Becoming a parent is a special blessing, but the nuances of caring for an infant can be challenging, especially for first time parents. My partner and I sure ran into our fair number of hurdles, and in doing so have developed ways of working together that allow the needs of baby, mama, and papa to be met.
Early on as a father, I found myself wondering what to do and often feeling helpless. It seemed that the roles of mother were more or less predefined. What was I to do during the many hours of breastfeeding? How can I help during the late night wake ups? If you are in the same boat or if you have a hubby who looks bewildered as he putzes around the bed and nursery, today’s post is aimed at helping clear the confusion so that dads know what they can do to help out moms; with a list of 11 ways fathers can be involved in caring for infants.
Before I reach the list of 11, there is a key concept that sets the stage for peaceful, pleasant baby care: Dad and Mom are a team, a tag-team to be more precise. When one gets tired, the other picks up the baton. When one side feels irritable or stressed, the other steps in with a cool, calm helping hand. Many hands make for light work, right?
Also as I go through this list, bear in mind that our mother and father roles are not set in stone, and will morph over time. As the infant’s needs change, the balance of mom and dad change along with it.
DADS TO DO LIST:
1. Be Responsive
Every reach, each look, every cry, anything your little babe does to establish a connection with you ought to be honored. Remember: these little beings are, for the very first time, figuring out how to be in the world. Jan Liedloff’s, Continuum Concept, first opened my eyes to the realization that babies are always trying to communicate something when they cry, fuss, squirm, yell, or express themselves verbally. Our children may be tired, hungry, or just want to know that someone is nearby, AKA a snuggle. Dads can snuggle, rock, bounce, and soothe; so no need to let moms be sole first responder in the home.
Imagine not knowing the language, living in an entirely foreign landscape, but still being entirely dependent on other people to take care of your needs. That is the life our children have, until we hone our translating skills, or until they master our language. Our children simply lack our words, but their needs are just as real to them and when we ignore our children’s attempt to communicate we miss a priceless opportunity to deepen our connection with them, to validate their worthiness of life in this world, and we simultaneously, albeit unknowingly, demonstrate a lack of respect for their needs. I encourage you to read The Continuum Concept for more on this vital area of interaction with our children.
2. Supply Water
One of the most helpful things I discovered, to help my partner during nursing, particularly night time nursing was to bring her a glass of water. Sleeping indoors is already dehydrating. Top that off with passing along fluids to an infant, and mothers end up more dehydrated by the time morning rolls around.
Dehydration predictably leads to feelings of lethargy and irritation. Neither mood bodes well for mothering. So fathers can bring a cool, refreshing glass of water to their breastfeeding partners and ensure hydration and morale remain at healthy highs.
3. Clean House
When things are cluttered and messy in our environment, we often have a corresponding level of overwhelm and stress within us. Conversely, people frequently report feeling energized and uplifted when in clean surroundings. Aim to keep things tidy and keep your mess to a minimum. Baby is guaranteed to create an entire assortment of messes, and parents are in a better position to handle the unexpected when things are clean and where you expect them to be.
4. Position Pillows
Parents are bound to find themselves in an awkward position, holding a sleeping infant, while trying to get comfortable enough to secure some sleep for themselves. Often times a pillow under the arm or a couple propped up behind the back, makes all the difference in the world for a mother, or father, trying to get some shut-eye. Also pillow adjustments can be just the thing that makes breastfeeding more comfortable. So, dads be on the ready to grab the boppy or snatch an extra pillow off of the couch.
5. Change Diapers
Every mom appreciates a partner who helps in this department. If you haven’t changed diapers before having kids, then sure there is going to be a learning curve, but it’s short. Not always sweet, but it’s short. Learn this skill and use it.
6. Snuggle Baby
After being fed and changed, dads can snuggle baby back to sleep or place baby into a baby-wearing wrap.
7. Prepare Meals
Who doesn’t enjoy a delicious home-prepared meal, that they don’t have to make for themselves? This is an area where dads can certainly excel at helping the family. In essence, preparing meals for mother provides the nourishment from which breast milk is made for baby. Bear this in mind when preparing foods and aim to create flavorful and healthy dishes for your family. If you want help with healthy menu ideas, visit the recipes area or take a look at the recipe books.
Through touch we can directly convey our emotions to our partners. This isn’t purely my conjecture, this is backed up good ol’ science too. Humans are hardwired for touch and we can use this to our advantage as dads. We can pass along feelings of calm and relaxation to our partners as we massage their bodies. Most lactation consultants agree that more relaxed moms are, the better the breastfeeding experience.
9. Take Shifts
Sometimes babies are just on a different schedule then us parents. Well, at least that was the case for us at various times of our children’s infancy. Instead of leaving it all to mom to handle midnight wake ups, we would take shifts or adjust depending on who needed the sleep most. For late night ‘playtime’, I would place the babies into a wrap and walk around the house, or on the warmer nights we may take a moonlit stroll.
10. Positive Words
For many new moms, motherhood can appear overwhelming. Some women may doubt their ability to handle all of the new responsibilities. Parenting is still new for moms too (even though they almost always seem to know just what to do). Fathers have the opportunity to be a positive beacon of support and encouragement to mother and child. Our words can be powerful. Let’s use this power for good. Extra Tip: Still feel free to slip in appreciations of your wife’s beauty and sexual side too. After giving birth, women often experience changes in how they perceive their own body. All women, so I’ve been told, appreciate being told they are sexy.
11. Give Breaks
As soon as baby is old enough or comfortable enough with dad to allow mom break times, be sure to give mom some. The time length will grow along with baby, but even a break for mom to eat without a baby in arms is oft appreciated. I enjoy early mornings, so I would take baby and allow my partner time to get some baby-free sleep in bed. As the babies got older, a yoga class with a shower became a regular part of mom’s day and is always enjoyed.
Dads, I hope this list serves you well, and moms be sure to let me know what I’ve forgotten to include on this list. Parenting has many challenges, and all of them are better faced with a partner. Enjoy your children and each other. Happy parenting.