When a newborn arrives, dads, like moms, are anxious and excited about jumping into their roles. While mom’s role is pretty well-defined in those early days, many fathers feel pushed aside and useless. Their role, when baby gets home from hospital, is a little less well-defined. Fathers are important and it’s important that they feel included in the parenting process very early on, since it lays the foundation for their involvement for the rest of their child’s life. Moms (and grandmothers) tend to take over when the baby arrives, but there are ways that they can support dads in their new roles.
Perhaps the most important thing is being intentional about giving dad opportunities to bond. New babies literally just eat, sleep and poop (a lot). If mom is breastfeeding, there may not appear to be many opportunities for dad to get involved, especially if mom automatically assumes responsibility for all things baby. Consider pumping breast milk and allowing dad to bottle feed baby on occasion. Alternatively, if baby is breastfed, dad can be given the baby to burp and rock to sleep. Other opportunities for bonding include bath time and supervising tummy time. If parents are intentional about looking for bonding opportunities for dad, they’ll find that there are many, and the more time dad spends with baby, the more time mom gets to rest.
Resist the urge to beat new dads up about things that may not come naturally to him. Dads do not have innate motherly instincts. To be fair, many women don’t have them either. Caring for a newborn is a learning process. It takes time to learn how to handle a baby, prepare bottles, and change diapers. If you notice a new dad is not putting the diaper on correctly, don’t just shove him out of the way or make snarky comments about his methods. Gently suggest “maybe we can try it this way”. The important thing is that he is given room to make his contribution and build his confidence when it comes to caring for his baby.
Let dads know what is needed. While dads want what’s best for mom and baby, many times they don’t know what that is. Rather than stewing about the fact that he didn’t do something that he didn’t know needed to be done, just tell him. If you’d like him to go to the grocery store, help with the laundry, or take care of dinner, let him know. New dads, like most people, aren’t mind readers and the adjustment to parenthood would be easier all around if everyone communicates clearly about what is needed.
Try listening to dad’s suggestions as well. Just because mom is, well mom, doesn’t mean that dad doesn’t have anything of value to add when it comes to taking care of the new baby. They’ve been preparing for their little one’s arrival as well. In many cases, new dads do just as much reading as moms when it comes to learning about feeding, diapering, and soothing babies. If he has a suggestion to make about how to manage baby’s colic, hear him out. Remember that parenting is a team sport. As time goes by and a routine develops, each parent will have some things they are better at than others. Allow dad to help in any way possible.
Ask dad how you can help him and let him know he is appreciated. Even if he doesn’t admit it, there are aspects of taking care of a newborn that dad may find intimidating. Check in to see if there is anything he wants feedback on, or assistance with. Encourage his involvement and praise him for his contribution in taking care of your little one.
Becoming a new parent can be an overwhelming experience for moms and dads alike. Dads are just as eager to participate in the care of their child as moms are. Support them in their efforts to do so. If you have questions about ways you can involve dad in the care of your newborn, talk with your pediatrician. Remember, we’re here to help you raise happy and healthy kids.
• Dr. Tamarra Moss is a pediatrician committed to helping you raise happy and healthy kids. You can find her at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates in Nassau, Lucayan Medical Center in Grand Bahama, or on Instagram @mykidsdoc242.