“7 Things a New Dad Needs to Know About His Spouse After the Baby’s Birth” originally appeared on The Good Men Project and was reprinted with permission.
Having a baby is all about change. I knew that going into it. There are the changes they tell you about in books, like shifting priorities and adjusting to the needs of a third person in the house. Then there are the changes your friends who are parents warn you of, like sleepless nights, changing diapers, and baby toys around every corner of the house. As a husband and new parent, I wanted to make sure I could support my family, no matter what changes we faced. Part of this was recognizing the fact that no matter how many books I read or friends I talked to, I’d never be able to anticipate everything, and that I’d have to adjust to and learn from the changes as they came.
I was pretty scared leading up to the birth of my daughter, Alexis. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to handle the changes she would bring. It’s been a learning lesson for sure, and I’m amazed at all the change our little one has brought to our lives.
Some of them have been typical: we didn’t get much sleep in the first several months; we’ve both had to adjust our priorities; and Rujeko and I have forgotten what it’s like to go out on a date. But those are the changes we anticipated. Less predictable were all the changes my lovely wife would go through.
As the husband and father in all this, there were a lot of changes that didn’t necessarily concern me. Men get off easy; it’s not our bodies that change dramatically during pregnancy, and we’re not the ones who have to endure all sorts of other physical and emotional changes after the birth. But we men do carry part of the load, and there are many dramatic changes that husband and wife endure together once a new baby is born.
It’s been 13 months since our little Alexis was born, and although I am still learning, I’d like to take the knowledge I’ve gained so far and pass it on to fellow husbands and fathers out there welcoming new babies into their lives. Here are 7 things men should know about their wives after the baby arrives.
1. She’ll be more critical of herself.
Yep — she’ll observe herself in the mirror more often, and she’ll see the physical changes she’s gone through. Those changes aren’t subtle to begin with, and they’ll be even more magnified in her eyes. You’ll need to be there for her, reassuring her that she’s still the most beautiful woman in the world, and that even though she might be telling herself her body isn’t what it used to be, you genuinely believe otherwise.
2. She’ll expect more of you.
You’re not a relief pitcher; you’re the starter AND finisher. That means you need to have your game face on at all times. Your wife will automatically expect you to step up to the plate and save the game, every single time. Babies may be small, but their accessories sure take up a lot of space. Once the baby comes home, there are suddenly diapers to change, bottles to sterilize, tons of laundry to do, groceries to buy, and frequent runs to the store. Be ready to sacrifice your sports car for a larger car, or your man cave for the baby’s playroom — and that is OK.
3. She’ll assume you know what to do.
Not only will she want you to step up to the plate, but she’ll expect you to know what to do. She has to, after all, so it’s only fair. Do your homework. Know what to do in the middle of the night when she falls asleep after nursing the baby for a while and it’s your turn to put the baby back in her crib, change her diaper, or prepare her bottle for the next feeding. And don’t rely on Google for advice; it’s inconsistent and isn’t based on facts or research. Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ll practice and you’ll get better. Look into Dr. Harvey Karp’s video “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” which draws from new research and will make life a lot easier for new parents.
4. She’ll need more reassurance.
Between physical changes, hormone fluctuations, and lack of sleep, new moms have enough to think about without having to worry about complimenting you because you feel neglected. You just need to be there for her, telling her she looks great (even though she probably hasn’t slept for days), she’s doing an amazing job with the baby, and that you love her no matter what. This hard time will pass and a few months after the baby is born, she’ll start to have more time for you. She’ll appreciate you for being patient, reassuring, and kind.
5. She’ll rely on you more.
Stepping up to the plate means you become more reliable, and that’s a good thing. My wife wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle a tiny baby at first, but then she realized that I “kind of knew” what I was doing. So she started to trust me more. It meant I had to do more, but that’s OK. This is no time to be selfish; being a parent is not about you anymore, it’s about the baby. So if the dishes are piling up, laundry needs to be done, and groceries need to be bought, put on your apron and get to it. She’ll appreciate it, and she’ll stop harping on you to do more around the house.
6. She might have postpartum depression.
This is something nobody tells you about, because it’s a tough topic. It can be very serious and will affect your relationship in ways you may not imagine. But here’s the thing: it’s temporary in most cases. It can be extremely frustrating and challenging to cope with depression when you have a new baby, the house is messy, and there’s a laundry list of tasks that need to get done right now. No matter how temporary the episode is, recovery will take longer than you want it to. Your job is to ride it out with her. Don’t tell her things like, “You have to get over this,” or “This should be the happiest time of your life.” Just tell her you love her and give her your support. And pay even more attention to tips #1 – 4.
7. You won’t be the most important person in her life anymore.
As a new mother, your wife has one goal, and that’s to make sure the baby is safe and happy. The tiny little human she brought into your lives will be the most important little person in her life, and that’s OK. You might feel jealous of the baby, which will make you feel terrible about yourself, because how can you have this reaction to a small, defenseless baby? Just know that it’s normal and there are things you can do. Start by creating solid bonding time with your child, independent of your wife. This really worked for me. Once you’ve done that, there won’t be anything left to be jealous of, because your baby will become the center of your universe as well.
Once you have a baby, all bets are off. Suddenly the baby’s schedule is more important than your favorite TV show. In fact, it won’t be long before the baby’s schedule dictates yours. Many of your friends will stop inviting you over. They don’t have kids themselves, and they don’t necessarily want them around when they’re watching the game or playing cards. Your house chores will increase, along with your number of dirty dishes, loads of laundry, and crumbs on the floor. The best thing you can do is tackle the responsibility together. Prepare for the changes you know will come and be open to learning from the changes you don’t.
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