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Advice for dads

Father with baby and toddlerIt can take a little while for first-time fathers to adjust to life with a baby.

Women don't get much choice - they basically have to learn how to be mothers - but initially you won't necessarily have the same level of physical connection with your baby and may feel like rather a ham-fisted spare part.

(The same may be true of any non-dad partner, so for 'Dad', read partner, co-parent or significant other.)

Luckily for you, you're not bleeding from your nethers and nipples while buffeted by hormones, but neither are you awash with soothing oxytocin to get you through the first few shattering days. It's not surprising, given your lack of lactating breasts, that your new baby who needs to be fed and comforted may at times seem like an insoluble puzzle.

And if you're unable to settle your baby so that your partner can have a moment to themselves or a nap, it can be easy for said sleep-deprived partner to start seeing you as an incompetent enemy.

Upshot: you feel left out, she feels unsupported and both of you feel exhausted. But don't hire the divorce lawyers just yet.

How dads can be more involved in caring for their baby

There's likely to be an order in which a baby bonds. He will bond with his primary carer first (ie mum) and then, more slowly, with a secondary carer (ie you). It can help a bit with the bonding process for your partner to wear one of your shirts or T-shirts so that to your baby it smells of mum.

Advice on bonding from a Dadsnetter
Don't expect the first six months to be a bed of roses with lots of fun.
Expect it to be bewildering, knackering and at times downright boring.
Expect to play an important but ultimately peripheral supporting role.
View the first six to 12 months as the start-up investment. You are investing your energy, your time, your sleep and a chunk of your sanity. You are investing in new skills and in your new team.
Don't expect any returns until after the first year. The returns will come, though, and by God, they are pure magic!!" DaddyJ

It's important that you get the space to become competent in your own way - but try to accept it may be difficult for your partner, whose life has been dominated by the baby for the past 40 weeks or so, to relinquish control. 

If your partner is breastfeeding and also able to express, it can be a great relief for her - and a bonding experience for you - to give your baby a bottle. Obviously, if your baby is being formula fed, you can share the feeding (and, yes, that includes nights).

Taking your baby out in a sling can be a pleasure for you both (and you may get admiring looks from passing laydeez, which is always good for morale).

If you can't help with the feeding side of things, then giving your baby a bath can be an enjoyable bit of physical contact, and another way of giving your partner a short break.

Once you're back at work, you may find that your baby resists settling for you, even if previously you've been able to soothe him, but you've just got to persevere - and your partner has to let you. As one Mumsnetter puts it: "Try to give your husband / partner the space to find his own way. Tell him what you do (not in the heat of the moment but at another time) and encourage him to do the same, but when it comes to it, if you possibly can, just stay out of it."

How to have a baby and stay sane
  • Don't end up with one parent doing all the caring and the other doing all the earning unless you really cannot avoid it.
  • Both spend time alone with your baby. Both become competent and confident with him/her and learn your different parenting styles.
  • Mothers: put yourself first sometimes (and fathers – let them do this). Mothers who make the children such a big part of their lives that everything else is forgotten often become depressed.
  • Fathers: move mountains to get flexible work, even if it gives you only a few extra hours with your baby every week.
  • Talk and listen. Don't just barge into the role you think is yours – find out if your partner is happy with what this means for them. Things will then feel fairer, you will be more loving and less stressed – which will also be good for your sex life.
  • Make time for each other and do things you used to do before you had children. A happy couple relationship means happier children.
  • Don 't feel guilty about working – nearly all mothers and fathers for all of human history have had to work.
  • If moving house could mean a smaller mortgage or more involved grandparents, think hard about it.
  • Each agree to do the one task around the house that the other likes least. If you can afford it, pay for some of the tasks to be done for you.
  • Extract from Baby's here! Who Does What? by Duncan Fisher

Division of household labour

Previously contested but not deal-breaker relationship issues can quickly become critical when co-caring for a baby. 

There are three main areas that cause aggro and resentment, according to the Mumsnet Talk boards:

  • Housework
  • Caring for the baby versus having time to do your own thing
  • Couple time

So that neither you nor your partner becomes a simmering mass of festering resentment, you need to work out who's doing what in your new family set-up so that domestic chores are divided up fairly. And you need to work out a rota for spelling each other, so that you both get a chance to do something non-baby related (however short).

Luckily, for the domestically challenged among you, there is a school of Mumsnet thought which takes the view that to maintain a relationship with a decent man who happens to be a slob, then life is easier if one does not allow oneself to feel wound up by the small stuff (the very big heap of small stuff) all the time.

Sleep (or lack of it)

Different people have different sleep patterns and requirements, and some parents may be able to make up a bit of sleep by napping when others can't. What is true is that it is not right for one parent to shoulder the entire burden of sleep deprivation.

If it is possible for you to do the night feed, because your baby is taking something from a bottle, it's generally right and proper for you to do some night duty. It obviously depends on your circumstances - if you're a brain surgeon or working with dangerous machinery and need quality shut-eye, night duty could be on your days off or weekends only.

Lie-ins should be distributed equally, and the non-lying-in partner must make a genuine effort to facilitate the lie-in. The same applies to other bits and bobs of rest and recuperation. 

A lot of this parenting lark is about bearing in mind that the hard bits end. And then some new hard bit begins. But at least it's a different one.

What dads (and mums) say about sharing baby care 

  • Try skin-to-skin contact. It's very hard not to feel something for another person when there's not even clothing in the way. Also, it's hard to drop a child who's lying on your chest. MrJustAbout
  • We persisted by my wife expressing milk in the morning, so I could bottlefeed our daughter in the evening, with the long lingering eye contact and positive associations that develops. Daddster
  • When our daughter was born my husband was nervous and did the whole on-the-lap-staring business. He didn't like to talk to her or pull faces or be silly. He didn't think to check the nappy or check whether she was warm or cold. The turning point was a walk on their own and she poo-ed and he had to change her without me telling him or 'suggesting' what to do. From then I think he then felt proud to be a dad and just took to it easier. ALovelyBunchOfCocunuts
  • It's not how much housework / childcare an individual does that matters, it's whether his/her good points compensate for the bad ones. SO if you're married to someone who hates housework but is always available to drive you and your friends and relatives everywhere, a constant sympathetic ear, makes you laugh and is fab in bed, then you could probably overlook the slobbiness. However, someone who does f*** all round the house, but whines that your standards are not high enough is probably not a keeper. madamez
  • I used to find the late evening time the most soul destroying, so my husband used to deal with the 9-11pm slot, whilst I went to bed. I then dealt with 11pm-6am unless I was having a particularly horrific night, then all bets were off and DH was kicked out of bed to help, work or no work! Undercovamutha
  • We try and give each other little breaks during the day (weekend) or early evening. It's lovely to take it in turns to sneak off with the paper and a hot drink. onepieceofbrusselssprout


  • If you're a new dad and it's all A Bit Much, don't forget you can get advice and support on Mumsnet Talk in Parenting or (if you need some male company) Dadsnet

Last updated: about 3 years ago