Tips for Fathers: Helping a New Mom During Post-Natal Recovery
A few more new dad resources for the first year
Until your first baby is actually born, it’s impossible to truly appreciate how draining this baby can be on your energy. Especially in the first few weeks, your baby relies on you for absolutely everything. He or she still sleeps a LOT, but must have immediate attention upon waking at any time of day or night.
In the United States, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) permits new parents to take up to three months off of work to take care of a new baby. Unfortunately, there are not many families that can afford to have both parents home for that entire time. New fathers may only get a couple of weeks at home, or even less, while working mothers may be required to return to work as soon as they’ve recovered enough to do so safely.
For all of you dads and non-birth parents out there, you probably noticed the changes in your significant other since the day she came home from the hospital. Having a new baby causes a roller-coaster of emotions, and hormonal changes following delivery can cause even more emotional and physical stress, topped off by exhaustion from the birth itself. On top of it all, you have to be able to take care of this helpless baby. Things will eventually get back to normal. In the meantime, there are things you can do to help even if you already had to go back to work full-time.
Help with housework
Yes, I know you’re tired too, especially if you just came home from a full work day. It’s not necessary to tie on the apron the moment you walk in the door, and you don’t have to keep everything spotless. Contrary to popular belief, it’s okay to get a little disorganized when you have more important things to take care of—like a newborn baby.
That said, it doesn’t take much to help a lot on some of the essential housework. You can’t let the trash or the dishes pile up, and laundry still has to be done. Focus on the essential tasks for healthy and hygienic living, and even just spend 30 minutes a day pitching in with daily chores. Sure, you may have a standing agreement that you’ll work outside the house and she stays home to take care of the household and baby, but that doesn’t preclude helping when it’s needed. Every new parent seems to underestimate how much time and energy will be devoted to childcare alone. Don’t be afraid to ask her what will be the most helpful; as she’s recovering, she may give anything not to have to wrestle a heavy garbage bag out the door or spend that half-hour in front of a sink full of dirty dishes.
Let her know she’s appreciated
She’s struggling against her own hormones right now, and probably has sleep deprivation thrown on top. You’re working hard to keep the family finances afloat, which she no doubt appreciates. That said, it’s easy for a new mother to feel invisible, abandoned and forgotten in the flurry of the first few weeks. Take a moment to just give her a quick call on your break, send her an email to let her know you’re thinking of her, or stop for a flower or her favorite treat on the way home from work. It may not seem like much, but it can really brighten her day.
Ease the daily burden
Regardless of which of you usually cooks, consider bringing home a ready-made dinner every now and then. She may be too tired to even want to eat, much less prepare food and clean up after the cooking. A pizza or well-timed takeout might be profoundly appreciated.
Wake up at least once with the baby during the night. You may have to get up early for work, but that small interruption in the night’s sleep can make a huge difference to someone who’s healing from delivery. Even waking up to bring the baby to a breastfeeding mother is a huge help. Bonus points if you stay awake long enough to take baby back to his or her own bed if you’re not co-sleeping.
You may have heard that very young babies only do three things. We’ve already discussed eat and sleep, so here’s the third one. There’s no end to that procession of dirty diapers. Trust me, no one actually enjoys changing diapers. Jump in there and help with the changing, even if it’s only one a day. Every little break helps ease the stress and exhaustion.
Don’t forget to spend time with each other
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the new baby and forget about everything else. Just remember that when this baby is grown up and gone, you’ll still have each other. Don’t let your relationship go by the wayside. As soon as you’re both comfortable with letting the new baby out of sight, find a reliable babysitter to watch baby for a couple of hours.
Chances are, you’ll both feel like you’ve been through a meat grinder since baby was born, so consider just making it a “couple’s night in.” Get a good movie, put on some popcorn, snuggle up and enjoy the comfort of relaxing together without having to worry about your baby. By this point, it’s probably something you both sorely need.
Finally, just remember that the little things really are what counts. Keep your eyes open, and watch for the little opportunities to pitch in and ease the burden. It may take her several weeks or months to fully recover from delivery, so just try to be patient and know that she’s recovering from a major life event. Pregnancy and delivery takes an enormous toll, both physically and mentally, but the extra effort to help now will be remembered and appreciated for a lifetime.
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