Congratulations on becoming a dad! It's exciting and exhilarating but can also be exhausting. It can be damn confusing, too, as you not only get to know your new little baby as you try to figure out how to support your partner, who seems to have turned into a completely different woman. She's exhausted from giving birth, flooded with hormones that make her cry whichever way you look at her, and she seems so overwhelmed with love for your baby that you wonder if she even needs you anymore.
If you're expecting a baby or have a newborn, here are some things your partner wants you to know (even if she hasn't realised it yet).
1) Take a baby break
A baby break is a time for getting to know your baby and adjusting to becoming a family. Take as much time off as you can after the birth, and please don't plan renovations.
Of course you'll be so proud of your new baby you'll want to show him off to all your friends and family. But stop right there! It's important to limit visitors in the early days as your partner is recovering from birth and learning to breastfeed. She'll be exhausted, hormonal and vulnerable. She's also sore, self-conscious and overwhelmed. Remember, the more rest and privacy your partner has now, the quicker she'll recover and develop confidence.
Good friends will understand you asking them to give your new family some space. And if you want to 'wet the baby's head' with your friends, do this before your partner comes home from hospital – she doesn't need a hungover partner slumped on the couch when she has been up all night with a newborn (newborns don't get day and night sorted for weeks).
If your partner is struggling with breastfeeding, call the Australian Breastfeeding Association, get an IBCLC lactation consultant to come to your home, or take your partner to a breastfeeding clinic (your maternity hospital may have one). Your support is the single biggest factor in her breastfeeding success.
2) Give her a break
When you come home from work and the house is a mess and your partner is still in her pyjamas, don't ask her what she's done today, and don't give her advice. She doesn't want to hear, "You could have gotten dressed while he was asleep!" (He didn't sleep - that's why she's still sitting in the chair in her pyjamas!) And don't dare ask "Did you call the bank/repair man/my mother?" She doesn't care. She is tired (even though it looks like she has done nothing except sit in a chair and cuddle the baby – who now seems perfectly calm because she has sat in the chair and cuddled and fed and burped him all day).
Give her a kiss and a cuddle and ask her what you can do to help. Or, even better, make her a drink, get her some food, and offer to hold the baby or take him for a walk while she enjoys a HOT cuppa or a shower. Tomorrow night, bring dinner home with you – she may have had a better day but she will love you even more for caring.
3) Put her to bed
Sleep deprivation is a b*tch – yes, you'll be tired too, but she needs rest to recover from growing, birthing and making milk for your baby. Resting now will see her recover and have more energy to enjoy being a mother – and more energy for having fun (and sex!) much sooner.
Take your baby after the early morning feed, then let your partner sleep in. And take the baby for a walk in a carrier or pram in the evening or on weekends, and send her to bed.
Every hour of sleep is precious and will help her be a more patient mum and partner.
4) Tell her you love her – a lot
Tell her she's beautiful. Thank her for your beautiful baby. And if your partner is being sharp with you, it doesn't mean she doesn't love or need you: remember, she is exhausted, hormonal and vulnerable, and it's normal for her to be emotional or teary.
Do keep an eye on things, and support her to get help if she needs it – around one in seven women will develop postnatal depression. This is an illness. It is treatable, and the sooner the better. If you are worried, call PANDA or go with her to your GP.
5) Wear your baby
Have a carrier ready before your baby is born. Beware though: a man wearing a baby becomes a 'chick magnet' (mostly to little old ladies) when he is out on his own with the baby.
Suck up the attention but take any advice with a grain of salt – and don't suggest any of it to your partner. She'll be receiving so much advice from others and doesn't need any more noise in her head - unless it's so bloody ridiculous it will make her laugh.
6) Remember you're not 'helping her out'
You're parenting! Family, friends and complete strangers will coo over every thing you do (see, wearing your baby). That is lovely, because parenthood is a huge adjustment for both of you - but please remember to point out to everyone how wonderful your partner is too, and all the things she's doing right; mothers tend to get taken for granted or even criticised for how they do things.
7) Take her side – even (or especially) against your own mother
Always take your partner's side, no matter what your mother and friends say. When people ask "Is he a good baby?" remember the next question will be "Does he sleep all night?" This is none of their business (are they offering to do an overnighter, or have they come with casseroles?). Be polite but throw them off at the pass with the first question: tell them, "No, he's a bad baby, he's already robbing banks/getting a tattoo."
If you are making different choices to your family and friends, read up, take classes and be informed so you can defend your choices as a team.
8) Just do it!
If you're not comfortable doing something, like dressing or bathing your baby for fear you might do it 'wrong' or hurt the baby, do it anyway. The more you try, the easier it will be.
When you're going out, get yourself ready, then help get the baby ready while your partner gets herself ready. Pitch in and help get everyone out the door. Stepping up and being a team player right from the start is an investment in your relationships with your baby and your partner.
9) Don't mention the mess – ever
There will be mess: baby stuff, washing (how can one tiny person create so much washing?), all the gear you haven't unpacked from hospital, dying flowers, baby gifts you haven't put away yet. Pick up after yourself (and her) and don't make a fuss.
No, she doesn't want to hear that you popped on a load of washing (really? You found the laundry detergent and pressed the buttons all by yourself? Wow). Now go and hang it out. It doesn't matter if it's night– it will dry sometime over the next day.
If you work long hours or feel overwhelmed too, organise for someone to help. Hire a cleaner or ask grandparents or friends for help while you get yourselves sorted.
10) Tell her she's doing a great job – every day
Be specific so she believes you. Tell her "I love the way you ..." or "I love watching you ..." (fill in the gaps, and be honest!)
She'll get loads of advice but hardly anybody tells a new mum she's doing a great job. And there's not much positive feedback from a newborn – they can't even smile yet! She needs her tank filled to help her make it through the tough stuff.
11) Take photos of mum and baby
You'll no doubt be taking photos of every little grimace your baby makes and every cute little outfit you dress him in. You'll take photos with visitors and photos with relatives, but so often it's the mother who's taking most of the photos. Then, down the track, you'll realise there are very few mum and baby pics.
Get photos of mum and baby and of both of you together with your baby: when these moments are gone, they are gone forever.
12) Hang in there
Babies cry. Often you won't have a clue why they're crying. But neither will she, so don't ask "What's wrong with him?" Remember that she's exhausted, hormonal and vulnerable, so she might take this as criticism. Instead, ask "How can I help?"
You'll both work things out as you go, and it will get easier. For now, encourage your lady to trust her instincts: she knows your baby best. You are the voice of commonsense (but tread carefully, you can't 'fix' a baby).
If you aren't sure what to do, filter advice by asking yourself "Is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right?"
Remember, you've got this. You are going to be an awesome dad.
Pinky McKay is an IBCLC lactation consultant and bestselling author of Parenting by Heart, Sleeping Like a Baby and 100 Ways to Calm the Crying. Visit her website at pinkymckay.com.
Pinky is appearing at the Sydney Essential Baby & Toddler Show on September 25-27. Register for your free ticket now.