by Donna Favilla, BirthWorks Certified Birth Doula (CBD~BWI)
The ancient archetype of a father at birth is that he stands guard at the opening to the cave to protect the birthing mother and their child. As we move through time, he comes closer to the actual location of the birth itself; waiting, protecting. Then in the late 20th century, he enters the room (a foreign environment if outside the home) and becomes involved. His first role was to protect the family from danger; wild animals or perhaps other tribes people…survival. As birth became more industrialized, his role has altered (see source below). Now he says,
“My wife/partner is having a baby. What am I supposed to be doing?”
In the past, the topic of becoming a dad was discussed rarely if not ignored. When asked the question, “What is it like to be a dad?” most say they enjoy taking their child out or teaching them sports. What is not often mentioned is the challenge of newborn care. As the father’s role changed, more is now expected. They are at birth and help postpartum. But many new dads aren’t familiar with how to care for a new baby. Below are helpful tips to help and bond with your baby. [Important Note: these tips are, of course, helpful for all parents who are not the birthing parent.]
- Make a list of projects to start at least six months before the baby comes home, like setting up the baby’s space or buying diapers.
- Organize what you need in different areas of the house (like downstairs and upstairs). Helpful items include bassinet, crib, playpen, toys, changing table, rocker, baby swing, extra diapers, onesie, burp cloth, blankets, wipes.
- Go to all doctor appointments and ultrasound scans. It is possible to do so from your phone (Zoom or FaceTime), even if it’s difficult to get there in person.
- Plan a babymoon or date night for your partner, before the baby comes, to enjoy time together. Activities could include a nice meal, dancing, movies and meditation.
- Communicate with your partner how you feel. Sometimes it is difficult to discuss emotions related to expecting. Maybe journal, meditate or join a new parents’ group.
- Start a baby journal that you and your partner can write in together, regarding your feelings about your baby before and you experience after baby arrives.
- Put a shelf next to the nursing chair for needed supplies. For example, the first shelf could have diapers, wipes and extra baby clothes. The second one could have water, healthy snacks, tissues, nursing cream, books to read to baby, neck pillow, nursing pillow, burp cloths, bibs and anything else that may be useful.
- Childbirth classes are the absolute best way to really understand how to support your partner during labor. These classes can teach you techniques to help with comfort like massage, relaxation, breathing and different position movements. The best thing you can do for a new mother is stay calm and be present, be her advocate and make sure she’s well hydrated.
- Install the car seat, and assemble the crib and stroller (also practice folding and opening it).
- Cook an easy meal, clean or food shop. Prepare meals and freeze them for ease later. Also, research and set up grocery delivery to your home.
- Remember that teamwork is important during labor and at home.
- Know how many weeks she is pregnant, which is really important! Understand how to count contractions too.
- When you bring your baby home, make special time with your child. Here are tips:
- Before work in the morning, take time to change the baby out of their pajamas into an outfit.
- Bath time or massage are special times for the second parent to spend bonding time with the baby.
- Read a story or sing to your baby, no matter how young they are.
- Use a baby carrier or sling to be with your baby and still be hands free!
Through all changing roles of fathers [and other non-birthing parents], they retain the feeling of wanting to care for and protect their family. Dads can be encouraged and praised for the help they give. With more fathers now attending births, they are in awe of the experience and are likely to bond more with their partner and babies. This makes them more willing to help and stay open to learning ways to fabulously parent, and they will find many rewards for their efforts.
Houser, Patrick M. Fathers-To-Be handbook, Creative Life Systems, 2009, p.150.