You watched her belly grow with anticipation and perhaps a twinge, or more than a twinge, of fear. You helped her eat well, and let her steal all the pillows so she could get some rest at night. You watched her eat silly things and struggle to tie her shoelaces, if she didn’t just give up on those all together. And here he is, your pink, squirmy, crying, wiggly little creature. Now what?
The majority of men in our culture did not grow up caring for babies, the first diaper they change will likely be on their own first child. Many men are at a loss on what to do to care for and bond with their babies and tend to let mom take the lead, and take the role of helper. While this can be a wonderful thing to do, remember that you are an equal parent and you are as capable as mom of soothing and caring for your newborn.
I, as a woman, had never cared for a baby before my own. My husband got 5 days off of work, then I was left alone. I had no idea what to do at all! I learned through trial and error. If, as is the case in many families, mom is home with the little one for the first few weeks, months or years she will learn faster. You will be holding your baby and he will be fussing and when you pass him off to mom he will calm right down. We all want our babies to be happy, so we tend to do that often. If it works for you, fantastic. But, remember that she learned by doing the wrong things too.
One of the best things I ever did as a mother was allow my baby to fuss with my husband. I told him, that his way would be different than mine and that was ok. Yes, it was easier to pass little Devon to me and I would nurse and he would be happy. But giving him that time to figure it out and make mistakes meant he found his own way. There were things he would do to soothe him that didn’t work with me and vice versa.
Many Dad’s also worry that if mom breastfeeds and they don’t get a chance to feed the baby they won’t be able to bond. While it’s true you won’t be able to bond in that way, you can still connect with your newborn in other ways. Some babies need suck training, which means that for one reason or another their latch isn’t ideal and they need some help learning to nurse without hurting mamas nipples. Dad’s I recommend you take over this task. Before she is about to nurse, you can insert a finger and make sure baby is ready to latch properly, then hand over to mama. This involves you in each feeding and you are doing a wonderful thing to support her breastfeeding success! If you feel like mama gets breastfeeding all to herself, take something and make it just yours such as bathing, dressing, or another task that you enjoy.
Dad, please learn to babywear. Skin to skin contact is so important for babies. Their growth and bonding will improve by being close to your body. They will sleep better, know your voice and movement, and know you are a safe place to settle in. As they get a bit older they will learn by watching you, which really is one of the coolest parts of being a parent. Learn to wear them on your back in an ergonomic carrier and you can work in the garden, do household chores, work in the garage, and even play video games all while your baby is happy and close to you.
A note to Moms:
Give yourself the gift of backing off and letting your partner make mistakes. I know it’s hard to hear them cry when you know that you can fix it quickly. But they will get older and you will want a break. You’ll want to go to the store alone, take a bath, prepare a meal, or go out with friends. Giving him this time to learn means that he will have the confidence and the skills to take care of everything while you are away or doing something else. That is a priceless gift to all three of you!