There’s a lot of focus on women preparing for postpartum during pregnancy, but the truth is that men go through a transformation once baby is born too. And it can be hard for men to find resources to help prepare for the transition to fatherhood. So I’m sharing 7 tips to help - both as Naturopathic Doctor who has worked with dozens of dads, and also as dad myself, who has experienced this transition firsthand.
The intention of this guide is to provide direction and clarity to dads in preparation for baby arriving. It isn’t meant to elicit feelings of inadequacy or make you feel more unprepared than you may be feeling already. If it does make you feel like that, know that you are not alone in your journey as a parent and that there are professionals out there to help you including midwives, doulas, and prenatal coaches. You’ve got this new dad! Here are 8 ways for a new dad to prepare for baby:
1. Take prenatal classes
Do you know how to change a diaper or know when to put your baby down for a nap? Do you know how much to dress them in cold weather? Learning and owning how to complete these tasks will make you feel connected to the baby and included as a parent. Your partner will greatly need this support as she takes the time to heal from the incredibly physical task of childbirth. You may not know what you don’t know when it comes to having a baby for the first time (or even the second and third!).
Attending prenatal classes or completing online courses geared towards helping Dads is incredibly helpful. Search online or ask your friends or your partner’s midwife, OB, or doula for their recommendations.
2. Educate yourself on the postpartum body
Your partner’s body has grown a baby and provided the essential needs for the better part of ten months. There have no doubt been major physical changes including increase in body mass, breast size, energy decreases and emotional fluctuations to boot. These are all normal and needed for a baby's development.
3. Strengthen communication with your partner
Having a baby is a great opportunity to strengthen your communication and connection with your partner. Speak to your partner about what you are nervous about or even fearful about. There is a good chance that your partner will have similar fears and learning that someone is feeling the same as them can be very relieving. If you are drawing a blank as to what to even start with, here are some prompting questions you can ask your partner, and then your partner can ask you:
- How do you feel about having family coming over to visit in the first few days? Should we tell them up front our expectations of their visit (i.e. holding/not holding the baby, length of stay, etc)
- How do you feel about not having intercourse while the mother heals? What are your expectations of intimacy?
- What are your expectations of self-care? (i.e., when you are done working, are you expected to be back at home as soon as possible or is your partner ok with you stopping at the gym for 30 mins?
- Do you feel like you are ok with working the amount that you are during the early weeks/months of baby’s life?
Speaking about these topics can be intimidating when you are face to face but still very important topics to discuss. Here are some tips that may make it easier for you:
- Go for a walk and talk about it.
- Write down your questions/answers and read them out loud.
- While your partner is speaking, just listen until they are done.
- Do an activity together that doesn’t take too much concentration like a puzzle
Even if you don’t know much about the postpartum phase, you probably know that you likely won’t be sleeping as much as you’d like. And you might even be downright sleep deprived. But instead of “catching up on sleep” or “sleep-loading” prior to baby coming, try honing some basic sleep habits. Not only will it improve your sleep, it will probably improve your life overall
- Put the phone away and use bedtime to connect with your partner. Baby is coming, and your quality minutes together will naturally get fewer so this is a chance to strengthen your physical and emotional relationship, and talk about what else needs to be attended to before the baby arrives.
- Make the room as black as possible by using a black out blind on your window. Research shows that even the slightest light in your room (street lights peaking in, alarm clock, light on a power bar) can disrupt your sleep patterns.
- Use a sound machine to block out street noise or use earplugs to help dampen any street noise or neighbor-noise
- Deep breathing (or meditation) can really help move your brain into a calm state of mind. This can help get your body into sleep mode fast, and get your body resting quickly.
- Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Great sleep tends to happen prior to midnight so try getting into bed by 10pm.
Exercise has been known to slip into the non-essential category when babies enter the picture. New dads tend to put mom and baby ahead of themselves, and therefore self-care goes by the wayside. But movement is important for both physical and emotional health, so making a plan for it should be a priority.
Do an exercise audit of your life right now: if you are an exerciser, is your current exercise routine sustainable and would your partner be ok with it? If you are not an exerciser at all, what can you do with your baby when it arrives? Think stroller walking, push-ups, squats, lunges and other exercises you can do at home. You might not be able to stick to the exact same routine (an hour may not be feasible) but you can plan now to modify your routine or establish a new sustainable routine. Remember, it’s a phase, it’s not forever.6. Take care of your own health
Having a baby is hard work, and being in good health helps. Don't slack on your supplement routine (especially since your nutrient intake from food will likely be less than ideal). Needed's Men's Multi, Men's Omega-3+, and Men's Pre/Probiotic will support your energy, mood, cognition, gut health, and more (you can bundle them all in the Complete Plan for Men).
This is also a good time to assess your overall health and get a physical check up. Get your bloodwork updated and have your doctor make some dietary and lifestyle recommendations that you can easily fit into your life. If there is some health issue brewing in you, you want to know about it as soon as possible and deal with it instead of going through that process when the baby arrives.7. Evaluate your relationship with alcohol
I probably don’t have to tell you that alcohol isn’t great for your health, your relationships, or really anything. Alcohol can be consumed in moderation, but if you are someone who needs a drink at the end of the day to wind down, this is a great opportunity to figure out how to dial back the stress or find other ways to unwind. You can imagine that once a baby arrives, your time to decompress and relax starts to shrink and your overall stress levels may climb.8. Build a support network
Ever heard the saying, “it takes a village?” Having a network of people around to support you can make your early days with baby really smooth and enjoyable. Ask your friends, ask your family, ask your school, church, and/or work. There is a great chance they will actually want to help you. So what do you need? Think about the necessities. Food, cooking, cleaning, laundry, rest, advice. Think about whether you want people in your home with you or if there are other more remote ways they can support you.
- Food: Ask for pre-made, healthy, oven-ready food, food delivery services, and delivery service gift cards. Anything that keeps you away from cleaning and preparing food in the first six weeks (or whenever you feel you have a grasp) is just so valuable. There are apps for meal trains, so do a quick search and delegate to your most reliable, task-oriented person.
- Cleaning: Ask your people to help with cleaning or line up a good housecleaner to come every week or two, even if it’s just short term.
- Laundry: Babies are messy and laundry will pile up quickly. The last thing you want is to be cleaning and folding laundry at midnight. Pieces of tiny baby clothes add up fast and laundry can seem like it never ends!
- Have someone watch the baby for twenty minutes so you (the parents) can have a break. The baby sits and lays a lot in the first months of their life so the task isn’t really that hard for that chosen person. This is an opportunity for you to go crush a power nap, go for a solo walk, have a shower, or enjoy a coffee on your patio.
By using this guide it will make you feel more confident (at least a little more confident) and it will also make your partner feel more supported! Remember, this is a guide to help you navigate the ruleless terrain of the paternal postpartum time with your baby. The baby may not be here yet, but know that you are already a great dad!