A New Father's Guide to the First Weeks at Home
The day you've dreamed about for months is finally here. You and your partner are home with your new baby -- you're a family! So far it's been a wild ride. Nothing prepared you for the intensity and wonder of childbirth. But now that you're home, your wife is a bit cranky and sore, and neither of you is getting any sleep.
There's no doubt that childbirth affects women both emotionally and physically. These first few weeks especially she needs your support and understanding. To help you negotiate the early days of fatherhood, here's a guide to some of the changes your mate is experiencing and how you can be there for her.
Physical changes. Your partner probably feels a bit fragile after the rigors of childbirth. Whether she gave birth by C-section or vaginally, she will be sore. Recovery from a C-section requires that she limit her activity for a few weeks. If she delivered vaginally, she may have some bleeding and vaginal discharge for several weeks, longer if she had a vaginal tear. She may have painful urination or involuntary leakage of urine, called urinary incontinence. On top of all that she may have problems with constipation or hemorrhoids from the strain of delivery. It's enough to shorten anyone's fuse.
What you can do:
- Pitch in as much as possible.
- Become a master at changing diapers and bathing your baby.
- Help out by doing the household heavy lifting: grocery shopping, laundry, and meals.
- Be patient, especially when it comes to physical contact. It may take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks for her to heal completely, and even then she may not be ready for sex. Let her take the lead, and show affection with your hugs and kisses. She also may appreciate the occasional foot rub.
Breastfeeding may not be a breeze. While it seems like it should come naturally, breastfeeding isn't easy for all moms and babies. Your partner may get frustrated if your baby has trouble feeding. She may have sore nipples at first while your baby learns to latch on properly. Some women get clogged milk ducts, which can be a painful problem. And because the baby needs to eat every 2 to 3 hours, mom isn't getting a lot of sleep either.
What you can do:
- Encourage her to sleep when the baby sleeps.
- Make it your job to handle nighttime diaper changes.
- If she is using a pump, learn how to clean it.
Emotional changes. Some new moms have bouts of sadness and anxiety, known as the "baby blues." Feeling sad, anxious, or down can be a normal part of adjusting to motherhood. However, if these feelings get worse, are severe, or last more than a couple of weeks, she may have postpartum depression, and she should talk about it with her doctor.
What you can do:
- If you notice she's been a bit down, ask her how she's feeling. Just talking with you may help a lot.
- Encourage her to take breaks and get out of the house while you watch the baby, even for just a short time.
- If you notice that she has symptoms of postpartum depression, encourage her to get help. She may not realize that she's depressed.
Remember that this is temporary. Before you know it, your wife will feel more like her old self again, your baby will start sleeping more than two hours at a time, and you'll all settle into a comfortable routine as a new family.