If this is your first baby, you will be adjusting to your new role as
father and family man. If you already have a family, the whole family
is adjusting to the new dynamic. Because every child is different, each
child is a unique and new adventure. Give yourself lots of unstructured
time to get to know your baby and adjust to your new lifestyle.
Babies remain otherworldly for the first few weeks after birth. They are
in the world, but are not yet quite here. Because your baby has just emerged
from the womb, you are adjusting to the new order after birth, and so is
your baby. (From here on, the masculine pronoun is used to refer to your
baby since no appropriate pronoun refers to both sexes.) Before birth,
your baby was held in the fetal position and wrapped securely by the womb,
where it was dark and warm. Other than the beat of your partner’s
heart and breath, sounds were muffled.
A newborn baby has never known hunger, cold, sight, or light. Your baby
was immersed in water in the womb, so he is also adjusting to the effects
of gravity and air. During your baby’s last few months in the womb,
his movement was tightly restricted. Swaddling him is familiar and comforting,
since he is used to being in a tight, warm space. Too much freedom of movement
can startle or distress babies. Using a receiving blanket to swaddle your baby
before you lay him down helps him go to sleep more quickly and sleep longer.
A newborn cannot support his head. When you pick up or hold your baby, support
his head. But babies are resilient. You don’t have to be overly cautious.
Relax and enjoy your infant. William, an experienced father, said it like this:
The first baby is kind of like glass. But the second one is kind of like
During this otherworldly phase, you will be getting to know your baby, and he
will be getting to know you. When you hold your newborn, he does not yet know
where his body ends and yours begins. Your body and his body are blended into
one experience for him.
It is a great gift to your baby if you eliminate as many distractions as possible.
But it is a greater gift to you if you eliminate distractions and focus on the job
at hand—getting to know your baby and adjusting to the new order.
BREASTFEEDING OR BOTTLE-FEEDING: SUPPORT YOUR PARTNER’S CHOICE
Most women choose to breastfeed (nurse) their baby, but some choose to bottle-feed.
If you have an opinion on how your baby should be fed, express yourself, but do so
in a way that gives your partner the freedom to find her own path. Feeding is one
of the primary activities in caring for the baby. Whether your partner breastfeeds
or bottle-feeds, she needs your committed support. When your partner feeds the baby,
make sure she is comfortable. Wedge pillows to support her arms and head; offer fluids
and nutritious snacks.
Some women have demanding jobs that prevent them from breastfeeding. Others cannot
nurse because of a chronic health problem, and some need medication that is harmful
to the baby and therefore nursing is contraindicated. Some women want to nurse, but
have so many difficulties with it that they cannot establish the practice.
Others simply do not want to nurse. They prefer to have their partners and other people
involved with the feeding, and choose not to tackle a job that no one else but the mother can do.
Nursing has become such a charged issue that women who do not or cannot nurse may feel guilty
or judged. Every woman has to navigate the way she has chosen. No woman should be judged for doing
it the way she has to do it. Since the beginning of humankind, some situations have required that
babies get milk from other sources than their mothers. If a baby is loved and nourished,
that’s all that matters. Everything else pales by comparison.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NURSING
Nursing is a tremendous undertaking of time, dedication, and energy—
more than either of you can possibly imagine. Your partner can spend eight
hours (or more) in a twenty-four-hour day nursing. Nursing is a full-time job.
It is also a practice and an art. While breastfeeding is natural, it does
not necessarily follow that your partner will intuitively know how to do it.
She needs instruction and support, as well as lots of fluids, good nutrition,
and rest to successfully nurse.
Even though it may appear that a mother is just sitting and nursing,
a nursing mother burns more calories and uses more energy than a man
who works in construction. Give her this special time, to the best of
your ability, without resentment or criticism. Your baby will flourish
because of it. And the favor will be returned to you and your family
It takes your partner and baby several weeks to become established
in the art of nursing. Your partner may have times when she doubts her
ability or desire to nurse. Your rock-solid confidence in her ability
can support her through those times and make the difference
between a successful, long-term nursing experience or a shortened,
Nursing is beneficial to mother and baby, and it helps the mother recover
from birth. In order for your partner to have a letdown and release the
milk from her breasts, her body must release the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin
helps the uterus contract back to its normal size and reduces postpartum
bleeding, as well as engendering feelings of love in your partner. However,
oxytocin cannot be released if your partner is anxious. Both mother and baby
become fretful if your partner is having difficulty with her letdown.
If your partner is having trouble establishing nursing (and most first-time
moms do), your calm, stable attendance can make the critical difference.
Encourage her to seek help from a lactation specialist, La Leche League, a
postpartum doula, or another experienced nursing woman. It takes about four
weeks for a woman and her baby to establish the art of nursing; after that
it becomes easier for both of them.