1. Prepare to take the back-seat.
Having a baby is one of the most amazing and life-changing experiences you will ever have. Know that it is far from easy! Be ready for the fact that your role will mostly be as a support person in the early days, though you can definitely be much more actively involved in caring for the baby than you have been up to now! It can be a tough transition though, losing the attention of your partner and having to take care of all the menial chores around the house. Know though that if you carry out this role well, your partner will be able to recover well, she will be much better able to handle the many demands of motherhood, she will feel supported and likely, love you all the more for your willingness to take care of her (and baby’s) needs. Though she is the one with the breast-milk, you can serve an equally important role by making sure she is rested and nourished and has what she needs to feel safe and comfortable.
2. Provide unconditional emotional support.
Pregnancy, birth and especially postpartum are very emotional times. There are big changes happening inside and outside, and it’s easy to feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster. The best thing partners can do is be supportive in the face of these ups and downs, listening without judgement and refraining from offering solutions or trying to fix things (unless it’s something simple, like thirst or hunger, which certainly affects emotional stability!). Understand that feelings come and go, and can change quickly at this stage. The whole spectrum of emotions is normal at this point and the more you can listen without getting reactive, the more quickly and easily these emotions can move through and move on. This can also be a tool for strengthening your relationship in the face of big change when other ways of relating may be experiencing some serious neglect.
3. Make sure mama is nourished.
If you don’t know how to cook, now would be a good time to learn! Your partner needs to be off their feet as much as possible while also being deeply and restoratively nourished, and this means you will have to take the helm in the kitchen. If you’re not a gourmet chef, learn some basic, nutritious combinations. Even simple things like scrambled eggs, rice bowls or a basic creamy soup can get you through the first weeks. Try to make sure there is easy food available if you need to be away and/or return to work. A frittata or even left-over hearty pancakes can be breakfast and left-over lunch. It is so much more challenging than you can imagine to make food for yourself in those first months!
4. Play guardian.
Hopefully you and your partner discussed ahead of time what kind of boundaries you want to hold after baby’s arrival. Even if you haven’t, consider yourself the bouncer, only letting in people and energy that is welcomed and contributes to peace and calm for mom and baby. This could mean some uncomfortable conversations with family or friends, but you can alleviate a lot of stress on mama by dealing with this as much as possible. This can go for the general environment as well, making sure loud noises are kept to a minimum so mama can nap, the room is cozy and warm and drinks, pillows, snacks, etc. are handy and available.
5. Take over household chores and/or recruit help.
This should go without saying but, as much as possible, and especially in the first month, you need to clean the house, and do laundry and dishes! Sorry, but it’s on you. Now, you don’t have to do a prefect job, nobody expects a spotless house with a new baby around, but mom will be occupied with more important duties. If you are able, recruit people to help or pay a housecleaning service to come a couple times. If having a mess stresses you or her out, it may be well worth the investment! This also definitely includes grocery shopping and running errands.
6. Support her in staying home and resting as much as possible in the first month and beyond.
For the first month, make it as easy as you can for your partner to relax at home and rest. Encourage her to nap with baby (which will be easier if she feels like you are taking care of everything else). Take care of errands and outings for the first weeks, and after that, offer to stay home with the baby so she can go out and get a break if she wants that. Help out at night! Take shifts with the baby so mama can rest. Continue to encourage her to rest when possible, even if it’s just laying down for 15 minutes.
7. Be involved in baby care.
Though it doesn’t feel like it in the beginning, YOU are an equal partner in raising this child. This means that you need to be adept at changing, soothing, holding, rocking, baby-wearing, bathing and feeding (when appropriate). Learn how to do all these tasks and be willing to step in and take over at any time. Give mom a break when you can and work on learning tricks for soothing baby that don’t involve the breast. This will be of great benefit to you both in the short and long run. Though you are focused on support in the early days, don’t forget that you need to bond with baby too! Take time to sit, rock, snuggle, sing and get skin-to-skin contact.
8. Encourage mom to take breaks.
In the early days, it is so easy to be so baby-focused that mom’s needs take a back seat. Be aware of when this becomes a problem and step in (when it makes sense anyways). Take baby for a walk or let baby nap on you in the baby carrier so mom can take a shower, go to the bathroom, take a nap or get some quiet. Taking care of herself is crucial to her being able to take care of everyone else, a fact that is commonly neglected and easily overlooked.
9. Be patient and willing to wait for mom’s attention.
Your relationship has changed, and I’m sorry to say you will have to get used to waiting for your partner's attention (sometimes, even for days, weeks or months!). And yes, I mean, among other things, sex. Don’t pressure, pester or complain. She just went through a physically traumatic and emotionally transformative experience and it could take months to feel any semblance of normalcy again, on several levels. In the meantime, letting her know you think she and her body are beautiful will help immensely. There are a lot of issues and insecurities that come out postpartum, especially considering the lack of showers, sleep and near constant presence of spit-up and sour breast-milk, so help your lady out by supporting her self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Additionally, breast-feeding suppresses libido, so don’t be surprised if that’s not her favorite way to connect. Find other ways to be intimate and spend time together when you can. Be creative and know that it will take some extra effort to keep your relationship going strong in the coming years.
10. Get outside support if possible or necessary
As a mom, it is easy to get lost in the haze of exhaustion and self-neglect and not notice when things go awry. As a partner, you may have a little bit of perspective and can pay attention to how mom is doing. If you see your partner struggling, find out if there’s a way you can help and/or assist in finding outside help if that’s needed. This could mean reaching out to another mom, hiring a post-partum doula or baby-sitter/holder, paying to have the house cleaned, calling in a friend or relative or seeking out some mental health or breast-feeding support. There are lots of resources in the community, so be proactive if necessary! And don’t be afraid to admit if you or she is struggling. Though it is not often talked about, it is common to everyone who has had children!
11. Be adaptable and flexible.
Every age and stage that your baby goes through will put different demands on you and your partner, will require different skills, tactics and tools and will surprise, frustrate and delight you. Know that schedules and routines are impossible during the early days and that as soon as you get into a routine with your little one, it will change. So be willing to go with the flow, see what needs to be done and step in and do it. Unfortunately, this includes overtime and night-shift! Your flexibility, however, will make you a priceless asset to your partner and your family.
12. Take care of yourself.
Though there is so much focus on mom and baby’s needs here, don’t forget to take care of yourself! Incorporate some self-care activities into your day, connect with other partners/dads, and find time for activities that fill you up when you can. If there’s any way to do these things with baby, all the better (i.e. going for a walk or hike with baby in the pack or stroller, etc.). And if you are struggling, reach out, talk about it and ask for help. We were meant to parent in community, not in isolation!