A Letter to Fathers
I’ve had five babies and I’ve been a doula and owner of MothersCare Doula Services since 1993. This letter is long overdue. I have seen and continue to see the challenges new fathers have. Your job is so important, but our culture doesn’t really acknowledge the challenges Fathers have and their irreplaceable role in the lives of their babies.
Your job is so important! Your baby needs you as much as he or she needs its mother. This fact you need to know and remember. It is easy to feel a bit displaced when your newborn arrives. The joy is so real, yet it can be so overwhelming. You helped to create this new little human who needs you so much! Needs you for what?
- Love – while it seems like the newborn only needs its mother in the early weeks, you are needed as well. Yes, the newborn is very dependent on its mother for feeding and nurturing. Especially if the new mom is nursing, this relationship is very intense and constant. One of your values as the father is that you are a non-feeding nurturer. This means that your baby learns about love apart from food. You don’t smell like breastmilk. A crying hungry baby will often calm down for its father, because Dad doesn’t smell like milk and can be soothing and calming. He can take his crying newborn and let his spouse regroup as you both try to figure out what is needed. The crying will pass. A newborn cry is designed to make you both react – NOW! A baby always stops crying.
- Burping – my husband got so much joy from holding our babies after I nursed them to burp them and hold them upright for 15-20 minutes for the milk to settle. This gives your baby’s mother a break and gives you some important time to bond with your baby.
- While you may not be able to feed your newborn, bathing can be “your thing”. Bathing your baby gives you some loving time with him or her. Some Dads come home from work and bathing is their time with their baby. Many fathers keep this ritual even past the newborn stage up with their toddlers until their child is old enough to bathe himself.
- Protection – one of the main jobs of the Father is protecting his family. While this does not involve fighting off hungry animals or males from another tribe, your instincts to protect your wife and baby are real and important. Is your wife or partner stressed out from too many visitors? Be a go-between. If you see she is tired, you can encourage her to take a nap and let her know you will sit with any company so she can rest. You can be the one to limit the visitors. Is she stressed that things are getting messy in the home? Get some help with cleaning, cooking, laundry and/or with organizing things for a few weeks. Day Doulas can be good for this as they will do whatever is needed to keep things going and relieve stress in those first few weeks. If family or friends are offering to help, let them! Give them specifics as to what your family needs. People love to help and love to feel needed! It’s a wonderful way to bond with others and give them practical ways to support your family.
- I have always admired the fathers who, when I arrived at night for the first time as the postpartum night doula, would sit me down and quiz me. Many times, the exhausted mom would call and arrange for some night help. While the Dad may have been on board, in theory, when faced with going to bed and leaving a stranger with his new baby, many a father had to pause a bit and get some reassurance that I could be trusted with his baby and his home. I have left my car keys with first-time Dads so that they knew I couldn’t abscond with their baby or at other times I would encourage him to put the house alarm on for reassurance. One night of sleep and a happy, rested partner has cured the anxiety of many fathers. The anxiety is real and important. It is part of a Father’s job to protect his family.
- Your baby needs you for the rest of his or her life. Men can sometimes forget this. The best gift you can give your kids is to love their mother and keep your partnership strong. This gives children safety and security. Feeling safe is the first thing a person needs to grow up happy and healthy. You’d think love was the most important thing that kids need. Not true. Feeling safe is first, love is second. If you can stay together as an intact family everybody WINS. If this is not possible, you need to remember that kids need both parents for their whole life. The need for mom or dad swings back and forth for children at different stages of their life. The newborn needs its mother as its primary human, but then when they are about three, the father is King and children want to be with their dads and it becomes “Mom, who?” This is real. You need to remember this even if you are living apart.
Your role in your baby’s life is monumental. That is not an over-statement. Cherish your role. Dads can sometimes learn best about caring for their baby when given the time to be alone with their newborn to figure it out. It can be overwhelming for first-time fathers to feel comfortable with their baby. Sometimes new moms are so protective they can sometimes be critical of even Dad which can undermine his confidence. The best way to get comfortable with your baby is to spend time with him or her. One way to help your wife get more sleep and for you to have time to bond with your baby is for you to give the baby the last feeding of the night. So, if your wife is breastfeeding, after about 2 weeks it would be good for her to pump one bottle of milk a day for you to give the baby at the last feeding of the evening. So, if your wife feeds the baby between 6p-8p and goes to sleep, you can give your baby its next feeding between 9p-11p. This would give Mom a good 3 or 4 hours of sleep. She will feel so good to get some uninterrupted sleep and it will make a big difference in how she feels physically and mentally the next day.
I’ve seen many couples fall in love with each other in a whole new way during those first weeks after bringing the baby home. It is lovely to see the transformation from being a couple to being a family. You are an important part of this transformation. Congratulations and enjoy the ride!!!
About Susan Shepard
I am the owner/partner of MothersCare Doula Services in CT. I am a Postpartum doula and my business partner, Sheila Marley is a Labor doula. MothersCare places both Labor and Postpartum doulas with CT Families. I am the mom of five beautiful children, one set of twins. The best quote for me as a young mother and the catalyst for MothersCare is “It’s not weakness to know you need help, it’s wisdom.”