Surviving birth – for first-time dads

There are books and talks by the hundreds out there for new mums, but what about new dads? Some dads can feel a bit bewildered and left out during the pregnancy stage but there is plenty to get involved in during the labour, birth and first few weeks. Drawing from my experience as a midwife and newborn consultant, here are some top tips for new dads.

Birth

When it is close to your partner’s due date, make sure you are familiar with the hospital, where the birthing suite is and have a few routes worked out, depending on traffic. You may be a bit flustered in the moment so it’s helpful to have a plan ahead of time. Make sure also that your baby’s car seat is in the car – you can’t leave the hospital without it! Keep your petrol topped up and your phone charged so you can be contacted when your partner goes into labour and then be ready to spread the good news!

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You have an important role in the birth as your partner’s number one supporter. This could involve massaging her back, putting a damp cloth on her forehead, holding her hand, giving her sips of water (if she is allowed), encouraging her and making sure she knows you are there with her. Follow her lead as to what would be the most comforting for her. You are also her advocate. If there are any decisions you and your partner need to make, ask questions to make sure that you both understand your options and then assert your decisions, especially at this time when your partner is feeling vulnerable.

Sometimes labour can be long so make sure that you look after yourself too. If it’s early on in labour or your partner has drifted off to sleep, say post epidural for example, don’t be afraid to take a quick breather if you feel you need it or take a nap too. Make sure that you keep yourself well-hydrated and fed – you are very important in this process so keep your energy up! She will be drawing strength from you.

When it’s time for the actual birth, my advice to all new dads-to-be is to stay away from the ‘business end’. Trust me, you will see more than enough from where you are standing at your partner’s head. You will be asked if you would like to cut the umbilical cord, and most dads choose to do so. It is a lot tougher to cut than you would expect – it takes a couple of goes to get through it but don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt mum or the baby, and it’s a special way to be involved in the birth.

After the birth

After the birth, skin-to-skin contact is encouraged for mum and baby, but it’s great for dads too! If you get a chance, take your nude baby and cuddle him or her on your bare chest with a nice warm blanket over you both. This is such a great way of bonding with your new baby and has many other benefits, not to mention giving mum a wee break!

Breastfeeding is not as easy as it looks. Both mum and baby have to learn how to do it, so have patience and encourage and support your partner as much as you can. Keep her well-fed and hydrated because breastfeeding uses up a lot of calories and she needs to keep her energy up. If your partner is struggling with the feeding, please get help from your midwife or lactation consultant sooner rather than later – the faster you get onto it, the better for all of you!

Due to the huge surge and drop in hormones post-birth, be prepared for an emotional time with your partner. She has been through a huge event so be extra attentive and supportive, especially in those first few days.

The first few weeks

Once you get home, be sure to be attentive to your family’s needs. Limit the visitors if needed, and enjoy those precious few early days together as a family.

Dads tend to be the best swaddlers of their babies, generally wrapping their babies a bit tighter and more securely than mums. This usually leads to a better sleep for your baby, after all, they have just come from the womb which is a pretty tight environment! Many dads favourite time of day is baby bathtime. You will be taught how to safely bath your baby during your postnatal stay in hospital and lots of dads claim bathtime as own their special thing to do with baby.

Let me finish by encouraging all the new dads and dads-to-be. Although you might sometimes feel a bit sidelined and forgotten during pregnancy, know that you are exceptionally important and have a special role to play in your family during the birth and newborn period. Your support and encouragement is exactly what your partner needs.


Attend a Toolbox parenting course

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About Author

Grace Nixon

Grace Nixon, BHSc (Midwifery), otherwise known as The Baby Lady, is an Auckland-based newborn specialist. Using her skills and experience gained both as a midwife and nanny over the past 10 years, she helps new parents prepare and adjust to life with their new arrival. She also runs Practical Parenting Antenatal classes that focus on both birth and life at home with a baby. See more at thebabylady.co.nz or practicalparentingantenatal.com.

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