the third day after giving birth. Don’t be a bloke and try to solve her problems, just let her be sad and tell her you adore her. If her sadness lasts more than a few days, take her to see your GP to make sure she’s not suffering from Post Natal Depression. Visit beyondblue.com.au for more details on the signs and symptoms of PND.
- Sleep deprivation is really tough, especially in the first six weeks. Aim for 8 hours sleep in every 24 hours for both your partner and yourself.
- Avoid caffeine, sugar and junk food – none of them will sustain you or your partner for very long.
- Help your partner stay well-hydrated to support successful breastfeeding. If she has breastfeeding problems, get professional help quick smart. Don’t wait for things to improve, get straight on the phone to the Australian Breastfeeding Association on 1800 686 268.
- Don’t expect your sex life to kick off within the first weeks after the birth of your baby. If it does, lucky you. A three to six month dry spell (or longer) is more like it. I’m often asked about post-baby sex at Beer + Bubs: childbirth education for dads at the pub. At a recent session, one of the expectant fathers there said that he’s been told by mate that watching your partner give birth was like watching your favourite pub burn down! That made us all laugh, but I said “No! It’s like watching your favourite pub be renovated!” Your sex life will be different but with effort, it could be even BETTER. Think quality rather than quantity. A number of the men I interviewed when writing Cheers to Childbirth, said that their sex life felt different but better after babies. Don’t put pressure on your partner for sex – she’s running a whole new set of hormones during those weeks and she’ll be very tired. Doing all the housework might work as effective foreplay though…
- Your social life will have to take a back seat for a few months. You’ll live. Invest your time and energy in your family – time with your new baby that you will never get back.
The tips above are specifically for men. Below are some tips for women on how to prepare their partner for those months after the birth.
TIPS FOR MOTHERS TO PREPARE NEW DADS FOR THE NEWBORN ROLLERCOASTER
- Men are really in for a shock when their partner has a baby. They are no longer the centre of the universe and all attention and affection is redirected to the new family member. Soften the blow by giving your partner some conscious attention during the newborn stage.
- Men don’t understand women’s hormones at the best of times so unless he’s an endocrinologist, don’t expect your partner to understand what a full-on hormonal roller coaster you are on in those first postnatal weeks. Men are terrible mind readers. JUST TELL HIM what you are going through. EXPLAIN what you need from him. Don’t expect the poor bugger to guess.
- My mantra for a happy marriage is: “You get what you settle for”, so don’t settle for your partner taking only a week off work after the baby is born and spending three of those nights out with his mates. Don’t settle for your partner planning a fishing trip two weeks after your due date. Lay down the ground rules before the baby is born.
- And here are the ground rules that he needs to know:
- You need him to take as much time off work as possible
- You need him to allow you to live in a mothering cocoon for at least a month so you can lavish attention on your newborn and establish breastfeeding, which means he’s responsible for everything else: housework, washing, cooking, grocery shopping.
- You’ll need him to beat a path between home and the chemist for anything you need, such as nipple cream, maternity pads, breast pads, breast pumps, bottles and sterilising equipment. The hardware is his gig.
- You need to tell him that you need his unconditional love, which includes those extra 15 kilos you put on.
- Your mother is not a substitute for a good father. Tell him that HE needs to be there for you and for your baby.
All the best for a wonderful birth and a magic time with your newborn. It’s time you will never forget!
Author, Cheers to Childbirth: a dad’s guide to childbirth support. Pure Publishing 2010
Founder, Beer + Bubs: childbirth education for dads at the pub. www.beerandbubs.com.au