Dads play a big part in their baby’s life – being involved right from the start of parenthood can help set up your bond for life. We share our top tips for new dads in the early months.
Having a baby is a life-changing and exhilarating experience for dads as well as mums, but often the focus is mainly on mum’s relationship with baby. While in the early days there are things that only mum can do – breastfeeding being the most obvious – there are plenty of ways for dads to care for their baby and bond with them from day one.
The early days fly by so take every opportunity to spend time with your baby. A lovely way to get close and have lots of precious cuddles is to make the most of skin-to-skin contact, which babies really benefit from. Close contact with you is especially important if your partner is recovering from a caesarean birth, or just needs a loo break or her hands free to eat or drink something.
Open up your shirt or take off your top and let your baby snuggle onto your chest. Don’t be shy, as dad John Mills, from Teeside NCT branch, says: “I thought I’d feel a bit silly stripping off in the hospital to hold my baby half naked, but it was a wonderful feeling and nobody minded.”
Your baby will know your voice well after hearing you so much before they were born. They’ll love hearing you talk and sing to them (however out of tune you think you are).You could also try ‘talking’ to them by mimicking the noises they make.
When they’re really little, there’s hours of fun playing peek-a-boo or making funny faces at them. As they grow, you can share books, toys and games – and you really don’t need to go out and spend a fortune. Many a baby’s favourite toy is a wooden spoon to chew or bang on a saucepan. Let your inner child come out – your baby will love it.
Right from the start, there are lots of ways you can be involved. Change nappies – it’s not just mums who talk about baby poo with their friends.
Bottle feed them expressed milk, or learn how to make up formula if you’re mixed feeding. Burp them, dress them, soothe them – the more you do, the more confident you’ll feel as a parent, and the closer your bond will be.
And there are some areas where dads can really shine, like bathtime where babies can feel more secure in dad’s larger hands.
Islington NCT member Katie Toon, mum to Dylan and Rosie, says: “My kids much prefer their dad, Russell, giving them a bath to me, as he stirs up the bubbles and they all throw them in the air to make bubble snow! Bathtimes are more boring when I’m around.”
You might find it helps to take advantage of Shared Parental Leave, where you and your partner can split time off work. Many dads enjoy taking some time off in the early weeks, and then some more later, especially when they feel they can do more with their baby and other offers of help have died down.
Remember, mums don’t always have all the answers – this is all new to them too. Instead of leaving decisions for your partner to make, you can decide what’s best for your baby too. Your partner will be relieved to have some of the pressure taken off her, and it’ll help your confidence to know what you think is important, too.
As much as people tell you that sleep will be in short supply, nothing can quite prepare you for a baby waking up constantly through the night. Pre-baby, if you had a bad night’s sleep, chances are you could catch up the next night but post-baby that’s just not possible.
If she’s breastfeeding, your partner will probably need to be awake with baby more at night, but your help is still needed. She’ll appreciate you being the one to get up to comfort your baby if they cry and change their nappy if necessary, even if she needs to feed after anyway. Those extra five minutes of sleep are invaluable!
During the day, take your baby out for walks in a sling or buggy and have more skin-to-skin time so your partner can have a break. If they’re both having a lie down, take the opportunity to do the same.
Your partner will really appreciate you taking over in the evenings and at night by holding, feeding or changing your baby as much as you can.
Becoming a parent is a huge adjustment to life as you knew it so accept all offers of help. Even a friend looking after an older child for an hour or a neighbour fetching some milk from the shop can make a huge difference to your day.
Friends and grandparents might be waiting for cues from you on how they can be of use, so don’t be afraid to ask or tell them what you need. If you’re finding it all overwhelming, talk to your partner, family, a friend or health visitor.
When TV and social media are full of images of parents (apparently) coping effortlessly with their new babies, it can be easy to feel like a failure if you don’t feel you’re living up to it. Go easy on yourself – you’re going through an incredible life-changing event and every day is an achievement.
Masimba Tawodzera, new dad to Ariko and member of Sutton, Epsom & District NCT branch, says: “During the first few weeks, basic survival is an achievement to be celebrated! If you can enjoy reaching small goals then it really helps.”
It’s really true – hanging out a load of washing or successfully giving your baby a bath for the first time really are accomplishments to be proud of. Honestly.
And if looking after a newborn can seem thankless, remember it isn’t.
One dad, James Cheeseman, dad of Benji and Sammy and member of Clapham & District NCT, says: “Babies are like sponges in the early days, soaking up everything around them.
“You might not feel like they even notice you’re there, but they can sense you’re around and it sets them up for a lifetime of feeling secure.”
Get stuck in and enjoy the journey. You and your baby will figure it all out together.