The arrival of a new baby can be an exciting, exhausting, overwhelming and joyous time. Dads as well as mums will also experience plenty of highs and lows. Here’s how to manage them.
From couple to co-parent
Welcome to the biggest change of your life – having a baby. There’s no doubt that the transition from partner to parent can be challenging (NHS, 2016a). It is probably going to affect relationships with your partner, friends, family members and work colleagues (NHS, 2016a).
What’s more, you might find your transition to being a mum or dad is different from your partner. Read more about how dads can bond with their baby here.
With lazy weekends and meals out relegated to a distant memory, couples may find the dynamics of their relationship change too. Your identity will change as you incorporate being a dad (Machin, 2018).
You might find you’re less interested in nights out and more inclined to spend time at home (Machin, 2018), although it’s important not to forget your old friends completely.
Many new parents say that they feel closer after the birth of their baby. But it’s not unusual for even the strongest of relationships to feel the strain at times, particularly when both parties are frazzled by a lack of sleep (Relate, 2016).
It’s good to talk
Pregnancy is a great time to take time to talk before you have a little human being vying for your every waking moment. Share what your concerns are, what kind of parents you want to be and how you might handle disagreements over parenting. If you have some skills beforehand in terms of conflict management, these are invaluable once the baby comes (Machin, 2018).
In the early days of being a new parent – and indeed after this too – try to be open with each other and acknowledge you’re both doing a good job. You’ll also have different experiences, especially if one has returned to work and the other is at home with the baby. So tell each other about them – your partner is probably more interested than you think in what you’ve been up to all day.
Don’t get into exhaustion one-upmanship
It’s easy to get into a ‘competition’ about who’s the most tired or who’s had the worst day. When you do this, you pit yourselves against each other and it can feel like you’re not on the same team (NHS, 2016a).
Let’s face it – with a new baby, no one’s having an easy ride. Instead, focus on the positives when things are going well and make sure your partner knows you appreciate what they are doing for your family (NHS, 2016a).
Whatever you do, keep talking to your partner and tell them about any issues you’re going through. That way you can tackle them together before they become too big. This will help keep your relationship on track (Relate, 2018).
Share the load
Dads can feel sidelined or even unsure when it comes to their baby if mum is now focused on their little one or spending more time around them. It’s important for dads to have a chance to bond with their baby too, so try to get involved when you can with everything from changing to bath time.
Then you can allow each other ‘me time’ so you both have a break. Dads can change, bath and soothe the baby, or sing, read and play, while mum has some time away, and vice versa (Relate, 2018).
Look after your relationship
It’s important to nurture your relationship, as this is going to be one of the best support systems for you and your growing child in the future (NHS, 2016a). Try doing things that make you enjoy being a couple – whether that’s watching a film or going for a walk. It might mean you have to get someone else you trust, like a grandparent, to look after your baby for a couple of hours. But it’ll be well worth it.
There will inevitably be changes in the physical side of the relationship too. Neither of you may feel like having sex for a while after your baby is born due to tiredness, your partner’s physical recovery after birth and shifting priorities (NHS, 2016b). Read more about sex after having a baby in our article here.
Maintain existing friendships
Many new dads find their friends an invaluable support (Mind, 2013). So although it might seem like an effort to maintain any sort of social life, try not to let old friendships slip entirely (NHS, 2016a). You might be exhausted or just want to get home to see your baby and partner, but try to keep in touch with pre-baby friends.
Some people may understand and many dads say they pick up where they left off when they do see each other. Other dads notice a growing distance with friends. As hard as it can be, try to tell them if you’re having a tough time or need their support (Mind, 2013). They may open up about their own stresses and you may understand each other better.
Hang out with other new dads
It’s a great idea to join an antenatal or postnatal course and meet expectant or new dads in exactly the same position as you. New dad friends can help you realise you’re not alone. The common ground – and swapping stories of your baby’s sleeping habits and bowel movements – can also make it easier to bond!
There can be so many worries for dads, which is why it’s even more important to get support from every possible avenue (Fatherhood Institute, 2010; Mind, 2013). The huge new responsibility may be weighing on your mind, along with anxieties over what sort of dad you’ll be and pressure to be a perfect parent.
Of course, for dads who are returning to work, it can be hard to find the time to meet up with friends to discuss how they’re feeling. If it is hard to meet up with old or new friends, there are many online resources (such as those below), which fit well into dad’s busy lives (Machin, 2018).
Don’t forget how vital you are
The most important thing to remember is that being a dad is a hugely important and unique role. The fact is mums and dads have different parenting styles that compliment each other. This is crucial for their baby’s development (Machin, 2018). It teaches your growing child that there are different personalities in the world and how to relate to them.
Of course, no one is pretending that being a parent isn’t incredibly hard work. Hopefully, with the right help and support, dads will find it easier to cope, share their feelings and adapt to their new life as a parent.
This page was last reviewed in May 2019.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
Relate is a charity that specialises in supporting relationships, has information on coping with a new baby as well as lots of advice online.
The Couple Connection is an online relationship support service from the charity OnePlusOne which includes the Listening Room which is a free live chat service with a trained counsellor.
Fatherhoood Institute. (2010) Fathers and postnatal depression. Available at: http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/2010/fatherhood-institute-research-summary-fathers-and-postnatal-depression/ [Accessed 1st October 2018]
Machin AJ. (2018) The life of dad: the making of the modern father. Simon & Schuster, London.
Mind. (2013) How can other people help? Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-prob… [Accessed 1st October 2018]
NHS. (2016a) Relationships after having a baby. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/relationships-after-a-baby/ [Accessed 1st October 2018]
NHS. (2016b) Sex and contraception after birth. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/sex-contraception-after-birth/ [Accessed 1st October 2018]
Relate. (2016) Key relationship stats. Available at: https://www.relate.org.uk/sites/default/files/012016_relationships_stats_final_0.pdf [Accessed 1st October 2018]
Relate. (2018) How to maintain a healthy relationship after a baby is born. Available at: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-family-life-and-parent… [Accessed 1st October 2018]