Being a new dad: the early days
Although hospitals and birth centres discharge mums and babies more quickly than in the past, they may spend a night or two away from home as a matter of policy, or because your partner requests it.
Hospitals also have different policies on dads visiting. Some have family rooms where dads can visit and some even allow them to stay overnight. In others, a new dad’s visits will be confined to visiting hours although you will probably have a bit more time than other visitors. When you are with your baby, get used to holding them and changing their clothes and nappies. Babies seem fragile at this age, but this is part of the bonding experience and will soon become second nature.
The period in the early days after your baby is born can seem like a huge anti-climax, especially if mum and baby don’t come home with you. But as a new dad you can use this time to prepare for their homecoming.
Speak to friends and family and tell them the good news, but try and get some rest as well.
After that, get your home ready in preparation for caring for a newborn, making sure sleeping arrangements are organised, and stocking up with food and other supplies. You will need to have a car seat for the baby if you are driving home. Fit it in advance and practise with it as they can be fiddly. If you are taking public transport, you will need a pram or buggy of some sort.
Here is some advice for new dads on the situations you are likely to encounter in the weeks and months after your child is born.
In the first week, it is understandable that family and friends will want to meet your new baby. However, if you or your partner are feeling worn out, try to limit visits and enjoy this special time for your new family. You can always spread visits over a few weeks and people will generally understand that this is a period of adjustment when you are getting used to caring for your baby.
Many dads only have a short time off work, so you should make the most of this time together. Having said that, the early days of parenthood can be exhausting, and you shouldn’t be too proud to accept help or ask for it. If somebody offers to do your washing or cook for you, take them up on it.
When people do visit, don’t feel that the normal rules of hospitality apply. Ask them to bring a hot meal with them. Nobody will expect the house to be spotless, and visitors can easily find the kettle and make their own tea.
Your partner may find it more helpful to have visitors after you go back to work, at which point she will be on her own. Many new mums find adjusting to a different lifestyle challenging and opportunities for adult company may be very welcome.
If your partner has had a caesarean or other major medical intervention, she will need extra time to recover. This means sleeping whenever the baby sleeps if possible. Staying in bed may be the best way to do this for some, whereas other women will want to be up but need to be encouraged not to do too much. Your partner’s milk production may suffer if she is overtired or stressed.
Don’t underestimate the level of support your partner needs at this time, both practically, emotionally and psychologically. She is at her most vulnerable and needs to know that you are with her all the way. She may get moody and emotional at times, but don’t let this affect you negatively.
Sleep deprivation among new parents is quite common. Everybody will have told you how exhausting the early days and weeks can be, but nothing can really prepare you for the lack of sleep after becoming a new dad. You can encourage your partner to have some sleep in the day, and join her if you can. Your partner may be particularly affected if she is breastfeeding and dads can help by soothing babies back to sleep (which can also be a time when dads start bonding with their baby). Do what you can to ease the burden on her. You could change the nappies during the night, if the baby needs changing; bring her a drink or an extra cushion.
Try and spend time with the baby yourself, going for a walk or putting the baby in a sling. This will give you a chance to bond as well as letting mum have some time to relax and sleep. Remember that this is just the beginning of parenthood and that the pace of your life is going to slow considerably.
Three quarters of babies are breastfed when they are born. Breastfeeding is a skill that can take time to learn and it’s not at all familiar to most new parents – so neither of you will know much about what to expect and what’s normal. Breastfeeding can be great for everyone once your partner and your baby get the hang of it. But it can take several weeks for it to become straightforward and for your partner to feel confident and completely comfortable. Babies like to feed frequently and this is quite normal and healthy. In fact, it is vital for establishing a good milk supply, especially in the very early days after your child is born. See our selection of articles on feeding your baby for more information.
There are lots of things you can do to be close to your baby if your partner is breastfeeding, such as holding your baby skin-to-skin on your chest; sharing a bath; going out walking together (using a sling or buggy); nappy changing, singing, rocking and taking turns ‘talking’.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy and early parenthood: 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.