Becoming a new dad can feel like a daunting task. In fact, most dads will admit that their fears start from the minute they leave the hospital with their newborn.
“When I drove home from the hospital with my wife and new baby, I don’t think I went faster than 40km/h the whole way,” admits first-time dad Neo. “My daughter just looked so tiny and fragile, and I had this strong desire to protect her.”
The truth is, those first few weeks with a newborn are daunting and can be even more overwhelming for new dads who haven’t yet had the chance to bond with their babies. Some dads even admit to feeling bewildered and unsure how to hold their new baby or what to do to help their partner.
The good news is, we’ve compiled a new dad survival guide with answers to your most pressing newborn questions.
How do I hold my newborn correctly?
To avoid injuring your little one’s head or neck, it’s important to cradle her neck and head in your hands and make sure it’s in a comfortable position (not hanging or straining in any way). Remember to support your baby’s head when holding her upright or laying her down. Your little one should start to develop better head and neck control at about five months.
If you’re going to try baby-wearing, check the age limit on the carrier and ensure you purchase the right one for newborns. It should offer good support for your little one’s head and neck, as well as her back. It’s also important to never allow your baby’s chin to drop onto their chest as this can restrict their airways, says the founder of Ubuntu Baba baby carriers, Shannon McLaughlin.
How do I calm my crying baby?
In the early days, babies cry for many reasons, as it’s their only form of communication, says Johannesburg-based midwife Sarah Buckley. If you’ve ruled out hunger, wetness (or dirty nappies) and illness (such as fever or stomach cramps), the best thing to do is to hold your little one close and avoid overstimulation, such as moving to a dark room with less light and sound. Because your baby has to process so many new experiences in the first few weeks and even months, she can easily become overwhelmed with sights, noises and smells, explains Sarah.
Babies can’t regulate their own body temperature initially, so it’s important to ensure your baby isn’t crying from feeling too hot or cold. John, dad of Nathan (2), says he realised his little boy was too hot when bundled up, even though he was born in autumn. “My wife and I were told that it’s safer to err on the side of a baby being a little cool than too hot,” he says. “Since we made that change, and took some layers off, he was much happier.”
How do I help my partner when she breastfeeds?
Just because your partner is breastfeeding, doesn’t mean you can’t get involved where possible. The American Academy of Paediatrics maintains that successful nursing depends on a variety of factors, many of which you can help with. For example, you can help your partner settle into the most comfortable breastfeeding position, as well as offer to bring her tea, water or juice as breastfeeding can be thirsty work. She might also have tension in her neck, shoulders or feet, so a massage will be appreciated! Remember, a calm, happy mom often results in a successful breastfeeding experience and this is where a dad comes in.
What can I do to help my partner emotionally?
The best thing you can do is ask your partner what she needs, says new dad Colin. “I was petrified about my first newborn encounter, as I’d never handled one before. My biggest fear was accidentally dropping him. But I felt a huge sense of relief as I overcame my fears that day, and I just took charge, got stuck in and helped where I could,” he explains.
Here are a few more tips to help your partner:
- Limit the number of visitors in the first few weeks if your partner is feeling overwhelmed. This will also allow you time to bond with your little one.
- Offer to put your baby to sleep, bath or burp her, so that your partner might have the chance to rest.
- If you don’t have a freezer stocked with frozen meals, offer to buy groceries and cook to take the pressure off mealtimes
- If you have more than one child, arrange play dates for your older children or amuse them at home so that your partner can focus on your new baby.
“I would encourage all new parents to arrange for a good midwife to do house visits in the first week after birth, says John. “Our midwife taught us how to prepare for sleep, swaddle our baby, bath him and feed him. This was the best thing we did.”
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike. Learn more about Tammy Jacks .