As you probably know, it can be very unhelpful, especially during times when your partner really does need help, for example, after she's just had a baby.
It’s difficult to simply ‘guess’ what women, especially new mothers, need.
And it's unfair to expect that anyone will know what's going on in our minds.
Post-natal psychologist, Danny Chable, has compiled ten top tips for new dads. I've also interviews lots of mothers, asking them what helped them the most after giving birth.
We have a similar article for new mothers too, about how they can help their partner after their baby is born. But this one is for you, dads and dads-to-be!
How Dads Can Help New Mothers
After she gives birth, a new mother needs help both physically and emotionally.
The emotional side helps her to have a mental break from the intensive care of your beautiful and very dependent baby.
The physical side gives her a break to do things for herself. Her basic human needs to be met, and in doing so, she can recharge her nurturing tank for all those around her (including you, dad!).
Nurturing another human being for 24 hours a day, seven days a week is very demanding. It's also a very lonely affair with no-one to talk back to you all day.
So when you're home, she needs your help. Remember, which ever parent goes out to work, that’s their day job. Which ever parent stays at home with the baby – that's their day job. But when both parents are home, taking care of baby is a shared job.
Help Her Fill Her Love ‘Bank Account'
It's critical for mama to get some nurturing in return, after nurturing all day (often with very little sleep). If you help her to replenish her ‘love cup', she's less likely to feel bankrupt.
What do I mean by that?
Just like a bank account, if you keep making withdrawals without any deposits, you’ll eventually have nothing left.
How do you feel when you check your bank account balance and there's nothing in there?
You might feel anxious, depressed, helpless, desperate, frustrated, angry, feeling a lack of control in your life, and that you can't get basic, essential things you need to survive, for example.
On the other hand, when you check your balance and notice you have much more money than you expected, suddenly you feel like a whole heap of weight is off your mind.
The same goes with self care and nurturing – and she can feel exactly like the above if she hasn't had any nurturing in a while.
Especially in the early days of sleep deprivation and intensive caring, mama needs a big hand so she can be rested and healthy, in order to take better care of your baby. It's a win-win!
In some cultures, a 40-day laying in period exists, where mama rests, is cooked for and cared for while she gets her strength back. Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding truly is a big job for the human body.
Things Dads Can Do For Mothers
Here's a list full of suggestions just for mamas.
This isn't a to-do list or a demand, simply some ideas to choose from if it's important to you to help her out (hopefully it is!).
- Cook her any meals, e.g. cooked breakfast in the morning before going to work, or take over cooking dinner as often as you can. Make sure she’s eating three wholesome meals a day (protein will help keep her full and blood sugars more stable, also include good fats, veggies, leafy greens, nuts and seeds etc), as well as drinking plenty of water. Healthy, nutritious eating often becomes overlooked with young children. Too much processed food leaves everyone feeling yuck and tired.
- Send her off for a massage, regularly if possible. A babe in arms all day, especially after giving birth, is not always easy on the back. If money is an issue, offer her a massage, without expecting anything in return
- Encourage her to seek support and connection with other mothers, and check in with her regularly to see if she feels she is coping
- Point out where you think she’s doing a great job
- Tell her that you are proud of her / how much you love her
- No pressure for sexual acts – intimacy will return again soon, however pressure can quickly cause conflict and resentment in relationships. For further reading on this topic, check out our article, Why Doesn't She Want Sex After Having A Baby?
- Bring her a drink of water when she's breastfeeding. Not enough water can leave her tired, foggy, flat, dehydrated and even constipated
- Let her de-brief the labour and birth with you, especially if she's had a disappointing or difficult birth. If she appears to be struggling with her birth experience (which is sadly becoming more common), or if you suspect she may have some emotional trauma from the birth, or if you just can't cope with these talks, you may like to lovingly suggest she talk through her birth to a professional birth de-briefer or counsellor. Find out more about birth trauma.
- Let her know that it doesn’t matter if the home is messier than usual and help to do a bit of tidying
- Let her cry or be emotional without trying to ‘fix’ her – simply comfort her
- Tell her what you appreciate about her
- Send her out for a haircut, colour, manicure etc.
- Send her out to buy a new outfit or two – after having a baby, her maternity clothes may not fit well, and neither will her pre-pregnancy clothes, leaving her feeling miserable with not much to wear
- Run her a bath (throw in a cup of epsom salts for lots of emotional and physical benefits)
- Insist that she go and have a shower while baby is sleeping and you will take care of things if baby wakes. Or offer to take baby out so she can have a peaceful shower. New mothers are always on alert and if she hears the baby upset she may too become upset or want to rush her shower, defeating the whole purpose!
Be Aware That Being A Mama At Home Can Be Very Isolating
This is one of the biggest struggles of mothers today. It is SO hard and no-one really talks about it.
When baby has been crying all day and nothing seems to be working, it can leave mama in a crying mess too.
Rememeber, women once raised babies together in a community, with extra hands, reassurance, guidance and nurturing. We’ve long lost this support and community around us. Many mothers are left to raise their babies day in and day out, without much support. It's not as easy or natural as you may imagine. But of course, there is no-one else they would rather care for their babies.
In addition, mothers can become so distracted and busy with a baby that they don’t even get the time to eat properly. Not to mention fitting in time to do the cleaning. Eating well is very important, but at this stage in your lives, cleaning is not.
Yet, mothers may also feel down or stressed about not getting any housework done – and we hate living and ‘working’ in a messy environment just as much as you do. So not only is there loneliness and lack of support to contend with, but eating, resting and caring for themselves tends to get put on the back burner too. All essential things for a thriving human being.
By offering extra nurturing to a new mother, you are loading her up with more energy to nurture others.
Things Dads Can Do To Help With Baby
I asked BellyBelly's fans what the most helpful things were, after their baby was born.
Bear in mind every woman is different, so don't assume it will be the same for your partner – ask her what would be most helpful to her.
If you use up all your energy cooking and cleaning and all she wants is your company and a chat (which you're now too tired for!), you may both end up feeling resentful. Communication is key. Other jobs you don't have time for, you can always outsource to others, for example, gardening, house cleaning, ironing etc.
Here are the most common responses, which you might like to offer to help with:
- Take baby out for a walk so mama can have some quiet time
- Feed baby in the middle of the night or bring baby to mum if breastfeeding (could also be expressed breastmilk to give mum a rest); or;
- Feed the baby in the morning (again with expressed breastmilk or formula if formula fed) or bring baby to mama, so she can get a sleep in
- Take the baby for a cuddle if s/he is crying and mum is getting upset or flustered
- Help to look after any older children so mum can adjust to life with a newborn again (as well as to give mum a bit of quality time with the baby). This applies to the other children as well – all need equal one-on-one time with both parents
- Make sure you learn how to bathe baby and change nappies.
Many mamas find it really helpful when a specific job(s) can be designated to dad. For example, doing the nightly bath or going for a nightly walk – something regular that mothers can look forward to.
It's time they know they will have to themselves to ‘zone out’ and not have to be on alert for a cry or a whimper. While the baby is in her care, those protective mama bear hormones may be in full swing and she will be on high alert – like a radar, scanning for a call out from her baby!
A really helpful read is our article, What Stay At Home Parents Mean When They Say They Need A Break.
Things Dads Can Do To Help Around The House
Here are some things to help with around the house, to help make home a more peaceful and enjoyable place for the whole family.
- Hire a cleaner if you can afford it. A regular clean in the early weeks or months (even ongoing) is just like therapy!
- If you can see that the clothes need washing, do a load of washing and hang it out
- Focus on cleaning the main areas where mama hangs out with baby (imagine it being a workspace). It can be very stressful for a mama when she's preoccupied caring for baby, while staring at the mess around her in her ‘nest'.
- Take charge of making sure visitors don’t outstay their welcome, or turn up at inconvenient hours
- Hire a post-natal doula who can help out with baby care and attending to mama, providing nurturing, light housework and a someone to lean on in times of need
- Pick up take away (roast chicken and salad is a more healthy option) on the way home or cook dinner (after cooking dinner do the washing up).
Another helpful idea is to take over some of the household ‘admin' responsibilities, for example, paying bills, organising thank you notes, checking emails and making appointments. You could also take over grocery shopping (which can be difficult with a new baby) or do the shopping online.
Daniel Chable's Top Tips For Dads
Finally, here are Daniel's top tips for helping support a new mother:
- Don’t be solution focused or try to ‘fix' her – listen to her and seek to understand her. Give her advice if she asks for it.
- Try to nurture your wife, e.g. prepare, serve up, and clean up a meal at least once a week
- Don’t behave as though nothing has changed, for example, heading off to the pub to watch the footy or hang out and drink with the boys – you’re not an adolescent anymore and your partner needs you right now
- Be prepared to be around without actually believing you have to do stuff – this is very hard to do, but your partner really values you being there. Sometimes a baby only wants mama, and it can be very lonely.
- Roll your sleeves up and be prepared to learn. You need to be able to do everything your wife does, except breastfeeding (if she does that)
- Arrange opportunities for your wife to have some free (non-grocery shopping) time at least once a week, so she can actually leave the house and do something for herself
- Don’t expect that your partner is going to be passionate about sex for a while as she’s actually exhausted (more than she's ever been in her life) – what she needs is a soul mate
- Do make time to listen to her problems, concerns issues. Make a cup of tea or coffee and sit down with her; let her know that you hear what she says, be empathic to her difficult experiences, and don’t come up with answers
- Don’t talk to your wife as if she’s a bloke! She doesn’t think, feel and process things like blokes do
- Do remember to include humour in your relationship and don’t let your fights continue overnight.