It's well known that new moms experience a world of changes during pregnancy and after baby arrives. 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, has insights for you about the experience – both from his medical practice and his own family life.
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- Remember that Mom is going through a lot
It’s key for new dads to recognize that giving birth is a taxing event. “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, including postpartum depression, body changes and breastfeeding adjustments.
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.
- It may take more time for you to connect with the baby
“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. For example, you can be involved in more feedings or spend some time alone holding or rocking your baby to sleep.
- 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. 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. 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.
- 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.
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 or watching your favorite television shows after dinner – are likely going to fall by the wayside.
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.
- 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.
“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.”
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.
- 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
- Feelings of unhappiness and sadness
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. “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.”
- 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.
“Offering sincere encouragement and support is sometimes the best thing you can do,” says Liao. 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.