When we talk about the postpartum period, we tend to concentrate on the help and rest that mom needs after the labor and birth. In our often nuclear families, the expectation is that dad will automatically do the bulk of the work that needs to be done around the house. He is also expected to take on the additional responsibility of caring for a mother that truly needs her rest so she can focus on baby.
In truth, especially for an involved Birth Boot Camp dad, the father is usually pretty exhausted himself after the birth! In addition, many fathers do not have any time off from their paid profession after the child is born.
This sometimes leaves dad with many expectations on his shoulders and sometimes no way to actually fulfill them either because of other responsibilities or just lack of knowing what to do.
As it turns out, mom is not the only person who needs and deserves support after the birth of a baby. Dad is often in need too. Here are 10 ways we can help support not just mom, but the entire family in the postpartum period. This post is designed to both help birth workers understand the needs of the father and help families prepare for some of the changes that may await them.
1. Enlist outside help.
So often I hear couples say that they don’t need any help from family or friends- because dad will take care of everything.
This may work some of the time, but frankly, it doesn’t always. Especially with our first baby we really don’t know what impact this sweet new addition will have on the entire family. Accepting help from others is often a wise (though humbling) move. Family, friends, work and church associates, all can help if you let them. Meals brought in, light cleaning, even some brief baby holding so mom and dad can shower and eat can be helpful.
If you can afford it, a postpartum doula can work wonders and is especially helpful if there is no family in town. If you have people wondering what they buy for you and the baby, don’t be afraid to ask for postpartum doula services instead of baby clothes.
2. Encourage skin to skin for dad.
Skin to skin isn’t just for mom! I have seen dad be the hero who literally calms baby’s heart rate and regulates temperature when no other hospital technology seemed able to help. Helpful right after the birth if mom can’t hold the baby or just needs to do some other things, skin to skin can also be a healing and bonding time for daddy and baby for weeks to come.
Mom will often form a tight bond with the baby through breastfeeding and this can also give dad some of that same experience, even though he has differing anatomy.
3. Remember he needs emotional support too.
Birth and parenthood can be a hard transition for dad. Depending on how their lives are changing, it can also greatly increase stress for all involved. Both during the birth and after, dad may need emotional support. Don’t be afraid to talk to him or help him find a community where he can supported. (This responsibility doesn’t lie with mom! Doulas, childbirth educators, midwives and friends and family can all step in to acknowledge the needs of both mom and dad.)
If you think that it is hard for women to find community as new moms, just imagine what it is like for dad. As natural birth teachers, one of the best things we can offer is the community within our classroom. As doulas or other birth workers, including him during the birth and after is imperative.
Don’t forget him!
4. Switch roles
Often when a baby is born mom does most of the cuddling. This is simply biologically natural and normal, but it needn't be a 24/7 arrangement.
Especially when the baby is not the first, dad often ends up caring for other older children while mom has constant baby time. It is OK and even helpful to switch roles now and again. The older children will cherish some more time with mama and the baby will have a chance to get to know daddy- who is so important!
5. Give him jobs he is good at, have somebody else do the ones he has no stomach for.
This rule is helpful during the birth AND postpartum. Not all dads want to catch the baby and cut the cord and help with the placenta encapsulation- this doesn’t make them useless.
Give dad a job he can both do well and enjoy. Maybe this is filling the birth tub or maybe it is doing the shopping. Whatever it is, have him do that. This is where the first tip comes into play too- if dad can’t or won’t do something, ask your helpers to do that!
6. Opportunity, exposure, experience with the new baby- Mom shouldn't hold the baby all the time!
There can sometimes be a tendency to have mom hold baby all the time. And sometimes one person in the relationship has much more experience with babies and children or simply feels more comfortable with an infant. If mom is the one more comfortable with baby and is also more quick to calm them, sometimes the other person doesn't get much of a chance to learn.
It is important that both partners have chances to hold and cuddle the baby- even if they don't do it "right" every single time. It can take patience and persistence to learn to comfort a baby, but hands on experience is really the best teacher.
Babies can make the whole family tired! It’s true! Bring in your people or take turns getting some rest so that both mom and dad can have an occasional nap or longer stretch of sleep. As birth workers, helping the family find people who can do this or giving them some tips on working it out together can be a lifesaver.
Everybody needs to eat postpartum. Everybody! There just might be some truth to the old saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” When people get hungry, they often get grumpy too. If everybody in the house is running on empty food and rest wise, this is a recipe for disaster.
Order out, plan ahead, fill your freezer, let people bring things, and ask if you need to.
9. Give dad a break! Literally and figuratively- forgive him and also give him time to just do something else.
I know that I personally spent a fair amount of time resenting my husband postpartum after the birth of my first child. It wasn’t really his fault- he didn’t have any idea what I needed and I lacked the ability at that time to communicate it. As time went on and more children were added and I gained communication skills, it became easier to ask for what I needed. Still, it is so helpful to just forgive some of the mistakes and forgotten things. Not everybody remembers to mop the floor or separate the whites properly.
Dad too may sometimes need a real “break” where he gets out of the house or watches a movie or does whatever it is he needs to do to relax. Mom needs this time too! Take turns and let each other have a break.
10. Paternity leave
This is kind of a “political” statement, and not something we all have access to. But it is worth while to mention. Perhaps more demand for both adequate maternity and paternity leave the more available it will become. So many countries have much longer and even paid breaks for mothers and fathers. This provides support for the family when they need it most as well as expressing a society wide respect for the importance of family.
Dad may need support just like mom. Birth workers and others should also “look” at him, talk to him, acknowledge him and his need and valuable contributions. The importance of not just the mother but her partner through the birth is something that is deeply important to our philosophy at Birth Boot Camp, and that value doesn't end with the birth.
Thanks so much for the invaluable advice in this article given by our many experienced Birth Boot Camp instructors (and their significant others). They are amazing and you can probably find one near you. If not, check out our incredible online birth class option!