Whether your family just welcomed a baby, or your partner is about to give birth, it’s safe to say that it’s a really exciting time for everyone involved. Infants are snuggly and sweet, they have that classic new-baby scent and bringing home your first child is definitely a little surreal, in a good way!
But at the same time, it can be a hard and overwhelming time -- not knowing how to navigate the waters of new-parenthood, while asking yourself how you can be a better and more supportive spouse.
As a mom myself, I get it. My husband and I jumped in the deep end, so to speak, when we welcomed our daughter.
Not really being “baby people,” we had a lot to figure out. Although people have been raising children pretty much since the dawn of time -- and we are big believers in trial and error -- I still thought it’d be interesting to ask around for advice. I spoke with my husband and my new-mom friends to compile this list.
Here are 16 tips for first-time dads.
1. We understand: You can’t nurse the baby, and that’s frustrating. Right when you bring your little bundle home from the hospital, your family’s new routine will involve a LOT of feedings and sleeping (even if the snoozes only come in two-hour increments at first). Your wife has to handle the nursing, if you opt to go that route, and that’s a huge job for her. So you can start doing everything ELSE -- diaper changes, spit-up duty, baths, bottles if those are in your rotation, etc. Make yourself useful in any OTHER way you can.
2. Let your partner nap. “If you love someone, let them go,” the old saying says. But once you become a parent, that turns into, “If you love someone, let them SLEEP.” So, any time she’s able to, let her catch those Zzzs. Between the hormones, her recovery from the actual birth and the new responsibility of being a mom, she is TIRED.
3. In case only one of you is the “new” parent, or there are children from a previous marriage involved, keep those kids busy and happy. Make them feel loved and valued even when mom is busy tending to the infant. Same goes with pets! Your partner has enough on her hands. Make sure the dog is walked, fed and cared for.
4. Keep the kitchen clean, make sure healthy snacks are stocked and stay on top of meals. If your wife is nursing, she needs fuel. Heck, even if she isn’t nursing, she needs fuel!
But keep her water bottle and stomach full either way. It’s easy to focus on baby-baby-baby all day, and then suddenly, it’s 7 p.m. and your wife hasn’t eaten anything other than a handful of Cheetos. Not only could her milk supply take a hit, but she’s going to be seriously hangry, if that’s the case.
Nursing makes your appetite go crazy in many cases. Be proactive for her when it comes to food! She will seriously appreciate it.
5. Help manage visitors. Keep up on your texts, along with her texts if she’d like, and let friends and family know when you guys are able to host company. Encourage hand-washing if people are going to hold the baby, politely know how to wrap up the visit after an hour or so, and don’t be afraid to say the word “no.”
Sometimes, it’s just not a great day for visitors, and your loved ones will understand.
6. Hang out with the baby. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, just dive in. Read to him, rock her, make silly faces, or learn how to use your baby carrier or wrap, if you have one. Infants don’t need much at first. And they love the sound of your voice. Get chatting! Even if it’s just about the NBA game from the night before, or you’re narrating your evening.
7. Keep yourself busy. Help clear the kitchen counters, keep the breast pump parts organized and washed (this was huge in our house), make the calls to your insurance company to ensure the baby is added to your plan, help your wife sort out any FMLA paperwork, offer to assist with doling out medications -- even if it’s just the baby’s Vitamin D droplets or your wife’s prescriptions from the hospital.
8. Talk to your partner about non-baby-related topics, because infants can be all-consuming at first. Sometimes it’s hard to remember who you were before this tiny, screaming bundle entered your world.
Where would she like to go on your first date, post-baby (even if that’ll be months from now?) What’s her take on the latest political situation? What has she been watching on Netflix without you?
Sometimes it feels good to discuss things other than the consistency of your kid’s … latest mess. I’ll just say that.
9. Read the baby books. Or at least, a baby book.
“The Happiest Baby on the Block” by Harvey Karp will make your life with a newborn about a million times easier once you learn those five S’s, so do yourself a favor and start with that one. If you want to save some time (or cut corners, really), you can even look up the book on YouTube and see how the S’s are done, on video. You will impress your wife big time once you nail that tight swaddle.
10. Text the families some baby pictures.
Because they’re definitely blowing up your wife’s phone, asking for more, more, more. Time for you to take on photo duty!
11. Be prepared and willing to run any and all errands. Just say yes and then look up whatever your wife is requesting once you’re in the car.
Some tips: Fenugreek is sold over the counter at most Walgreens/CVS-type drug stores (and it’s known to help with milk production). Ice cream is always appreciated. You can buy coconut oil at the grocery store (which cures a lot of weird-newborn-skin issues, like cradle cap). And Desitin is a miracle product for diaper rash.
12. Have patience, and display patience, whenever possible.
You both are running on a not-ideal amount of sleep, so give each other some grace.
13. Don’t jump to solve the problem every time something little comes up. Yes, I realize that’s what guys sometimes do (at least, the men in my life). But when your partner has a question, or a concern, just hear her out first. And really listen.
Tell her she’s doing a wonderful job and there’s no one else you’d rather parent with, and then take it from there. (If it’s a BIG issue, obviously call your doctor and problem-solve away. But if it’s, “I wonder why the baby’s not napping as well this afternoon,” then take my advice).
14. Actively offer to make her life easier. Don’t be one of those “let me know if you need anything” guys. You’re the dad. Moms often feel a great responsibility to do EVERYTHING, even months or years after the baby is born. So, rather than wait for her cues, take it upon yourself to be all, “Why don’t you take an hour for yourself -- maybe a hot shower and curl up with a book?” (And then don’t bug her while she’s in there!) Or, “How about a walk?” You could even offer to join her for the stroll, if you have a relative in the area who wouldn’t mind hanging out with a napping baby for 45 minutes.
Encourage her to get that “me” time.
15. When you chip in and carry your load, don’t call it babysitting, or act like you’re doing your partner a favor. Raising a child is a shared responsibility. You’re parenting. Remember, words become attitudes.
Keep an open mind. Don’t put a timeline on her recovery, or expect her to snap back to her pre-baby priorities in six to eight weeks. Don’t remind her of things she said before the baby arrived -- “I’ll be back in the gym in no time; I’ll never give the baby formula; I’d never let my baby be in the same room as a TV.” Whatever she wants to do, within reason of course, SUPPORT her.
Good luck out there!
This was first published in 2017. It has since been updated.