Up to this point, your partner has been doing most of the work. She carried the baby for nine months, actively nourishing and growing the baby from her own body the whole time. Then she gave birth–one of the most physically difficult things that either of you will ever have to do. She’s amazing, right?!
Now, the time has finally come when you get to help just as much! She’s pretty much exhausted at this point, and she’s still facing months of sleep deprivation, regular breastfeeding or bottle feeding, and soothing a completely dependent baby. Did you know that the first three months postpartum are sometimes called the fourth trimester? The baby is so dependent on her, it’s almost like she’s still pregnant!
Long story short, she needs to pass the baton on to you for a bit when it comes to almost everything else. She only has space to think about the new baby! Here are ten things dads should do in the first month after the baby is born:
1 Make Sure She’s Doing OK Physically. Her body went through a huge ordeal, and now she’s in recovery mode. These are the things to keep an eye on to make sure everything is OK.
- Physical health: Pay attention if she talks about an increase in vaginal bleeding, swollen breasts or clogged ducts, a fever, any sudden increases in pain, rashes or redness on her skin, bad smelling discharge, or pain, burning or blood when she pees. If she has any of those things, give your doctor or midwife a call.
2 Make Sure Everyone’s Doing OK Emotionally. It’s so easy to stop at “How are you?” “Fine.” But right after giving birth is a time when it’s important to ask more. It’s a common misconception that humans are made up of minds plus bodies. But our emotions are intimately connected with the hormones running through our blood!
- Emotional health: Even if you’re not a person who usually asks that kind of question, right after birth is the right time to make an exception. Up to 17% of moms experience postpartum depression , which is a lot. It’s not just in her head, and it’s really bad for both her and the baby.
- Processing Trauma: If either of you has had traumatic experiences in your past, childbirth and newborn care can be more difficult. For trauma survivors, there are lots of triggers that can remind them of what happened to them and throw them out of whack. The same can be true if the birth itself was traumatic. Don’t be too hard on yourselves!
- Take care of YOU: Having a newborn is tough–it teaches you a whole new level of selflessness. But it’s important to know your limits, too. Try to take one hour every day to yourself do do what you want to do. And make sure your partner has the chance to do that, too. Just about everyone asks for outside help in those first couple of weeks, because it takes a village to raise a child. Lean into it. Asking for help is completely valid and even expected of you right now.
3 Bond with Your New Baby. Another thing you should prioritize in the first month is bonding with your new baby. While you’re bonding, go ahead and tell your partner she can take a nap or a shower! You got this. It can even be easier to bond if she leaves the room, because the baby will rely on you. Here are three bonding activities you can try:
- Skin to skin: Take off your shirt and wrap a blanket around you and your baby. Sway back and forth. That’s your baby’s happy place.
- Reading, singing, or talking: Your voice is the first way your baby met you (when they were inside mom), and you can be sure they can already pick out your voice from all the rest. They will always love hearing it, especially when you sing, or talk to them in a sing-song way.
- Face to face: When your baby is calm but alert, hold them so their face is about 8-10 inches from yours. Babies have terrible vision, but they are fascinated by faces–especially their parents’ faces.
4 Check How Well She’s Bonding with the Baby. If she’s having a hard time bonding, that doesn’t mean she’s a bad mom. Sometimes when moms are exhausted and coping with rapid hormonal changes, bonding can be tough.
- How you can tell: Does she smile at the baby? Does she cuddle the baby? When the baby cries, does she pick the baby up to comfort them? Does she seem annoyed with or afraid of the baby?
- What it means: Bonding is a really big deal. If she’s having a hard time bonding, it could mean that she needs some extra help right now. It can also be an early sign of postpartum depression. You can consider asking for help from friends, a postpartum doula, or a therapist. Talk to your doctor or midwife about your options!
5 Baby care, of Course! This one’s obvious, but here are the fast and dirty basics, besides feeding:
- Diaper changes: Newborns pee about 20 times a day, so there’s no way you can change it every time. Plan on changing your baby’s diaper every 2 or 3 hours, or every time they poop–whichever comes first. At night, try to use extra absorbent diapers if you can, and you only need to change them if they poop. It’s not worth waking you both all the way up if it’s only pee.
- Newborn baths: Stick to sponge baths 2-3 times a week until the umbilical cord stump falls off–usually a week or two. The floor is a great spot as long as any pets are contained. If you bathe your baby on a counter, keep at least one hand on them at all times. Pad your surface with soft towels, and always pay attention to temperature–cover up whatever part of the baby you aren’t currently washing with another towel. Wipe the baby’s face first with a damp washcloth (no soap), cleaning they eyes from inside to out. Then use a mild baby soap on a warm, damp washcloth for the rest of their body, paying special attention to creases in your baby’s skin.
- Cord care: Basically, just leave that sucker alone. Fold the diaper down in the front so that it doesn’t rub up against the cord. If the cord ever gets poop or pee on it, cleaning it with a baby wipe is fine. Otherwise, let that baby breathe! Oh, and don’t pull or twist the cord–it’s much better if it falls off on it’s own.
6 Do the Heavy Lifting. Birth is a natural process, but her body still has a lot of healing to do, especially if she had a Cesarean birth. If she lifts heavy things, it can make her bleed more and make recovery take a lot longer. She should not lift anything heavier than the baby until she stops bleeding. That includes:
- Car seat: If the baby is in the car seat, it’s your job to do the heavy lifting.
- Stairs: Walking around is good for her healing, but she should take it easy on the stairs. She shouldn’t go up and down more than a couple times a day for the first week, and she definitely shouldn’t carry anything. See if you can handle whatever she was going to do!
- Laundry baskets: It’s second nature for a lot of moms to carry a laundry basket, so this one can be tricky for her to remember. Try and either carry the basket back and forth before she thinks to do it, or put a post-it note on it that says, “let me get that for you” on the basket, and secure it with clear packing tape. Especially if she had a Cesarean birth!
7 Be her Linebacker Against Your Other Kids. If you have other kids, this might be your hardest job.
- Toddlers: If they run up to her with their arms outstretched, she’s probably going to pick them up. Not good! They’re way too heavy for her to lift right now, and that could make her bleed more. That’s why you’re the linebacker! Pick them up until she can sit down and let them gently approach.
- Older kids: It can be hard for kids of all ages when the new baby suddenly takes up all of mom’s attention. Check in with your other kids frequently to make sure their needs are being met.
8 Take Care When She’s Breastfeeding. Breast milk is the perfect food for babies–exactly the right combination of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals. But she needs to eat and drink enough of the right things to keep that up.
- Water: Every time she starts breastfeeding, bring her a glass of water.
- Ambiance: Set up her favorite chair with pillows and blankets nearby so she can be warm and comfortable, a side table for her water or tea, a lamp, a stack of hairbands, a phone charger, and maybe even a speaker so she can play her favorite music. She’ll say, “Wow, you think of everything!”
- Bottle-feeding: Whether she is using a breast pump or you’re using formula, great news–you might get to feed the baby just as much as she does! In fact, feeding your baby is an amazing opportunity to bond. Hold your baby so their face is level with your nipple line (babies know what they want 😉), trace the nipple of the bottle along the baby’s cheek, and then guide it in over the baby’s tongue.
9 Make Sure She Has What She Needs to Eat Right. Nutrition is essential right now for her health and the baby’s, especially if she’s breastfeeding. Take the lead on making sure dinner is on the table.
- Call in Reinforcements: See if some friends would be willing to bring over a meal or two. You could even ask a close friend to organize a meal train.
- Takeout: Takeout can be great resource right now. Just make sure there are tons of veggies for her to eat, too. She needs vitamins, minerals and fiber more than ever right now!
- Food groups to focus on:
- Protein (think eggs, meat, beans, nuts, cheese, yogurt)
- Complex Carbohydrates (think oatmeal, sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grain bread, beans, and vegetables)
- Fats (think nuts, eggs, seeds, avocados, olive oil, fish, cheese, and dark chocolate)
- Fiber (think vegetables, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and most importantly, dark green vegetables. Yup.)
- Vitamins & minerals (you guessed it–dark green vegetables again! 😉)
Laundry and Cleaning: When birth pulls your family out of normal patterns, it can be hard for her to stop worrying about her normal responsibilities, even when she really just needs to rest.
- Cleaning: It’s totally fine for the house to be messy when you have a new baby, unless it bothers her so much that she’s doing too many chores instead of resting. Just stick to the essentials!
- Laundry: This is one of the aforementioned essentials. Newborns are really messy, and so is postpartum recovery. It’s important to stay on top of the laundry so you all have warm and clean clothes and blankets for yourselves and your baby.
Dads are SO SO important, from the very beginning. There is a lot of new of research coming out right now that shows that the more dads are involved with the baby, the better their development, happiness, academic performance, stress, relationships later in life, and overall success. If you want to learn more, check out this page by the Children’s Bureau: Why Father Engagement Matters
Dads don’t “babysit,” and dads don’t “help out around the house.” In reality, you two are in this together, one hundred percent! You share equal responsibility in caring for the child that you brought into the world together. No matter how you usually divide the housework during normal times, those rules don’t apply to the first few months with a new baby.
Being a dad isn’t easy, but I know you can do an amazing job. Your baby needs you! If you’re worried, go through this list one time every day to make sure all your bases are covered. It’s a hefty list, but everything on it is super important. And remember, sometimes being a good dad means asking for help when you need it!
What did I miss? What other jobs do/did you do as a new dad? If you’re a mom, what does/did your partner do that you loved (or hated) in those first couple weeks? Let us know in the comments!
Reference: Shorey, S., Chee, C. Y. I., Ng, E. D., Chan, Y. H., San Tam, W. W., & Chong, Y. S. (2018). Prevalence and incidence of postpartum depression among healthy mothers: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of psychiatric research, 104, 235-248.