Being a dad beyond the nappy change
How to be happier and more involved during your baby’s first days
There are many different kinds of families, and we celebrate them all. To keep things simple, this article refers to the person who carried the baby as ‘mum’ or ‘mother’. The other parent we’re calling ‘dad’ or ‘father’.
These days, dads are more involved in parenting their kids than ever before – dads (in the US) spend three times as much time looking after their kids than they did 50 years ago – 2.5 hours a week in 1965 to seven hours per week in 2011. Hurray for dads! That increased involvement is in part because dads want to be more involved. It’s also because we’re spending more time parenting overall – modern mums spend more time now than they did 50 years ago, too. And, in households where both parents work, new mothers still allocate twice as much of their spare time to day-to-day childcare as dads. That decreases as the child gets older – and is totally understandable when you consider the impacts of childbirth and the role of breastfeeding.
So, early on, the person who gave birth is likely to be the star of the baby show. For the other parent, the desire to support and be involved can often get railroaded by practical and emotional issues. We’ve put together a guide for dads – and other parents – to help them better manage the upheaval while connecting more strongly to their partners and their babies.
Get comfy with babies
Women tend to spend their early adult years handling babies – men less so. Getting familiar and comfortable with babies before yours is born will pay off in a major way. That starts with just holding babies, but you should also watch and help with nappy changes and ideally, become a baby knowledge encyclopaedia. When should you introduce solids? What is that rash and should you be worried? How do you manage a cold? What sleep aids and training systems are out there? This means you’ll be involved in, or better yet, lead discussions on how to manage your baby’s first days.
Do more of the house – and worry – work
We’ve seen the stats – women, on the whole, do a bunch more work around even the most equal of homes. Add a baby into the mix and a mother’s total workload can increase by 21 hours a week. For dads a baby means only an extra 12.5 hours a week on average.
So pick up some slack wherever you can. That means nappy changes and baby shussing, of course, but doing more of the housework – and emotional work – is a critical part of making the early days with your baby more enjoyable. Your partner needs to spend her time healing and feeding – both things that work best when she’s relaxed. So that means taking over more of both the physical and emotional work at home.
The emotional work involves all the logistical and social concerns that women, generally, have whizzing around in their heads. How do we tell Aunt Susan she can’t visit until she’s over her cold? Should we RSVP to this party? How do you keep the grandparents from sniping at each other? Remember to get the plumber back in , get the laundry onto the line, post that letter and order more nappies. It’s work you can’t see – but it takes its toll.
The goal for new dads, then, is to spot and complete housework without being asked. If running the home has never been your ‘job’, trying looking around in a new way. Note things that need vacuuming, mopping or wiping, plan for dinners ahead of time, wash, hang and put away laundry and make beds. Try to be the point of contact for friends and relatives, start keeping shopping and to-do lists and run interference in any conflict situations.
It will be hard when you’re also sleep-deprived, but the pay-off will be a happier partner, a more relaxed baby, and more of those sweet new-born moments.
Be ready for a dramatic change in your relationship
Having a baby adds a lovely new dimension to your relationship, but let’s not put too fine a point on it: things will changes both physically and emotionally.
When it comes to sex, research suggests that things won’t get back to normal for at least 12 to 24 months after the baby's arrival. The hormones associated with breastfeeding in themselves can stifle libido for many women – most studies suggest that overall, you should expect far less sex while your partner is breastfeeding. Many couples find adding logistics, like sleep debt, co-sleeping, and lack of childcare also takes their toll on their sex life.
Further, the cocktail of hormones that new parents experience – particularly breastfeeding mothers – can create intense emotions. For example, a lactating mother will often experience a physical need to see and hold her baby. Similarly oxytocin, which is triggered strongly by breastfeeding, gives your partner a sense of well-being and contentment and may mean she feels emotionally fulfilled – without your involvement. Similarly, as your bond with your new baby develops, the simplicity of the relationship and the height of your feelings will make it seem like there is little room for anyone else.
This is normal and healthy, but means new parents have to work harder to maintain the strength of their bond – it may feel less natural than it did before. It is! Parents have to purposefully remain bonded, rather than letting bonding chemicals do the work for them. That’s about the basics – kindness honesty, self-awareness, humility and compassion. Be present when you’re home (phones away!) and seek external support from a counsellor if you find things getting difficult.
Hold on, dad. You’re in for a ride
Having your first baby is, genuinely, a magical time. You’re in love with this little person you helped create, and with the woman who performed the miraculous feat! Take time to revel in the small moments that make having a new-born so wonderful. Creating more of those moments should be the goal and will help you and your partner weather the unavoidable hard patches. Understanding where you can and should pick up the slack isn’t just about being a ‘good dad’– it will mean you’ll be bonded, connected and necessary to your baby. And that’s good for everyone.