You carried your baby for nine months, and now he or she is finally here! As you adjust to motherhood, your brain is actually changing to better equip you to take care of your little one (ever wonder why you can wake up from a dead sleep — despite all the exhaustion — to the tiniest of cries?).
But just because your partner isn’t going through the same changes you are doesn’t mean he can’t naturally fall into the role of involved father. Before our first baby Lincoln was born two years ago, my husband Ben and I talked at length about how important it would be to have him actively involved. In the beginning, it was mostly as a huge help to me, but as the months wore on, the two of them developed a special bond — and I’m over here with second-favorite parent status. Seventeen months later, when we welcomed little Adelaide, Ben was much more comfortable with infants, so some of these strategies came more naturally, while others I still suggest gently to promote their sweet father-daughter relationship.
I’ve found the most important thing in keeping Dad involved is open and kind communication. Once you’re done talking about it, here are some practical and fun ways to keep him even more engaged with your new bundle of joy:
- Have him prep the nursery before the baby arrives.
Whether it is putting together the crib or picking out the glider, help him feel ownership over this new project. Bonus: At eight or nine months pregnant, putting together a crib is so far down on your list that you’ll truly need this extra help.
- Encourage skin-to-skin contact between the two of them.
The benefits of skin-to-skin contact, such as better brain development and maintaining a healthy weight, have been proven in infants up to 20 weeks old, and this is a great way for Dad to get involved. Have your partner put on his favorite show and snuggle up shirtless on the couch with the little one, particularly in the very early weeks. You could also opt for kangaroo care in bed or wrap up the baby skin-to-skin for a little walk. However you do it, skin-to-skin promotes bonding between infant and Dad while calming and regulating your baby’s nervous system. What’s better? Skin-to-skin also leads to better infant sleep, which means all of you will get a few more minutes of rest!
- Let him do things by himself.
It’s likely that you will very quickly have more experience with your baby than your partner. You probably have a specific way you do things, such as change diapers or get the baby dressed. After you ask Dad for help, though, keep your mouth shut. If he doesn’t ask for suggestions, empower him figure it out instead of nagging and reminding him with every correction that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
For us, it means that last week when I got up in the middle of the night to feed Adelaide, she was in pajamas that made it a bit more difficult to change her diaper because Ben had put her to sleep without a list of detailed instructions. But at the end of the day, its better for Ben to spend those few minutes with our baby girl without me standing over him than it is for me to have everything always done the way I always do it. Let Dad be an equal partner in this world of parenting. Respect his choices — although discuss them if you disagree so you’re on the same page.
- Leave the house.
Not only is it good for you, but it gives the two of them even more quality time. Your partner will probably learn to appreciate what you do with the baby by yourself a little bit more, and babies that tend to prefer Mom are often better for Dad when she is out of the room.
Taking some time in the outside world for yourself will also lessen your impulse to jump in and help whenever the baby starts fussing. In those early days, something as simple as grocery shopping alone felt like a mini-vacation to me, and it was the time of the week I’d regularly leave Ben and baby Lincoln alone. Whether it’s an exercise class, a girls’ night out or just you running errands, find a time to leave baby and Dad home together, just the two of them.
- Get educated together.
It’s likely that you’ve read a parenting book or two, talked to other moms or watched 300 YouTube videos of what to do with newborns (or was that just me?). It’s also likely that your husband hasn’t. Set Dad up to be successful by sharing what you’re learning and finding books or material he’s interested in.
The most helpful thing Ben and I watched together before our first baby arrived was Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby DVD (it’s also available as a book, but actually watching Karp use the five strategies to calm a crying baby was helpful and much less time-consuming than reading the book). Most of the soothing strategies were not new to me, having grown up babysitting and with younger siblings, but for Ben they were mostly novel. The film gave him a toolkit to pull from whenever our little guy was fussing without me having to tell him what to do. Whether it’s watching this movie, reading a baby book or taking prenatal classes, having Dad do a little preparation will have him feeling more capable of jumping in and helping.
- Have him dress the baby.
Put Dad in charge of dressing the baby from time to time (maybe when you want a few quiet minutes to get yourself ready…). It is so fun to see dads’ opinions on baby clothes — and sometimes they come up with some pretty cute (or mismatched) outfits. This is one of Ben’s very favorite things to do for Lincoln, and I can’t tell you how often he ends up dressing himself to match the baby.
- Let him take over bath time.
If your partner is at work during the day, the nightly bath time ritual is a great way for him to have designated time with the baby each evening. He’ll develop his own routine and your baby will learn to count on Dad to be there at bath time. Also, there isn’t anything much sweet than listening to little baby giggles from the tub while you put your feet up in the other room.
- Have him help at mealtime.
Depending on how you choose to feed your little one, this may be a great way for Dad to get involved. If you’re pumping or using formula, have him take one night feed while you get a little extra sleep. Even if you’re breastfeeding, teach your partner how to read the hunger cues and learn how to burp your baby.
- Encourage him to use playtime as the gym.
Whether its doing pushups next to your little one (giving them a kiss each time they come down), doing pull-ups wearing the baby in a wrap (a household favorite!), or just going for a jog with the stroller, suggesting Dad get in some exercise while interacting with the baby will kill two birds with one stone. It also help the dads who feel a need to be productive all the time feel like they’re accomplishing multiple things at the same time.
- Put him on diaper duty.
Dad is just as capable of changing diapers as Mom is (and in those very first few days while Mom is healing, he is actually a bit more capable). Utilize his help! Plus, you learn to love the people you serve… so even diaper changing can promote bonding.
- Have him lead story time.
Studies show a strong correlation between being read to regularly and baby brain development. If your partner is struggling to find things to do with your little one, encourage him to read whatever he is currently enjoying aloud to the baby. In the very beginning, it doesn’t matter what the content is and as your baby gets older, Dad can move into reading children’s stories. In the first few weeks after Lincoln was born, Ben’s favorite thing to read to him was the Wall Street Journal. See? Anything works.
- Teach him how to bond and multitask.
Whether it’s in a simple baby wrap, a ring sling or a baby carrier, babywearing promotes bonding between Dad and baby while letting him parent hands-free. He can wear the baby around the house while completing other tasks or take the baby with you guys on adventures that are easier without a stroller.
We started the babywearing early and the habit stuck. Ben’s favorite times to wear our baby are in the early evening when she is particularly fussy because it settles her right down, and when we go out on family hikes so we don’t have to bring the stroller. In fact, when we traveled Europe for a few weeks, we skipped the stroller altogether and Ben wore our then almost-toddler in the baby carrier. Now with two under two, I’ll wear our infant in a baby wrap while Ben takes the toddler in the carrier and we can both be hands free with no stroller! And just think — all that while promoting bonding too ;)
- Ask for help whenever you need it!
You can set up specific expectations regarding tasks your husband will be in charge of, but you might still realize you’re the one to notice all of your baby’s needs. Instead of letting yourself become frustrated that you’re getting ready to leave the house as a family and your husband hasn’t thought to start prepping bottles or pack the diaper bag or get the baby’s coat on, just ask him for help.
However you decide to get Dad involved in those early months, it will help him bond with the baby and help you feel less alone in the journey of parenthood. After all, you’re in this together.