Carrying and then birthing is a hard job.
But the hard work doesn’t stop there for moms. Nope, it’s really just the beginning.
After the birthing comes the breastfeeding (which is often difficult and painful), the sleep deprivation, and the healing.
Of course, dads are also making a major adjustment. And you probably feel a little bit helpless watching her carry such an enormous load without knowing how to be helpful.
Let’s face it, she may not even know what she want or needs your help with either.
So here are a couple of ways you can step right in as a new dad and support Mom:
Before the baby comes, go to all of the classes with mom – yes, even the breastfeeding class
Oddly enough, one of the most helpful things my husband was able to do for me immediately following the birth of our first son was to remind me of the various things we learned in the breastfeeding class.
I had been in labor for 22 hours and then spent another 2 hours pushing. I was exhausted and my brain was mush.
Breastfeeding was way more difficult than even I expected it to be (and I knew it could be a challenge).
So to have my husband there to gently remind me things like the way we were taught to hold the baby, or the breast, and different positions to try helped enormously.
Make sure she has access to water and nutritious food and snacks
Water and high quality fats will both help her with her milk supply.
Which again, can be a struggle for many women.
Plus, breastfeeding (if she is doing that) can make moms ravenous and incredibly thirsty.
Not having access to water while breastfeeding — especially at the beginning, can be pretty uncomfortable for the new mom.
Recognize you may need to reevaluate expectations
Maybe you both discussed the ideal distribution of work before the baby arrived, but once you bring your baby home you may notice that what is practical varies a lot from what you had initially expected.
On the other hand, maybe she is feeling an uneven or impractical distribution, but instead of communicating she’s just getting frustrated.
Instead of getting to that point, try to be proactive and ask how she’s feeling about the work load each of you is carrying.
It would be a great time for you to also mention things like the items you feel like you can add to your plate, or things you don’t feel like you can manage the way you both anticipated.
While it is 1,000% OK for you to feel like you’re carrying too much, it may be worth having a couple of solutions to offer during that conversation so that she doesn’t feel like you’ve come to her with a problem she needs to fix.
Have you been cleaning the house, but don’t have the time or energy? Maybe there are things you can let slide a bit or hire someone to help.
Have you been in charge of cooking, but that’s too much for you to take on at the moment? Maybe you have a couple of nights a week you just order in.
Remember, this season won’t last forever. Taking the time to check in periodically will allow you both to adjust as needed.
Keep an eye on her mental health
You MUST do this.
I cannot stress this enough.
The postpartum period is a lot for a woman. The changes in lifestyle, friendships, her relationship with you, breastfeeding, and large adjustments to her hormone levels all contribute to impacts on her mental health.
There is a very real possibility that she will being having a hard time without realizing it, so its your job to pay attention.
And if she does realize that things don’t feel right, it can still feel very taboo to talk about it (yes, even with you).
It is not your job to diagnose her with postpartum depression (PPD) or anxiety (PPA), but its very important that you pay attention to its possibility and help her to know that its OK to get help or talk to someone, even if she feels like she is alright.
Even if she flies through the postpartum period with no signs or symptoms of PPD or PPA, it can show up even a year later.
And big events like returning to work or no longer breastfeeding can also contribute.
Women only typically get 1 visit with their doctor after they give birth, and PPD or PPA may not have shown up at that point or they may not feel comfortable divulging it to their doctor.
So you owe the woman and child you love the service of keeping a watchful eye and helping her to find help if she needs it.
Communicate with her about how you’re doing
You’ve both gone through major changes when you brought home a baby.
You suddenly became a dad!
That’s a big change!
You’re allowed to have a hard time adjusting.
So whether you’re doing great or having a hard time, be honest with her about how you’re doing.
A lot of partners (particularly women) struggle with resentment after bringing home a baby, so it’s important to constantly find ways to connect.
And remember, she should also be supporting your transition to fatherhood. So communicate how it’s going for you!
Make sure you’re BOTH getting “off time”
Again, you both need this.
But it can be really difficult, especially if she is breastfeeding.
So in those early days, providing her with “off time” might look like taking the baby for a walk or car ride so she can rest at home without feeling like she should be doing something for the baby.
When she’s ready, it might mean encouraging her to have lunch with her friends, go to the gym, or do something else she loves for a few hours (make sure your baby will take a bottle from YOU first, though).
As for yourself, make sure you take time to grab a coffee or see friends. BUT also make sure she has help if she wants it if you’re going to be gone for more than an hour or so. At least in those early days.
Sex can wait
Do not, under ANY circumstances, pressure your wife or the mother of your child to have sex before she’s ready.
Don’t do it.
She just had a human being exit her body.
Even if she has clearance from her doctor and her stitches (oh yeah, there may be stitched down there) have healed up – it doesn’t mean she isn’t still feeling a little uncomfortable (or a lot).
Not only is there is a pain and discomfort factor you should consider, but she may also have a real fear of sex after her birth experience.
Plenty of women deal with traumatic births, and even if it wasn’t, there may be a real fear of ANYTHING going near that area.
Add to that the fact that her body has changed a lot and she may be feeling insecure (even if her journey into motherhood has made her more attractive to you).
And I’ll be honest, if you read all of those things that are possibly impacting her desire to wait and you still think “I need it” – then you need to reevaluate your priorities.
Maybe get creative instead.
Sex is great and important, but not at the expense of your partners well being.
Show her you appreciate her often
Whether its bringing home flowers, or her favorite meal. Kissing her on the forehead as she feeds your child and saying thank you or offering to take the baby so she can get a shower in peace.
Whatever your partner would appreciate – show her how grateful you are for all she has done to give you the family that you have.
It doesn’t have to be grand gestures, it can be little nods of appreciation.
But being a new mom can feel like a thankless job.
In those early days you’re doing so much for your little baby and you’re not even getting a smile.
Its easy to feel full of love for this little person, but also feel like no one appreciates any of it.
So make sure you tell her in whatever way she’ll hear.
Pay attention to little things she needs
Did you notice that her water bottle is running low? Fill it up.
Does she have a tendency to forget her slippers, but you know her feet get cold? Bring them to her.
Notice her phone is running low on battery? Charge it.
Honestly, its the little things that may even go unnoticed, but they’ll help her to keep going.
She may never notice that you filled her waterbottle, but she’ll probably appreciate that its full when she’s breastfeeding.
New moms are usually running on empty. The world can sort of be a blur. When little things like a dead battery can make you feel really sad or frustrated – finding your phone fully charged can keep you from a little mini breakdown.
It may sound silly, but those little things can really keep her feeling like she can keep moving forward.
Acknowledge all that she does
OK, here’s a very important caveat – don’t acknowledge all she does without being helpful.
If you’re sitting on the couch, never changing a diaper, never helping with a feed, never holding the baby so she can shower – then acknowledging all she does feels like a slap in the face. A backhanded compliment.
BUT, if you’re being a helpful and involved partner, acknowledging all that she does is gold.
Some examples of supportive things dad can say to a new mom might be:
“You can tell he feels really safe with his mom. You’re doing such a good job with him.”
“This is really hard, but I’m so glad you’re the one I’m doing this with.”
“Breastfeeding seems like a lot of work – can I help you with anything?”
“I appreciate you starting the coffee maker this morning.”
“How long were you up last night? I appreciate you doing that – can I take him for a walk so you can get some rest?”
Be understanding and supportive about her concerns (let her vent)
New moms usually have a lot of fears, frustrations, and concerns.
And chances are, you won’t usually be able to curb those by trying to fix them (of course, you may be able to fix some of them).
But know that it is a normal part of adjusting to motherhood for a lot of women.
So one of the ways a dad can support a new mom is by listening to these things that she just needs to get out of her head.
Don’t invalidate her fears, but encourage her and show her understanding and compassion.
Parenting is hard, as you well know.
Let her talk some of that hard stuff out with you.
And there are a lots of boosts of encouragement here too if she needs them.
Insist on self-care
You know this woman better than anyone else. So you’ll likely know what kinds of things she finds relaxing.
Insist that she get some time to do the things that make her feel refreshed. Even if she doesn’t have a large time window to work with.
Maybe a walk, a chance to sneak off to get her nails done, or some quiet space to read a book or watch her favorite show.
One thing to be aware of, especially in those first 6-8 week, though, is that there are a large number of things she CAN’T do for health reasons as she heals. So don’t encourage things like baths, or hard exercise (among the other items listed here).
Encourage her connection with others
Being a new mom can feel incredibly isolating.
You may be feeling it too.
Gentle reminders that she should text her best friend, or offer to hold down the fort while she grabs a drink or meal with people she always seems to enjoy spending time with can all go a long way.
Unfortunately, in many cases, relationships do change after you bring a baby home.
But that connection with the world outside of her motherhood bubble will help with some of the struggles that come with the postpartum time period.
Take the baby out of the house (especially a screaming baby)
Give her some time with a quiet house by taking the baby for a walk or car ride.
Especially if the baby is screaming and nothing else seems to work.
As moms are typically the primary caregivers, it can be easy for us to power through some of those tough times.
But honestly, with sleep deprivation and other struggles, a screaming or fussing baby can feel incredibly overstimulating.
If you can manage the sounds of a crying baby yourself, offer to give her a little bit of quiet time by taking the baby out of the house.
The one exception to this is if you believe your wife or partner may be tempted to hurt herself due to PPD or PPA. In that case, you need to take action and do not leave her alone in the house.
Ask people for tips and suggestions
Dads and men in general get a bad wrap for not discussing their feelings or real things like parenthood.
But a lot of men seem willing to talk about those parenting concerns if prompted (at least in mine and my husband’s experience).
So if you’re friends with a dad who can offer you some help or pointers, go ahead and ask.
You might be amazed at some of the tips and suggestions he’ll offer to you.
It is absolutely OK to kick visitors out who have been at your home too long.
Yes, even family.
Every family has different dynamics, so you may feel uncomfortable with this, but it is SO WORTH setting firm boundaries in place when you bring home your baby.
In those early days it is not your job to host.
It is the people in your life’s job to either show up to help, or leave you alone.
It causes resentment when you’re forced to host when you’re running on 2 hours of sleep and expected to feed a crowd, and you don’t want that either.
You don’t need to be rude about it, but at this time in your life, you need and deserve support. So if you’re not getting that and you’re ready for a visit to be over (or you know your wife or partner is ready for the visit to be over), make it clear that visiting time is over.
Get help if your family needs extra hands
It’s perfectly acceptable to not be able to juggle everything on your own.
You’re both exhausted and struggling to hold on.
One or both of you may be back at work.
If you need help, ask for it.
Either from people in your family or social circle, or by hiring help from someone.
Make time to connect
There are lots of ways you can have a date night at home if you’re not at the point where you’re ready to leave the baby with another caretaker.
But whatever you do, make the time to spend quality time together.
Don’t talk about the baby if you can help it.
Just take a little bit of time to reconnect with each other.
Take the reigns on at least one major babycare item (especially if she’s breastfeeding)
Maybe you take over diaper duty because she’s breastfeeding.
Or you handle bathtime.
Whatever the one item is that you can take off of her plate while you’re around, make sure you do it without complaint.
As a mom, it can be hard to let things go relating to your baby.
But complaining about the task you take on can feel frustrating, especially if she’s already carrying the majority of the load (remember, a healing body is also a major component to those early days after you bring home your baby).
Sharing some of the load helps it feel more like a partnership, and it goes a long way.
Support a new mom by letting her sleep in the morning
Unless she needs to be up to feed the baby, or you need to be out of the door for work, let her sleep in when she can.
Not only has she likely been up throughout the night with the baby, but breastfeeding and healing a postpartum body are both incredibly exhausting tasks.
We ask so much from a woman’s body, and rest is the primary way to recover.
The idea that she can sleep during the day while the baby is asleep is nice in theory, but it isn’t always practical.
Especially if she wants to take a shower, or eat a meal, or read a book, or do anything at all for herself.
So if there is a chance to let her sleep in during the morning, give it to her whenever you can.
Bring her her favorite food she’d missed during pregnancy
Is she a sushi addict? Does she love coldcut sandwiches? A glass of wine?
Women have to give up a lot to carry a healthy baby.
And we’re willing to do it.
But it might make her ridiculously happy to have her favorite food after she gives birth.
Seriously, it will be like heaven.
So if you can make it happen – its worth doing.
Remind her that she’s beautiful (before she complains that she’s not)
Pregnancy and postpartum can be a minefield.
One minute your beautiful wife might feel so strong and confident in her body and all that it can do.
The next her hormones might take over and tell her that her body doesn’t meet societies standards and the bounce-back culture that tells her that she should look like she did pre-baby 2 days after expelling an 8 pound person from her uterus.
She might be confident and secure, but she may also be really struggling with the body she sees in the mirror. The one that doesn’t fit properly in her favorite pre-baby clothes.
So proactively encourage her.
Remind her that you think she’s beautiful.
That you love her new body and appreciate all that it has done.
Say it often, because chances are good that her brain is telling her something completely different.
Try to let frustrations go
Obviously some frustrations need to be discussed.
So I’m not telling you to brush legitimate concerns or issues you can’t shake under the rug.
But if you find yourself a little annoyed about something that you can take a deep breath and let go of it, its worth it.
Talk about things that need to be discussed, but don’t add to her plate an issue that isn’t really something that needs to be addressed.
Don’t lose sight of what she has done
It’s easy to focus on what is being done in the moment. To feel like right now, you’ve equaled out the responsibilities.
And this is NOT to say that their is a hierarchy of who does more and she should be given more than you or anything like that.
But it is important to remember that she carried this baby.
Which means that she is healing in ways that you can’t see with your eyes.
Every time she breastfeeds in those early days, her uterus continues to respond and she has contradictions.
Every time she uses the restroom she has to use a squirt bottle because toilet paper is a no-go.
Her hormones are going to continue to change and fluctuate for a while.
I’m not saying any of that to cause you discomfort, but as a reminder that there is so much more going on under the surface than just who is changing diapers and who is bathing the baby.
Just remember that this beautiful and amazing woman spent 9 months growing this baby that you love, and her body is not done once the baby is in your arms.