New Dads: What to Expect After Baby Arrives

Learn what's ahead once your baby is born.

From the WebMD Archives

You know that becoming a dad will change your life. What you can't know is how, and in what ways.

Nothing can fully prepare you for the joys and challenges of parenthood. But learning what to expect now may reduce the number of big surprises ahead. Here's a preview of how your newborn may change your relationship with your partner, your self-image, your sleep, and your sex life -- before the big day arrives.

And Baby Makes Three

Before your baby, you and your partner had more time for each other's needs and mutual enjoyment. Having a baby changes your priorities and gives you less spontaneity and control over your lives. Once you become parents, it's all too easy to get lost in your new roles as mom and dad. Remember that you were a couple first. Instead of viewing your baby as the center of your world, think of your baby's arrival as an event that enhances your life with your mate. Keep these things in mind as you ease into parenthood:

  • Make your relationship with your mate a priority. Many experts suggest that you and your partner spend some time together -- just the two of you -- every week or so. Sometimes that may be just sharing a cup of coffee or taking a trip to the grocery store together.
  • Agree with your mate to give each other "me" time. Most new moms -- especially if they have other kids at home -- truly benefit from having some time each week to take a walk, read a book, or just sit in peace.
  • Don't keep a tally of whose turn it is to do baby's diapers or chores around the house. Instead, pitch in whenever needed.

Becoming a Father

Both men and women face similar issues when becoming new parents, but men tend to focus more on financial-related responsibilities -- wills, college savings, issues related to the costs of raising a child -- and that can create some unique anxiety and stress.

Research shows that many men have conflicting feelings as they take on the role, and the identity, of a father.

  • The pride and joy of becoming a dad can be mixed with anxiety about losing personal independence.
  • Men may feel powerless over their new circumstances.
  • First-time dads may struggle to balance new parenting responsibilities with work and career goals.
  • Remember that you're not alone in your doubts and fears. It's normal to have mixed emotions, so try not to feel guilty about it. Talking with your partner can help you both air your feelings about the big life changes ahead.

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Making Time for Mom and Baby

As a new father, balancing your roles as parent, partner, and (possibly) bread-winner is tough. You suddenly have a lot more to do and a lot less time to do it in. These tips can help you learn how to handle it.

Pitch in with baby care. New babies seem so tiny and fragile that you may feel more comfortable hanging back and letting your partner handle things. But you need to dive in. The only way to become confident at giving baths, changing diapers, or rocking your baby to sleep is to do it. If you don't get involved right at the start, you'll lose an important chance to connect with your baby. Your partner is bound to start grumbling, too.

Connect with your partner. Take every chance you get to reconnect. When grandma can watch your baby for an hour, take your partner out for a walk or a drive

Remember that your work is important. If you're the chief breadwinner, you may feel guilty about going off to work while your partner is at home with the baby. Remember that you're fulfilling a key role by providing for your family.

Limit hours at work, if possible. While work may be necessary, now is not the time to add extra hours or go after a promotion. Delegate tasks and focus on efficiency to keep your work steady and predictable for the next few months. You and your partner need time to adjust.

Recruit help. Are you and your partner both feeling overwhelmed? Look for ways to shift some household responsibilities for awhile. If you can afford it, arrange for a temporary house cleaner. Ask friends or family to babysit for an hour or two or even grab take-out on your way home so you don't have to cook.

Take some time for yourself. Your partner isn't the only one who needs breaks. Don't get completely burned out juggling your responsibilities. Every once in a while, see friends to catch the game or get a drink. A few hours away can recharge you. That's good for you -- and it's good for your partner and baby, too.

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Tired of Being Tired All the Time

You may have pulled all-nighters before, but did you do it night after night? Of all the changes that come with new parenthood, lack of sleep may be one of the hardest.

Before your baby, you took it for granted that you could go to bed at night and sleep till morning. But newborns don't respect their parents' normal schedule:

  • Newborn babies sleep practically around the clock, but only for about 1 to 2 hours at a time.
  • Babies usually don't start sleeping through the night until they are at least 3 months old.
  • At 3 months, many babies will sleep for stretches of five hours at a time.
  • Normal, healthy babies cry about two hours a day until they are 6 weeks old.

This adds up to a lot of sleep loss for mom and dad.

If your partner breastfeeds solely, you may get to sleep for longer stretches during your baby's first weeks. But you'll also be making middle-of-the-night diaper changes and soothing your baby when he or she is crying but isn't hungry. How to get through it? Remember that this is temporary. Before you know it, your baby will start sleeping more than 2 hours at a time, and you'll all settle into a comfortable routine.

How a Woman Feels the First Weeks at Home

There's no doubt that childbirth affects women both emotionally and physically. The first few weeks especially your partner needs your support and understanding. To help you negotiate the early days of fatherhood, it helps to understand some of the changes your mate is experiencing.

Physical changes. Your partner will probably feel a bit fragile after the rigors of childbirth. Whether she gave birth by C-section or vaginally, she will be sore. Recovery from 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.

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What you can do:

  • 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. For now, 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 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.

Is There Sex After a Baby?

As the saying goes, you enter the delivery room as a couple and leave as a family. And it's true -- your relationship with your partner won't be the same as before. For many couples, that means sex comes to a screeching halt after their baby is born. What's a guy like you to do?

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Depending on whether she delivered vaginally or by caesarean section, it may take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks for her to heal completely, and even then she may not be ready for sex. If your mate is breastfeeding, her libido may be affected by hormone changes too -- and by affected we mean less interested in sex.

You may be surprised to find that she may not be the only one who's not in the mood. Both of you may be exhausted from late-night feedings and diaper changes. It is possible to be too tired for sex.

A dry spell may easier to endure by remembering:

  • The good news: Most new moms start having sex again by three months after having a baby.
  • The sobering news: You may feel less frustrated if you keep in mind that problems with sex are a normal part of recovery from giving birth. Most women also have some difficulty with sex during the same time period.
  • Your partner is coping with some big physical and emotional changes that can affect both her ability and desire to have sex. Respect her feelings about resuming sexual activity, and let her set the pace.
  • Many women say they delay having sex again because they're afraid of getting pregnant again. Talking with your partner about birth control options might help her get in the mood.

Taking It All in Stride

Yes, being a new dad can be hard sometimes, but the benefits of fatherhood will make it all worthwhile. Try to keep these things in mind as you work through the challenges of those first few months.

Lower your expectations. Don't expect to keep up with your normal daily routine as you're adjusting to your new baby. Some days, just taking a shower will be a major accomplishment.

Keep a positive attitude. Stay positive and work with your partner as a team. That's a great way to nurture your relationship.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on September 17, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

Ari Brown, MD, Capital Pediatric Group, Austin, Texas.

Paul Horowitz, MD, Discovery Pediatrics, Valencia, Calif.

Genesoni, L. Birth, December 2009; vol 36: pp 305-317.

American Academy of Pediatrics.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

Gay, C. Biological Research for Nursing, April 2004; vol 5: pp 311-318.

Abdool, Z. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 2009; vol 145: pp.133-137.

Brubaker, L. Obstetrics & Gynecology, May 2008; vol 111: pp 1040-1044.

© 2011 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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