I’ve always known that people who think having a baby will save their relationship were wrong. However, it wasn’t until I had a newborn that I realized just how wrong. If anything, having a baby is probably more likely to end a relationship.
Before I begin, this blog is particularly about heterosexual relationships. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough LGBTQ+ friends with babies to ask what their experiences have been like co-parenting a newborn. However, if any same-sex couples with babies have had similar experiences or if you have more tips because you don’t have these problems, please do share!
I knew raising a newborn would present its challenges, and I knew some of those challenges would involve my husband and our relationship. But what I knew was just an abstract understanding that there would be challenges. I had no idea what I was in for. If it weren’t for having friends sharing their experiences with me, I would have never known that I’m not alone.
I’ve always attributed many of my husband’s “flaws” to him being an only child and French. While I still think both those factors carry a lot of weight, I also now know that some of his “flaws” are simply because he’s a man. But instead of venting on the worldwide web to you about all the things that frustrate and annoy me about my husband (and don’t worry, I know I annoy him all the time, too), I thought I’d create a list of tips I think would be helpful for fathers, future fathers, and fathers to be, especially if you want to avoid your woman resenting you through the newborn phase, and maybe even beyond that.
1. Download the Baby Tracker
If your woman has downloaded a baby tracker, download it on your phone, too, and login to the same account. This way, you can also help keep track of feedings, poops, and sleeps. Don’t make your woman hunt you down for the information and know that you’re just making up how long baby has been sleeping or how much baby actually ate (if you’re feeding baby with bottles). If your woman has not downloaded or chosen a baby tracker and you are expecting a child, find one you like and take the lead. Discuss if it’s even something you want to use or not. I personally find it really helpful. When our baby had jaundice, thankfully I recorded how much milk I was pumping and how much he was drinking when we did give him bottles, because that helped us know that I wasn’t lacking in milk supply. Otherwise, the pediatrician was going to have us supplement with formula, which is not a bad thing, but had we not known I was pumping plenty of milk, we would have unnecessarily supplemented with formula. Since we use cloth diapers, I also find it helpful to track changes, because otherwise I’ll forget how long he has been in a diaper. Nowadays tracking his sleep has also helped me figure out his sleep patterns. So, trackers are great! The one we use is literally called Baby Tracker.
2. Learn to Anticipate What Your Baby Needs
In any heterosexual household, and no matter how old the kids are, I have learned that most men are terrible at thinking about what might be needed. It’s like they think things just happen magically. Think of the common toilet paper issue. When you’re low on toilet paper, who remembers to buy more before you run out? Usually it’s the woman. If you give baby bottles for feedings, how do you think bottles get cleaned and filled? If your woman is nursing and pumping, I’m just going to tell you right now that you are on bottle cleaning duty. The first time we took baby out for his first well baby visit at the pediatrician’s I was so busy with baby I nearly forgot to pack the diaper bag. It’s not like we needed much at this stage, but still. When I frantically told my husband we need to pack the diaper bag he was totally clueless. Newborns’ basic needs are being fed and having a clean diaper. So always anticipate those needs at a bare minimum. It’s also always a good idea to bring at least one extra change of clothes. As they get older consider entertainment, like toys and books.
3. Take Care of Your Woman
For the first two weeks I could barely walk or sit. On top of just trying to physically heal, I was battling a bad latch with our son, so nursing was causing me additional excruciating pain. Somehow I was still doing laundry, making sure we were fed, cleaning whenever I was able to, and always the first to get up in the middle of night whenever baby cried. Needless to say, there were times I was just overwhelmed. Check in with your woman. Ask how she is doing. Make sure she has water at all times—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left my cup or water bottle in the other room and was dying of thirst through a feeding or while tending to baby’s other needs. And make her some eggs or bring her a snack. My husband has since started making me breakfast because I’m usually the one up at night with baby and therefore exhausted in the mornings, and it has made my mornings much less stressful. A lot of times it’s as simple as just some scrambled eggs but it’s a gesture that I appreciate greatly, makes me feel loved and taken care of, and it’s one less thing I have to do.
4. Get Your Lazy Ass Up at Night
Yes, you’re exhausted; but however you feel, your woman is ten times more exhausted, especially if she is nursing. My husband tried to tell me, “But you’re better at functioning when you’re tired, and I’m one of those people who is not.” It’s true, but that doesn’t mean I should be doing 90% of the baby care. If your woman nurses, bring baby to her if baby sleeps on her/his own bed not next to Mama. And if Mama nurses, you’ve got diaper duty. Or take turns. Create a system that doesn’t dump everything on Mama. Remember, you’re a co-parent, not a babysitter.
5. Get Up and Walk the Baby
When I ask my husband to watch the baby or rock him to sleep, his M.O. is to just lay or sit wherever he is and rock baby in his arms. But a lot of times, babies need you to walk and rock them or require different positions that comfort them. My dad, who helps me watch the kid a lot, jokes that the baby forces him to get his exercise. It’s true. I don’t always have time to workout these days, but I sure do get my steps in!
6. YOUR WOMAN IS IN PAIN!!!
I mentioned this earlier, but wanted to remind you that right after baby is born, your wife’s body needs to heal! Let her heal and encourage her to rest! For the first six weeks, every time I started to feel better, I’d move around more and try to do more than I already was, but that would lead back to more pain and bleeding. Remember that during these first six weeks and until her doctor gives her the all clear, Mama is not supposed to lift anything heavier than baby. While walking is good for her, she also shouldn’t over exert herself. We live in a small gated community and especially because of the pandemic this was the only place we’d go out for a walk. However, the first few weeks I could only do one lap. Whenever I’d do two or three, I’d definitely feel pain again. So daddies, let your woman heal! If she’s like me and not good at being on bed rest or taking it easy, encourage her to do so. Knowing you’ve got her back will help her take it easy.
7. Help Tidy Up When Possible
I don’t doubt my husband is also exhausted, but he naps WAY MORE than is even fair. My girlfriends have noted the same thing. So, I think it’s fair to say that they have plenty of time to help tidy up and clean. Of course, I think it’s a lot to expect new parents to keep the home pristine and totally organized, but I don’t think we need to let our home become a pigsty. I‘m far from the most tidy person, but I get really frustrated and stressed when things become too messy. Plus I’m of the mindset that if you do a little here and there and regularly keep things clean and put things away, then you save yourself time and challenges from big clean ups whenever you do them.
8. Know Where Your Baby’s Stuff Is
There was a time I did the baby’s laundry and I asked my husband to fold and put them away. When I came back to the room, everything was folded but not put away. I asked him why and he said because he doesn’t know where they go. Our baby has one set of drawers. It’s not that difficult to figure out. Don’t rely on your woman to know where everything is and goes, even if she does. Take responsibility for baby’s belongings, too. Again, you’re a co-parent not babysitter.
9. Do Skin to Skin with Your Baby
Just do it. It’s good for you and baby.
10. Google It
While I believe in the power of maternal instinct, women don’t just know what to do either. We just figure things out because we talk to our friends and google it!! Your woman doesn’t have time to google everything, but she does it because she’s worried about your child. I’m not saying you’re not worried, but help take the lead on figuring things out to share the load with your woman.
11. Say Thank You
Showing your appreciation matters. Sometimes in the midst of the chaos of trying to keep a tiny human alive, we forget to show each other our appreciation. A little “thank you” can go a long way. This is a reminder for both men and women.
12. Down with the Patriarchy
Culture can play a huge factor here. Men raised in highly patriarchal cultures or homes may have a tough time with this if they don’t see why they should step up their co-parenting game or have difficulty putting their family’s needs before their wants. Men who are the breadwinners in the family may think that they’re taking care of the family by financially providing so don’t need to do as much of the actual baby caring. While it’s true they are providing for their family, it’s important to also be emotionally and physically present in your growing family’s life. Otherwise, your woman may feel very alone and resentment may grow.
13. Your Baby is Like a Horse
What I mean by this is that if you’re stressed, baby senses that and may not respond well to you. Just like when a nursing mama is stressed, baby will sense that and may not latch. In my discussion with friends, I’ve found that men tend to have less patience when baby cries. With my husband, I can tell he gets uneasy, too. Dads, tap into your gentle side. I know this is tougher for some than others, but put away your testosterone and give that baby some sweet, tender loving. I always tell my husband that baby needs to feel safe and loved. What I do is just hold baby tightly so he feels safe, rock or bounce him, and talk to him calmly. If baby is tired, I tell him “I know you’re tired, let’s go to sleep.” And I try to soothe him. When he’s crying because we’ve squirted saline drops up his nose to clear out the boogers, I tell him “I’m sorry, baby, I know it’s uncomfortable, but I just want to help you breathe better.” Then I pick him up and hug him after I’ve squirted the drops up his nose, and before I suck the boogers out with the aspirator. When I’m done with the aspirator, I immediately pick him up again to let him know he’s safe. When he feels safe he will calm down. Of course newborns can fuss for seemingly no reason and be colicky. Just give your baby love and attention. If you need a break, take a break, but don’t just give up and hand baby over fed up. Don’t let baby feel unsafe in your arms. You’ve got to build trust with your baby. There are of course other ways to calm baby, like shushing or singing. Whatever you do, again, just make sure baby feels safe and then baby will learn to trust you. Moreover, your woman will likely fall more in love with you when she sees you caring for your child and making baby feel safe and loved.
With that said, some parents may not feel attached to their baby right away. Know that that’s okay and there’s no shame in that. If that is the case, I think it’s important to acknowledge it and address it.
One of my friends told me that men just aren’t good with newborns. And others seem to just accept the struggle, but I don’t think it should be so much of a struggle. In 2020, I’m unwilling to accept that we just have to accept the status quo. Women shouldn’t resent and hate their male partners because men can’t figure out how to co-parent newborns or because we allow age old social norms dictate our roles. So dads, I hope these tips help you out, because I know that we are wired differently and we women sometimes need to just spell it out instead of expect and hope you read our minds. That’s just the nature of it all. But also know that how you care for your woman and child will affect your child even if your baby doesn’t remember these early days.
The best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother.
I know some dads are great co-parents from the start, my own included, so to you I say thank you for taking care of your woman.
BONUS TIP: Talk to Other Dads
I know guys don’t usually do this, but it would help all of us out if you all talked to each other more. It’s good for your mental health which is then good for our mental health, and you’ll learn what’s normal or common.
Happy Father’s Day Daddies!