So everything went okay, and now you have a beautiful new baby. Your life has changed, almost certainly for the better, but it might not seem that way at first…
Centre of attention
It might seem to be stating the obvious that your new baby is going to be the latest all-singing, all-dancing (and all-pooping) star of the show in your house, but it’s surprising how few people realise what this entails. Your baby’s mother (see, she used to be your partner, didn't she?) is likely to be preoccupied with the struggle of adapting to parenthood, and some of the attention that you took for granted (perhaps without even thinking of it as ‘attention’, like asking your opinion or remembering what you like to eat) is likely to be in short supply for a while.
Bonding with baby
You may have felt about as useful as a chocolate nappy at the birth (let’s face it, no amount of encouragement and forehead mopping can really take the place of actually going through the process) and chances are you won’t feel too confident about handling your baby to begin with. But don’t leave it too late. So long as you’re careful, you’ll soon get the feel for lifting, cuddling, bathing and changing. Don’t expect it to feel perfectly natural at first, but with a little bit of practice and attention, you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Some, though certainly not all, mothers can have a tendency to take charge where baby matters are concerned. They’ve studied the literature, asked questions of doctors and health visitors and may well have many years of experience of close observation of other parents and their offspring. And some, though certainly not all, men can find that they feel it’s just easier to let them get on with it – she’s so good at it, I don’t want to get in the way.
Be very careful if this sounds like you.
Tempting as it may seem to cherry pick the good (playtime, bathtime) while avoiding the bad (feeding time) and excommunicating the ugly (nappy changing) it’s important to get involved in all aspects of your baby’s life.
It’s all too easy to get out of the habit of dealing with your baby, and this can lead to estrangement and distance between you, not to mention simmering resentment from your other half that you seem to be only interested in the fun stuff without the hard graft – even if she actively discourages you from doing it.
Whenever possible, make the time and effort to do stuff with your baby, take your share of the feeding and nappy changing, and don’t be afraid to spend time alone with your baby – this is an invaluable way to help you to understand your baby’s language, both vocal and physical. It’s time well spent, and once you start getting those little smiles after three to four weeks, you may find yourself surprised at the strength of the bond that develops.
It’s perfectly natural to worry when your baby cries. You’ll probably find that you’ll worry when they don’t and that you’ll be tempted to buy all the latest keep-safe gimmicks from baby monitor to air de-ioniser and beyond. Worry will become your constant companion and it’s certainly easy to find plenty to worry about. But don’t forget that this is a perfectly natural state of affairs. Your concern will help keep your baby safe, but don’t let it take over your life – there’s no benefit in damaging your own health through worrying about your baby’s. Babies are resilient creatures, and incredible as it may seem when you look at that tiny body, billions of them have grown up to be healthy adults. Keep an eye on them, follow the advice of your health visitor and doctor, and generally they’ll be fine.
One of the hardest aspects of dealing with a new baby, as any parent will tell you, is the lack of sleep. New-borns need feeding regularly of course, and require constant attention round the clock. If your other half is breast feeding then you might think you’re off the hook – that’s obviously not a job you can do. But she can also express milk into a feeder which you can use in the wee hours to give her a bit of a break. It’s good if you can work out a routine to balance each other’s sleeping hours. Assuming that you go back to work first, it makes sense for you to do less night feeding during the week, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help out at the weekends.
Lack of sleep tends to be the primary cause of strife around this time. Considering the average baby requires about 15 hours sleep a day, it’s amazing how little of it seems to fit in with your schedule.
None of us are at our best when the only shut-eye we’ve had amounts to little more than lengthy blinking. But it’s important to be aware that this is the reason why you’re arguing, and that this phase will pass – typically in around eight to ten weeks, by which time most babies are making it through the night (well, maybe five hours of it…).
Yes, there is sex after baby (eventually). You may want to get on with siring that potential football team, or just want to have fun, but you probably won’t be able to for at least six weeks – that’s when your other half will get a check-up to make sure she’s healed and recovered from the birth. If all’s well, then you can get back to dancing on the mattress.
Though of course, there is another factor in this, and your other half will let you know when she’s ready. You can expect tiredness to be a factor in determining when either of you feel like it but hang in there, don’t rush things, and the desire will come back.
So is it worth it?
99 per cent of dads will tell you it is, and they really mean it. But it won’t just happen around you, you need to be involved, and you need to be part of a family. Contrary to popular belief, science has not so far been able to isolate an innate female parenting gene that allows them to instinctively know how to treat children. Of non-parents, women may in general take more of an interest than men, they may even have been told more by their mothers, but her skills and understanding will still come from training on the job, just like yours will.
And finally, don’t devalue the time you spend with your children. It might not put a roof over your head or gain kudos with your workmates, but it really is true that, like sex, you get out of it what you put into it. Welcome to your new world.