To put it mildly, you’re overjoyed to be a dad. So why are you also feeling emotionally spent? Here is a dad’s guide to life after childbirth.
AFTER ALL THAT, EVERYONE NEEDS A LITTLE NURTURING
You’re overjoyed to be a father, and that’s putting it mildly. So why are you also feeling emotionally spent? After all that buildup, all the planning and spending and drama, your child has been born…and you feel not only run-down (that’s the sleep deprivation) but also a tiny bit letdown. Welcome to the Postpartum Dads Club, when you suddenly realize why the word postpartum is so often followed bydepression. Not everyone experiences the so-called baby blues (about 10 percent of new dads do), but expect a profusion of emotions that can last from a few weeks to a year — in both of you (fortunately usually only one of you at a time). Be ready. And be strong. You’ll need the patience of a saint, the endurance of a triathlete, a temper with a mile-long fuse, and a sense of humor (big time), to work through this period of adjustment.
WHAT TO DO THIS MONTH
- Create a new “normal.” On some level, you may have been waiting for the pregnancy to end and life to get back to normal. Forget it — those days are history, and it’s time to work out what your new routines are. Who does the shopping now? You should. Who does the laundry? Ditto. (How can such a small human being generate so much laundry, anyway?) When do you both shower? (Do you both shower?) What time do you eat? For the first time, it hits you what it really means for your life to have changed. Don’t fight it — go with the flow, and fall into a rhythm that works (don’t expect to hit your dad stride right out of the gate, though — it’ll take plenty of time and practice).
- Get used to sleepus interruptus. It’s only fair, so take turns visiting the crib in the middle of the night (this will be a way shorter trip if baby’s sleeping in a bassinet in your room or right next to your bed in a bedside co-sleeper). Even if she’s breastfeeding and doesn’t “need” you at 3 a.m., be there (she’ll need you for the diaper change). Besides, those middle-of-the-night cuddles are prime bonding times for all of you. Don’t miss them. And even if you’re tired during the day — let her nap while you take over baby-duty. Sure, you both need to catch up on your z’s, but remember that she’s also recovering physically from childbirth (and if she’s nursing, expending plenty of energy making milk), so she definitely wins the exhaustion competition hands down (and eyes closed)
- Keep an eye on her mood. Baby blues are one thing (they’re normal and self-limiting), but true postpartum depression is another (it’s a serious medical condition that requires treatment). If the new mom still seems truly overwhelmed several weeks after the baby comes home, or experiences bouts of crying, irritability, or sleep disruptions (other than those caused by the baby), encourage her to talk to her practitioner about it. Don’t leave it up to her if she says no — she may not recognize the signs of depression. Go with her on her next office visit and make her ‘fess up about what’s going on. Then make sure she gets the treatment she needs to feel better.
- Be good to yourself. Your own hormones are in flux (remember your old pal couvade?), and it’s natural for the combination of the new baby, the stress of the past nine months and the new sense of responsibility to take their toll. In fact, one in four dads experience paternal postnatal depression (PPND), a dad’s version of postpartum depression. You may feel left out, or you may feel overwhelmed by everything that’s expected of you. Keep your energy level up by eating well and resting when you can. And if you suspect you have PPND, talk to your partner or a trusted friend or family member about it, and don’t hesitate to seek professional treatment — for the health and wellness of both you and your baby.
- Celebrate with her. Maybe you’re still so excited you can barely stand it! If the thrill of being a father puts you in a celebratory mood, do your celebrating at home. If you call in your buddies (to show off the baby you made), make sure they don’t overstay their welcome and that you’re the one offering up beverages and snacks and cleaning up in their wake.
- Be good to her. Take over the bulk of the household chores for now (if you can score some paid or volunteer domestic help that lets you both focus your energy and attention on the new baby and each other, go for it). Bring her a snack and a drink while she breastfeeds, rub down her shoulders afterward. And hug her often — and for no reason at all.
- Be a 50-50 father. Parenting, when there are two parents around, is a two-person job — sign up for it in earnest. Share baby care (from bathing and diaper changing to rocking and singing) equally. Don’t worry that you’re not qualified for the job — no one’s born knowing how to swaddle or burp (a baby!). Moms and dads both learn on the job — one sleepless night, one dirty diaper at a time. Still unsure of yourself? Read up on baby care (What to Expect the First Year is a good place to start). And don’t worry that you do things differently than your spouse — every parent does things differently, and it’s a difference that your baby will love.
- Be confident that they both need you, forever. And just be plain confident — you’ll pick up this dad thing in no time.
- Be patient when it comes to sex. It may be the last thing on your mind right now — or the last thing you have energy for. You may even be waging some inner conflict (between the father in you and the lover in you), which will definitely work itself out as the weeks pass. But if you find yourself with that loving feeling, there are a few things you need to keep in mind before you act on it. You will live to love (on a regular basis) again — it might just take a while. First, you’ll need the practitioner’s green light, but that may come weeks before hers, which may still be yellow…or red. Remember, she’s been through the wringer physically — and so has her vagina, especially if she delivered via that route. Second, once she agrees to give it a try — you’ll need to proceed very slowly and extremely gently. Ask her what feels good, what hurts, what you can do to help. Focus on foreplay (for her), and don’t even consider going in for the main event until she’s been well warmed (she’ll need lots of massage, and lubrication will help get her juices going, since hormonal changes left her extra dry). And don’t be surprised if you get an accidental eyeful of milk. Laugh about it.
TOPIC OF CONVERSATION
Have self-doubts when it comes to your parenting prowess? Every new parent does (that’s right, mothers too). Open up to your spouse about your determination to excel at the job of baby care — and your nagging fears (make that terror) that you’ll flunk. Chances are she’s feeling everything you’re feeling — and will be happy to unload her anxieties on you too. (Plus, it’ll help her to know your heart’s in the right place, even when the diaper’s on backward.) Now’s a good time, too, to divvy up diaper duties (and other duties). Talk about the best way to do this: 50-50, straight down the line is one way to go, alternating (every other diaper, every other bath) is another, but you can also discuss specializing (signing up for the duties you each end up doing best — she does diapers, you do soothing with your patented rocking moves).