It’s easy to feel like a bit of a spare part when you’re a dad and your other half is exclusively breastfeeding your baby.
You just don’t have the, ahem, equipment to pitch in with this particular area of raising your child.
Whether you’re totally on board with your other half breastfeeding, or think she’s putting way too much pressure on herself by taking this on, here are some tips to help her and you get through this.
1. Bring her a drink
It’s the little things, but do try and remember she will be thirsty all of the time.
Even if she’s just finished a pint of water two minutes ago, fill it up right now.
If she’s pinned to the sofa all evening because your baby is in his or her peak cluster feeding phase, offer cups of tea, water, whatever she wants.
She may be so tired that she forgets to drink enough, so try to always make sure she has a drink on the go.
2. Get your rubber gloves on
Cleaning doesn’t magically happen in your house, sorry to break this to you.
Maybe you already do most of the cleaning, and if so hats off to you!
But if not, now is the time to offer to do anything that needs doing. Put some washing on, do the vacuuming, dust, do the washing up or clean the bathrooms.
You may very well be sleep deprived too, but do try to do even just 15 minutes of chores a day. Having a clean, less chaotic house can work wonders for new mums.
3. Pitch in at bedtime
So you don’t have boobs, but you do have two hands.
Take on the bits of the bedtime routine you can do. This could include the bath, nappy change and reading a bedtime story or singing a nursery rhyme.
4. Get your baby dressed in the morning
Once your baby has had their morning feed, you could take over and do the nappy changing and get them dressed for the day while mum goes back to bed for a while.
Why not play with your baby downstairs for 20 minutes before you have to leave for work. You may have a long day of meetings ahead, but being with a baby all day is draining on a whole other level, particularly after you’ve been up half the night.
5. Take the baby out for a walk
When your baby is fed and happy, or fussing and won’t be put down in their cot to nap, you could step up to take them out for a walk in the buggy.
This has two benefits. It lets mum have a rest and it means baby will probably nap while they’re on the move too.
6. Don’t apply pressure
It can be hard to resist suggesting switching to formula as an easy solution to the endless problems that crop up with breastfeeding in the early weeks.
While you’re a parent too, try not to labour this point too much. Once your other half has got through the tough early weeks of breastfeeding, it actually does get loads easier.
She may just not feel ready to offer a bottle, even of expressed breast milk, because she wants to focus on nursing first. Just try to be supportive of this, it really does improve as the milk supply kicks in and baby becomes more settled.
7. Try to stay positive
Sleep deprivation brings everyone down eventually. It’s really hard to remain upbeat when you’ve just had your 20th night in a row of less than three hours of sleep.
But try to remind yourself that “this too shall pass”. When one of you is really down and despairing, the other needs to try to lift the mood. Suggest a treat, like a takeaway and a film. Anything that you enjoy that might help make you both feel a little bit more human.
8. Manage the visitors
If mum is surviving on less than three hours of sleep, hasn’t managed to have a shower and generally feels like she could collapse on the floor in a heap at any moment, she probably doesn’t want a house full of guests all day.
Everyone is excited to see the baby and you are excited to show them off, but you should keep visits short in the early weeks.
Also try not to arrange lots of visits in a row, spread them out over a few days. You should take responsibility for managing visitors’ expectations. They may want to hold the baby for hours, but mum probably isn’t ready for that yet. Try to gently step in when you think it’s getting a bit much for your other half.
9. Don’t run before you can walk
You’re living in the parenting bubble and all you want to do is get back to normal life. The thing to remember is, life never will be the same and that’s ok. Life will be different, but better, and you will adjust eventually.
Try not to rush to go out for lunch or an evening out in the early weeks. There’s plenty of time for that later.
You may be going a little stir-crazy at home, but most mums just want the odd short walk in those first few weeks after giving birth.
10. Try to be understanding about mood swings
Having a baby brings with it a huge maelstrom of emotions, and hormones. Plus with the physical trauma your body has just been through, it leaves mums feeling utterly wiped out and extremely uncomfortable.
If a mum has had a traumatic birth, a C-section or stitches there is likely to be a lot of discomfort and pain. For this reason we are not our usual chirpy selves.
New mums may well be easily irritated and quick to anger. Be kind. I know it’s hard when someone is being so unreasonable, but the person you love is still there. They’re just going through the biggest challenging of their life.
Try to take a deep breath rather than shoot back in anger in return. Most new parents say they argue more after their baby arrived, it is normal.
I hope this helps you in those stressful early weeks with your newborn. I would love to hear from dads who have any suggestions for what else should be on the list.