The anticipation of a new baby can be overwhelming and even cause a little anxiety for first time dads. And for good reason. A baby is a big change for a family! So we're here to give dads-to-be some practical tips for the postpartum and newborn phases.
While this phase is hard, we hope this new dad's survival guide will leave you feeling empowered and confident that it can be pretty awesome too.
Do Research on Pregnancy, Birth, and Newborns
Bottom line: don't go in blind. When it comes to babies (and postpartum mamas), winging it isn't a great approach. Yes, you'll want to research baby gear, focusing on functionality and safety, all while you consider what's necessary and what's not—and decide how to spend your money (where does it make sense for you to invest a little and where can you save with sales and second hand?).
But you'll also want to research the process. What actually happens in a woman's body after she gives birth? What do newborn babies need? What are different ways to soothe baby? How can you support your partner? What gifts can you give especially for new moms? Find some good books on these topics (we like XYZ) or enroll in a local or online birth class designed for dads.
Best SellersThey're not just parent favorites—they're little ones favorites too.
The infant mental health journal (IMHJ) is great resource for dads who like to geek out on all things infant development. Not exactly light reading, but very meaningful and well researched reading! The publication shares peer-reviewed research articles, literature reviews, program descriptions/evaluations, clinical studies, and book reviews that focus on infant social-emotional development, neurobiological correlates of emotional development, caregiver-infant interactions, contextual and cultural influences on infant and family development, and all conditions that place infants and/or their families at risk for less than optimal development.
Discuss Responsibilities, Feeding Schedules, and How to Choose a Pediatrician
When it comes to newborns and kids (okay, really relationships in general), communication is key. Have open conversations around expectations, schedules, policies around visitors, and each partner's needs and wants. Another big topic to discuss before the baby arrives is how to choose the best pediatrician.
Make sure to also discuss how you can support each other. For example, if you plan to have a breastfed baby, you can be supportive during the night by getting up, changing the baby, and bringing baby to mama. Dads can also help by keeping mama fed with nutritious meals to help her recover and give her the energy she needs to care for the baby. For more tips, check out our blog, How Dads Can Help Nursing Moms.
Preparing for Labor and Delivery
For any new dad, it will be essential to know how to be prepared for labor and delivery. Although mamas obviously do the heavy lifting (and pushing) to deliver the baby, dads are key to supporting mama both physically and emotionally when they need it most.
The best way to prepare for during labor and delivery is to take a class with your partner. Classes are typically offered locally by hospitals, birth centers, doulas, and more. You can also connect with other dads to hear their stories and experiences and learn from their advice.
In addition, plan to do a tour of your hospital or birth center (do this even if planning a home birth - you never know if you'll end up in the nearest hospital in order to keep baby safe.
You can also work together as a couple to make a birth plan. It's helpful to talk through the different preferences and decisions that come with labor and delivery, and it's important to be on the same page beforehand so you can both communicate your plan to your birth team.
Finally, consider hiring a doula. Doulas are amazingly supportive to both mom and dad, and when labor gets long or intense, you'll both need support.
Changing Diapers, Giving Baby a Bath, and How To Comfort a Crying Baby
All new dads have questions about what skills they might need when the new baby arrives and what tools they might need for baby care. Things like how to change a dirty diaper, how to give the baby a bath, and how to comfort a crying baby. You might also wonder about things like what to pack in a diaper bag, and how to swaddle a baby (or even, what the heck is a swaddle?!)
For this, the best way to learn is by taking a class. Many hospitals, birth centers, and parenting centers offer such classes, but if you can't find one locally, you can find a course online or even just through free videos on YouTube.
The Time to Maintain or Develop Healthy Habits is Now
Being a first time dad will take a lot out of you, so it's helpful to start the journey with an established set of healthy habits. We're talking about things like sleep habits, making time for movement and mindfulness, and feeding yourself with healthy whole foods). Realistically, you won't be able to stick to all of your existing habits in the same way, but its much easier to modify your existing healthy habits when baby comes than it is to try to establish brand new habits.
Mama and baby are going to need your support, and you can't pour from an empty cup, so think about how you will be able to take care of yourself. How will you get rest (can you nap when baby naps?), how you will grocery shop and plan meals (research grocery delivery and find healthy easy recipes or meal delivery options in your area now!), how will you move and stay grounded (can you put baby in a carrier and go for a walk with a podcast?).
Once the baby arrives, it'll be harder to maintain or develop healthy habits, so anticipate the new limitations you'll face and brainstorm how to overcome them.
Generally, new dads wonder about how to create bonds with their babies. Although establishing a bond with your baby might take a little while, new dads can engage in some activities to spend quality time with their babies and foster that bond. Here are some ideas:
1. Skin-to-skin contact
Research shows that skin-to-skin contact between a father and his baby helps to support connection and bonding, just as it does for mama and baby.
2. Baby massages
Baby massage can support a close bond, while also alleviating fussiness, gas, or constipation. You can find tons of content online about how to do baby massages, or you can ask your pediatrician or the nurse or midwife who is caring for your baby after birth. The International Association for Infant Massage has instructional resources as well as a directory to find an infant massage class in your area.
3. Calming the baby
Baby crying is inevitable. So when baby is upset, you can help strengthen your bond by being their source of comfort and calm. The Happiest Baby is famous for its "5 S" tips on how to calm babies.
It might seem like baby is too young to hear books, but that isn't true! A happy baby can benefit from your closeness and becoming familiar with the sound of your voice.
5. Bottle feeding
If baby is formula fed (or if mama is pumping) dad can also help with feeding. Maintain good eye contact with baby to help strengthen your bond.
6. Safe Rough play
Atlanta-based pediatrician, Dr. Jennifer Shu, says, "When done safely, rough play can give your older baby or toddler a sense of freedom and movement, help them learn what their body can do, promote balance and coordination, and foster trust. Check out our blog and video on Safe Rough Play for Babies.
Have a New Dad Survival Kit
Also, new dads commonly wonder what tools and other important things they might need to make new fatherhood a bit easier. Here are our essentials.
1. Teething Toys
Teething can start pretty early and giving baby a toy to ease their discomfort can help a ton!
2. Baby Wrap/Carrier
Babies love to feel close, just as they did in the womb. Wraps and carriers let baby stay close while also allowing you some flexibility, mobility, and bonding time.
3. Read-Aloud Board Book
Books are great for bonding and connection.
4. Wet wipes
Babies are messy. And sticky. Wet wipes will become your BFF. Of course, opt for wipes without nasty chemicals or fragrances.
5. Ear Plugs or noise-canceling headphones
If you're trading off on baby wakings or even daytime care when baby is fussy, ear plugs or noise canceling headphones can be a lifesaver.
6. Spit up cloths
Did we mention that babies are messy? Spit-up happens, be prepared with baskets of clothes all around the house, especially near areas where baby is fed.
If you choose to offer a pacifier, make sure to buy a bunch and keep them everywhere. They can be a lifesaver!
8. Wet bag
If (or when!) baby has a blowout or major spit up incident, you'll want a place to put the dirty clothes.
9. Change of clothes
In line with the wet bag, when baby messes up their outfit, you'll need something else to put them in!
Might seem obvious, but remember to restock your diaper bag after you've been out!
11. Sense of Humor
Babies can be hard and things that were once simple (like going out to eat) can be a big challenge with a baby. Keep things light and maintain a sense of humor about it all. You'll make mistakes, you'll learn lessons. It's all part of the journey.
Becoming a dad is exhilarating, exhausting, rewarding, and humbling, all at the same time. We hope this guide helps, and we hope you know that no matter how you choose to prepare and parent, you're a great dad!
For much more advice on all things fatherhood, check out our wealth of content from the perspective of Serenity Kids Cofounder, Joe Carr.
The bottom line from Joe is, “If you find yourself stressing out or judging yourself harshly, just remember that raising a healthy, loving, conscious human will make powerful change in the world. And that’s good enough.”