5 Tips for the First Week of Fatherhood
Guys, get ready for the weirdest week of your life.
One moment you’ll feel this indescribable pride: like you’re literally on the top of the world...like you’ve climbed Mt. Everest with your wife while simultaneously carrying a new baby and a cup of coffee up the mountain.
But the next moment you’ll feel so clueless, dumb, and inept - and the entire world is somehow making fun of you like a zoo animal getting laughed at by the people behind glass.
I believe becoming a father is the biggest life change a man can experience. Marriage is a huge shift, yes. That’s when a man really begins experiencing new levels of sacrifice, humility, and true partnership. It’s when you learn that love isn’t a feeling. It’s work. It’s commitment. It’s actionable.
But nothing will demand more from you than fatherhood. It pushes you to the limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. A wise mentor of mine once told me, “Marriage is designed to kill the selfishness in you. And parenthood will kill any selfishness leftover!”
To me, that’s the beauty in it. And it becomes more and more real to me every day.
Now, if you’re a soon-to-be-dad, you might just be wondering, “What do I do first? Like literally - what happens after we take the baby home?”
Well, there’s no formula for how postpartum will start for each family, but here are five tips I give new dads to take to heart long before the big day arrives:
Tip 1: Take the Longest Paternity Leave You Can
Paternity leave is a hot topic here in the states because so many employers are way behind the rest of the developed world on this issue. Maternity leave is in the same boat! But this post is not a space to debate the issue so I just want to cut to the practical tip for dads to hear:
Plan for the maximum days you can. Hopefully that amounts more than just a week. What if there are complications? What if she’s struggling? Or what if things are going great and you just want to enjoy the beautiful moments with your newborn? Our workaholic culture in the U.S. makes us feel unproductive if we’re not clocking hours, but that’s ridiculous. Learning to be a dad is very productive in my opinion!
And here’s another thing you need to know about postpartum: things can change drastically each day. Baby might sleep and feed great one day and then start acting abnormal another. Mom might feel elated and then quickly swing into some difficult emotions. The hormonal shifts are real and it makes adjustment to motherhood so much harder.
And your emotions might fluctuate, too. What I’m really trying to get across is that it’s okay to take the time - no matter your reasoning.
I’ve witnessed women having some serious resentment because their husbands didn’t plan accordingly with work and were forced to go back to work only a day or two after the birth. And in most cases, it was preventable. The guys just didn’t make plans - or were just ignorantly unaware. Don’t be that guy!
The good thing about my strategy is that you can always go back to work early if it feels right and your wife vibes with it, too. I actually did that after the birth of one of our three and it was perfect.
Tip 2: Write a Postpartum Plan
As birth educators, we see couples get all into the birth plan. It’s kind of a craze, actually. People put so much thought into their birth experience, which is fantastic! But guess what: postpartum is going to last a lot longer than labor. Have you and your spouse thought through the cooking, cleaning, and day-to-day responsibilities for the months after birth? Friends visiting. Shopping needs. House projects. Finances. It adds up!
And like I mentioned before, it’s important to consider what complications might arise. If you plan for the worst, you’ll feel even more prepared when things turn out smooth.
So I recommend writing a postpartum plan with your wife. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive or look pretty. Just sit down and first make a list of responsibilities that mom needs to hand off. Then, talk about practical ways those needs can be met. Maybe you need to make a chore chart for yourself. Maybe you need to organize a meal train or budget for more takeout meals. The point is, just a simple conversation during pregnancy can get your mental wheels turning.
Another important thing to include in a postpartum plan is a list of people you can both call upon for support. This might include practical help with the baby, the home, or even your marriage. Leaning on experienced parents during this time is huge. You and your wife will have far more questions than answers and chances are you can set your mind at ease with a simple phone call.
Tip 3: Learn Patience
With your wife. With baby. With yourself. This is a whole new world and there simply aren’t any shortcuts to making it feel normal. It just takes time.
Mom might get constantly frustrated at you for doing everything wrong or suddenly show emotions you’ve never seen her have before. Be calm. Be humble. Be patient.
Baby might be super sweet and chill one day and the next is screaming his head off at both of you no matter what you try. Be calm. Be humble. Be patient.
Don’t get offended and take things personally. Let go of control and adopt a teachable mindset. All of it gets easier with time and practice.
Tip 4: Dive In
One of the biggest mistakes I see from dads is they tip toe into postpartum timidly and just shrug their shoulders when difficulty arises. Jump in. Make yourself part of the picture.
Get involved any way you can. Cleaning, cooking, soothing baby, talking to Mom, listening to Mom, calling relatives for her, surprising her with a gift, doing the shopping, completing home projects, etc. Just doing anything is better than waiting for instructions. Don’t give your wife the mental burden of having to come up with every idea and tell you what to do.
Now, here’s a mistake Jessica and I see moms do a lot: gatekeeping. This is when she might want to take control of everything for fear of things failing if delegated to you. If this happens, it just takes some kind conversations where you express your love for her and how you want to be more involved so she doesn’t get burned out. If this is a struggle for her, start with some small tasks she’s comfortable letting go of. Then, earn her trust by doing a good job. Show consistency and prove you’re ready to take more load. Emphasize regularly your love and care and how you want her load to be increasingly lightened.
Giving and receiving support during postpartum is a process sop you have to start somewhere.
Tip 5: Enjoy the Moment
My last tip is to enjoy the precious moment. There’s seriously nothing like the first week of a newborn’s life. Take pictures. Slow dance with your new baby. Affirm Mom and tell her how amazing she is. Daydream with her about the family you’re going to build together.
Here’s what’s also cool: most newborns will sleep a lot that week (typically - not always!). Use that time to rest and just chill with your wife. Don’t be too restless or busy-bodied. Give both yourselves permission to just simply be.
Bonus Tip: Take Our Newborn Course
If you didn’t know, Jessica and I teach a newborn care course alongside a board certified pediatric nurse practitioner. It’s called The Newborn Class for Couples and is designed to alleviate a lot of the stress couples have when they’ve never cared for a newborn before. It’s 100% on-demand and packed full of demonstrations on feeding, soothing, infant choking, infant CPR, and so much more. Check it out today!