Part Three of our August Self Care Series addresses non-birthing partners. Often overlooked in the postpartum period, dads and partners to birthing mothers are also at the mercy of extreme emotional and psychological shifts after the birth of a baby. Zoey Ryan interviews her husband to find out what kind of self-care measures can be helpful for new fathers and partners.
In preparing to write this article, not being a dad myself, I decided to interview my ‘resident expert’, my husband of 30 years. Not only was he my partner through the births of our three daughters, he supported me through postpartum depression. Now, he excitedly awaits the birth of his first grandson.
So, direct from a veteran dad, “New Dad Survival Tips According to Wayne”
For partners, here are some survival and self care tips for when your baby is born:
- At some point, you’re going to get home from a long day at work and your partner is going to hand you the baby and say ‘here, you take him/her, I need a break.’ The problem is that you may be exhausted from the struggles of your own day and feel unable to provide the requested break. But the baby’s mother is desperate for a few seconds to herself. How do you balance your needs with hers?
Self Care Tip: Try to find a way to recharge before walking in the door. You can intentionally use the time between work and home to create a ‘gap’ in your day: blast the music, sing, do a quick workout, whatever it takes to give you some space to clear your head before you step in the door. If it’s possible for you riding a bicycle to work can be a great way to get some exercise and some much needed alone time all at once. Additionally, you can use your lunch break to recharge your batteries with activities you enjoy. Make sure you keep up with the things you like to do, although it will likely be less often and for shorter periods of time in the beginning (you may need to put the 18 holes of golf on hold)!
- The second the little one arrives you change from a couple to a family unit and even though intellectually you knew it was going to happen, the reality of it when it hits can feel like a huge change, a huge new responsibility, emotionally, financially, and physically as the baby is so defenseless. Partners may feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and even resentful when faced with a gigantic pile of new responsibilities.
Self Care Tip: Remember that not every mom or dad actually feels that the baby is a ‘bundle of joy’ right away and that’s normal! The extra responsibility of a baby may feel pretty heavy. Non-birthing partners can experience postpartum depression like moms so if you feel sad, tired, anxious, or aren’t sleeping well for more than a few days in a row, it would be a good idea to talk to your family doctor. Dads are also free to call Pacific Post Partum Support Society. The phone lines are open for new dads too! It may feel that you are helping your partner by keeping your own struggles to yourself but the truth is that you are not helping anyone by hiding your pain. The best way to help your partner and yourself is to seek help for emotional and psychological distress after the birth of a child.
- The actual experience of birthing a baby and becoming a mom is intense and powerful and sometimes dads feel left out of the mom-baby dyad. In spite of pre-birthing conversations and agreements, I know I did!
Self Care Tip: Birthing women naturally make bonding hormones with the baby, and you can too by spending skin to skin time with your baby during cuddle time, naps or bath time, and later continuing special time taking baby for walks or simply holding your baby. Keep in mind that it can take longer for some people to bond with their babies and that is normal too. Your partner may seem like a different person to you and that’s because she is! It’s a big deal having and caring for a baby and likely for the first few months, 100% of her focus is going to be on that little one and you may feel like an outsider. Remember, this won’t last forever, she still loves you, but you may not be able to depend on her care and attention during the first months after having a baby. You will need to develop new self care rituals that can make up for that lack. Spend time with friends, especially other new dads if they’re around. Sharing your experience can have a huge positive effect.
So there you have it, my top three survival tips for early fatherhood, good luck and I’ll let you know how grandfatherhood goes!