Whether she’s your wife, your girlfriend, your fiancée, or the mother of your baby, she’s just that: the mother of your baby. Bringing a baby into the world is tantamount to completing a marathon. It’s singlehandedly more physically challenging than anything you’ve completed in your life, assuming you’ve never run 26.2 miles consecutively. Childbirth is a physically taxing event whether or not she had pain medication, whether she was induced, whether she delivered standing up or lying on her back. Regardless of how traumatic - or euphoric - her birth experience was, she and your baby need to heal and rest. I’ve had a baby without a partner and another with a partner, so I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum. Here are my 5 tips for dads on how they can support their partners and be the Best Dads Ever from the get-go.
1. Do not assume visitors will be over right away to meet the baby. I get it: your family is excited, you’re excited. Everyone wants to meet your baby. But this event isn’t just about the baby. Mom will most likely be horizontal in bed wearing a giant diaper where the contents of her uterus will be emptying for the next several weeks. Does that sound gory? It is. It’s a bloody, gory mess. On top of that, she’ll probably be topless quite a lot. Babies benefit from immediate skin-to-skin contact with their moms, so if Mom wants to remain shirtless to enable bonding and help with breastfeeding, she’s not going to want to cover up to see your parents, and she shouldn’t. There will be plenty of opportunities for your family and friends to see the baby. Say, in 4 months when you both want to have dinner alone at a restaurants amongst other adults. So unless she tells you out loud, "Let's invite over so-and-so," do not invite over so-and-so without checking with her first. And never, ever assume she wants visitors unless she explicitly says so.
2. Food is a big deal. Mom’s body is physically healing in the weeks and months after delivery, no matter if she tore, had stitches, or a C-section - or none of the above. Her organs are shifting back in place, she’ll be making milk, and her body is repairing tissues - good nutrition in the form of whole unprocessed food is important for her healing. Is your family asking to come over to see the baby? Request they bring over lunch or dinner. Donuts and cupcakes might sound good, but they’ll do nothing for Mom’s healing or milk production. Are you cooking-inept? What’s your partner’s favorite cuisine? Asian? Italian? French? Google her favorite recipes and wing it. Want instant fame amongst your wife's friends and family? Never let a meal go unmade. Food, food, and more food. We all talk about how our partners treated us after birth. You'll be the local hero if you bring every meal to your wife while she lay in bed with the baby.
3. Do not expect household tasks to be completed unless you plan on doing them. See that pile of laundry in the corner of the master bedroom? It’s not going to wash itself. Want to see your wife back to her normal, up & at ‘em self? Let her rest. The everyday tasks she normally does are your job now while she cares for your baby. The more time she spends with the baby, bonding, sleeping, resting, healing, the faster she’ll be back to her usual routine. So do the dishes, sort the laundry, bathe the bigger kids, put them to bed yourself. You play a big role in how quickly life will get back to normal. So it’s up to you: will you impede the progress or encourage it?
4. Hold your tongue. Unless you have something uplifting, encouraging, or kind to say, save it. No matter how helpful or innovative your idea is, you’ve never been in her position before. Trust me when I say this: your words matter. Right now they weigh heavier than they usually do. This is all new for her - and for you - but the health and well-being of your baby is falling squarely on your partner’s shoulders and that’s a big responsibility. So encourage her, be kind to her, and tell her she’s doing a great job. Even if you think she isn’t. And if you think she isn’t and you need to tell someone, tell her best friend, not your mother or sister. Are you worried about something? Offer to call someone. You don't need to solve every problem and likely there's a more qualified professional who can better handle whatever issues arise. A postpartum doula can come into your home and offer your partner the wisdom and support she may need with breastfeeding, baby care, home care, or self-care. Lactation counselors offer hands-on support with breastfeeding issues and colic.
5. Check in with her. Ask her how she is. Anticipate her needs. Is she hungry? (Yes.) Is she thirsty? (Always.) Does she need anything from the store? (Food.) Can you take the bigger kids out for the afternoon and allow her some quiet time with the baby? (Yes.) Would she like you to hold the baby while she eats her dinner? (Yes.) Would she like you to cut up her food so she can eat it one-handed while she nurses with the other hand? (You should already be doing this.) Would she like to take a shower while you rock the baby to sleep? (Again, do this.) Does she mind if you go out to the bar to play pool with the guys 3 days after she had a baby? (Why is this a question, honestly? Do not do this.) Does she want to host a party or cook for any visitors or wait on anyone? (Nope.) You might be used to her telling you directly what she wants, but believe me when I say she can very easily forget about her own basic needs while caring for this tiny little person she just brought into the world.
Remind her she’s a person, too. Care for her the way she’s caring for your baby. This period is so brief and you can’t go back in time. How your partner is cared for in the days and weeks after birth will shape how you both enter parenthood, and how your beautiful baby begins his or her life.