Meeting your newborn child is a powerful and emotional experience for many fathers. However, caring for a baby is challenging — especially for first-time parents. Read on for advice to new fathers (and the people who love them).
1. Don’t Get Left Out
Too often, families focus on the mother and child. This is even true if you adopted a child. However, new fathers play a vital (and sometimes unsung) role in caring for a newborn.
We get it — pregnancy and childbirth are hard work, and mothers (and primary caretakers) deserve a lot of credit. However, raising an infant involves a lot more than labor, delivery, and breastfeeding. Rather than resign yourself to the backdrop, new dads should seek out opportunities to care and bond with your child.
These activities will help you feel engaged in the parenting process:
- Taking responsibility for bathing, dressing, burping, and diapering your child
- When your baby’s not hungry, offering to soothe and snuggle away his or her tears (skin-on-skin contact is great for bonding)
- If you’re using bottles, rotating who feeds your child
- Playing, reading, and singing to your child
- Attending doctor’s appointments
- Supporting your partner by helping around the house and checking to see if he or she needs anything while resting or nursing
2. Communicate Openly and Honestly with Your Partner
If you’re feeling alone, overwhelmed, fearful, or exhausted, talk to your partner. For all the joyful, beautiful moments, there will be sleepless nights, diaper blowouts, and frayed nerves. Remember, you are in this together. Respectful and open communication might help you address your feelings, identify solutions, and strengthen your relationship.
3. You Don’t Have to Follow Traditional Gender Roles
Most fathers want to be involved in their child’s daily routines. Gone are the days when fathers bragged about never changing a diaper. Studies show children who see their parents collaboratively raise children and collectively run a household have better self-esteem and are more flexible in their relationships. Start this positive message early on.
4. Demand Flexibility in Your Work Schedule
If your company offers flexible work schedules, remote work options, or paid leave, use these programs to your benefit. You might be surprised how much your life changes when a baby arrives. Everything takes longer, sleep is sometimes a luxury, and unexpected illnesses are common (especially if your child attends a school or childcare center).
5. Look for Parenting Mentors
Many of the hospitals and healthcare centers in Canopy Health’s alliance offer support groups for new fathers. Even if you’re not interested in attending a support group, look for fathers in your family or peer network that you admire. Don’t be afraid to ask them for advice, encouragement, or guidance. Nobody starts off as an expert father; it takes time, mishaps, humility, and humor. Having a mentor’s help can make the transition to fatherhood easier.
6. Learn How to Identify Postpartum Health Issues
Maternal deaths are rising in the United States. Similarly, U.S. infant mortality rates are concerning — roughly 1 in 270 infants die each year. If you’re concerned about your partner’s postpartum depression, bleeding, or pain levels, help her get the medical care she needs. (Postpartum depression can impact fathers, too.) Stay in close contact with your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns about his or her health or development.
7. Make Health and Wellness a Family Priority
Raising a little one is hard work! During your child’s first year, your body will be under a lot of stress. Take time to care for your own health and wellness. Take your baby on hikes or runs, make healthy meal plans, and get the medical care and vaccinations you need to protect your family’s health.
Additionally, you typically have 60 days from his or her birth to enroll your child in your health plan. If you do not sign up during this “special enrollment period,” you’ll have to wait until Open Enrollment.
8. Accept Help When It’s Offered
If friends or family offer to help with chores, meal preparation, or other tasks, accept their help. This isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s common sense. On average, fathers get less than six hours of sleep per night than the child’s primary caretaker — and the sleep they get is highly disrupted. If you can get help with daily tasks, your entire family will benefit from additional rest and opportunities to bond together. Additionally, if you’re having problems with sleep, feeding, or other important issues, reach out to your doctors, lactation consultants, and other experts.
9. Take Time for Yourself and Your Relationship with Your Partner
It’s easy to ignore your relationship with your partner when you’re busy tending to the needs of an infant. However, healthy relationships can help you through stressful situations. Even if it’s sharing a cup of coffee at 4:00 AM, spend time together (and take time for yourself).
10. Think About Your Parenting Style and Priorities
As you enter fatherhood, think about how you and your partner want to approach parenting. What values do you want to instill in your child? What is your stance on discipline? What help do you need from your partner to achieve these goals? While you never fully know how you’ll react to the challenges of parenting, it’s a good idea to take some time to reflect on your long-term goals.
Haelle, T., Willingham, E. (2016, April 5). For new parents, dads may be the ones missing the most sleep. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/04/05/473002684/for-new-parents-dad-may-be-the-one-missing-the-most-sleep
Every child alive: the urgent need to end newborn deaths (2018). UNICEF. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/
Martin, N. (2017, May 12). U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/05/12/528098789/u-s-has-the-worst-rate-of-maternal-deaths-in-the-developed-world
Witt, S. (1997). Parental influence on children’s socialization to gender roles. Adolescence. Retrieved from https://www.scribd.com/document/103788286/Parental-Influence-on-Children