7 Things Every New Dad Should Know

For starters, say goodbye to your old routines.

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It's well known that new moms experience a world of changes during pregnancy and after baby arrives. Post-delivery, there's breast engorgement, after-pains, exhaustion, soreness, bleeding… and the list goes on.

But while moms are working through a slew of changes, it’s easy to forget that dads are also coping with their own set of issues—one of which, is trying to understand what mom is going through.

Whether you’re a father-to-be or a new dad searching for answers, Michael Liao, MD, an OBGYN at Summerville Medical Center in South Carolina has insights for you about the experience—both from his medical practice and his own family life.

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Keep in mind that Mom is going through a lot

It’s key that new dads recognize that giving birth (whether it’s a vaginal birth or a Cesarean section) is a taxing event. If your partner had a C-section, she’ll need plenty of rest to heal from the surgery.

“Oftentimes, dads don't really understand the magnitude of the physical changes that are happening to moms during pregnancy,” says Dr. Liao. “And even when they think that moms are getting their bodies back after delivery, they may not realize how different things are.”

Thanks to hormonal fluctuations and the actual physical labor, new moms may be dealing with other challenges, too:

  • Postpartum blues: This involves feelings of depression, anxiety or anger that last for one or two weeks.
  • Postpartum depression: This may entail intense feelings of sadness, anger and anxiety that lasts for up to one year.
  • Body changes: These may include post-baby weight gain and swelling, bleeding, vaginal discharge, cramping, soreness, pelvic floor damage, incontinence or stretch marks.
  • Breastfeeding adjustments: These may involve inadequate milk supply or difficulties feeding, breast engorgement, nipple pain, clogged milk ducts, bloody discharge or cysts.

So what can you do as a dad and partner? Aside from handling all the heavy lifting necessary while mom is recovering physically, a little pampering is always nice too. A quick massage, back rub or a kiss or hug can brighten her day and make her feel better.

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may take more time for you to connect with the baby

Keep in mind that baby bonding may not come easily at first. “Connection with the baby can take a little bit longer for dads,” says Liao. Since mom has grown the baby inside her, birthed the baby and may now be breastfeeding the baby, it’s reasonable that she’s going to have a strong connection to your newborn.

“A lot of men might initially feel jealous or resentful towards the newborn, and may even feel like an outsider,” says Liao. But patience is key, because everything does get better. As your child becomes less dependent on mom for all of its needs, you’ll be able to establish a strong relationship, too.

If you’re having trouble understanding how best to bond with your baby, it’s imperative that you talk with your spouse about it. The two of you can determine the best ways for you to get involved. You can be involved in more feedings, for example, or spend some time alone holding or rocking your baby to sleep.

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Sex is not going to be a priority

In most cases, sex during pregnancy is safe, as long as your partner feels comfortable and her OBGYN gives the green light. So after delivery, you may be expecting your sex life to pick up right where it left off. But that’s not always the case.

Though there’s no standard “safe sex” timeline after birth, many experts suggest waiting four to six weeks to prevent the risk of infection or bleeding. Women who’ve had an episiotomy or tearing during delivery will also likely require extra healing time, and sex may be uncomfortable or painful at first.

The real answer? “Whenever she’s ready,” says Liao. “I don’t think a lot of dads understand that when a woman has invested so much time in making this baby, her priorities are understandably different than a man’s priorities.” And that first priority? Taking care of baby.

The best thing is to have a conversation with your significant other about how the two of you are feeling about your post-baby sex life and when it makes sense to have that first roll in the hay.

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Your regular routines are going to get derailed

If you’re a soon-to-be first time dad, you probably know having a child is going to throw your regular schedule for a loop. But you may not realize exactly how much of an effect it’ll have until the moment arrives.

With a newborn, your life will revolve around the baby’s eating, sleeping and pooping schedule (yes, really). And while that may not sound like a lot now, things that used to be routine—like getting to work on time, heading to the gym first thing in the morning and watching your favorite television shows after dinner, not to mention getting a reliable 7 to 9 hours of sleep—are likely going to fall by the wayside.

And while you know it’s all for a good cause, get ready for an adjustment period. Be prepared to skip some weekend rounds of golf and kiss your quiet morning coffee routine goodbye—for a while, at least. As baby gets older and you and your partner figure out a schedule that works for your family, you can gradually start to slip back into your regular habits, or modified versions of them.

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Being a new mom is a full-time job

If you’re heading back to work after a few weeks and mom is staying home with your little one, it may be difficult to understand what goes on while you’re away. But here’s a hint: a lot.

There isn’t much of a routine in the first week—it’s basically an around-the-clock effort to make sure the baby is eating and sleeping enough. Newborns typically need to be fed (whether breastfed or formula fed) 8 to 12 times a day, or every 2 to 3 hours. In between feedings, there are naps, diaper changes, bottle washing and laundry (so much laundry). The result: mom has little to no time for things like showering, eating or sleeping.

“It can be impossible for a dad to understand how much time it takes to breastfeed and burp the baby, change the baby and put the baby down to sleep,” says Liao. “And before you know it, the baby wakes up and you have to do it all over again. It’s an all-encompassing task.” Suffice to say, while you’re at work, mom’s working, too, and she’ll be working all night long, too.

So when you walk through the door at the end of a long day, don’t be hurt if mom doesn’t leap into your arms. And if messes and laundry have piled up, it’s completely normal. Roll up your sleeves and help out where you can, and if you’re feeling unsure of what she needs, ask!

Once things get a little more settled, try setting aside a few minutes every night to update each other on what mom and baby did during the day, and what you did at the office.

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It’s okay to reach out for help

Life with a newborn is a wonderful thing, but there are going to be moments of frustration or depression—even for dad, says Liao. Paternal postpartum depression (PPD) does exist, and may include symptoms like low mood, irritability and feelings of helplessness, as well as some signs of depression, such as:

  • Weight gain or loss
  • Sleep problems
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of unhappiness and sadness
  • Irritation

In fact, one 2018 study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, collected short depression screens from parents based in Indianapolis, Indiana during well visits for children 15 months or younger. According to the report, researchers found that the prevalence of depression among screened fathers was 4.4 percent, while the prevalence among screened mothers was 5 percent—meaning men were almost as likely to experience depression symptoms as women. Experts are hoping these findings will lead to more family-centered postpartum screening methods for both mothers and fathers. Guidelines already recommend depression screenings for parents at well visits, but fathers have only recently been included in these recommendations, and screening rates are pretty low. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms like these, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Liao says that many dads aren’t used to talking about their feelings, but bottling them up won’t make the problem go away.

“Whether it’s your OBGYN or a counselor, talking with a third party can be helpful,” says Liao. OBGYNs are there for dads, too. “Sometimes, dads need a bit of a re-orientation as to what their priorities should be, and we can help them understand what’s going on.”

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Don’t take things too personally

Guys often have the instinct to jump in and fix situations that seem to have gone off the rails, but that approach is probably not going to help during the first few weeks and months after baby arrives. “For us dads, we see our partner experiencing these changes and we try to be as supportive as possible,” says Liao. But there’s only so much you can do. “Sometimes the best you can do is be a sympathetic and supportive bystander.”

Dads often try to assure moms that it’s okay if they have trouble breastfeeding or getting the baby to sleep, for example, but in reality, that’s not what a new mom wants to hear, says Liao. “Offering sincere encouragement and support is sometimes the best thing you can do.” If mom is stressed or having a hard time adjusting to life with a newborn, try to be patient, and try not to take things too personally if your efforts to solve these problems aren’t received with rapturous thanks.

The key, says Liao, is to talk through what’s going on with your significant other, stay tuned in throughout the process and remember that things will get better. No matter how many parenting classes you take, nothing prepares you for the beautiful (and sometimes difficult) changes having a child will bring.

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