Just because the dad didn’t carry a baby for nine or 10 months and give birth to them doesn’t mean the postpartum period isn’t challenging for him as well.
And I should say, this isn’t just dads. This goes for any spouse who didn’t give birth. For ease of writing, though, I will refer to dad/him.
Not giving birth is part of the reason the postpartum period is difficult for him. As the mom, you’ve had time to mentally but especially physically prepare for having a baby. Your body has gone through many changes as you’ve grown and nourished your soon-to-be-born baby. While it may not feel as real as it did once your babe was placed in your arms, there was a certain realness to it that dads just don’t get to feel until that baby is born. And then WHAM! Baby is here and everything changes.
Men can feel the pressure of “a new mouth to feed” in various ways: mom may seem vulnerable and in need of protection and care; dad comes home from work and sees housework piling up; if he and you are like my husband and me, he has received numerous texts on the bad days, saying things like, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this…” or “I’m tired” or “I’m over-whelmed” or “I don’t know what to do” or “The dogs are whining, the baby is crying…” My husband said he could tell what kind of day I was having by the number of text messages he received from me. The more he received, the more I was spiralling.
Men feel a lot of pressure: if they are fortunate to have had time off, it likely wasn’t for very long, and then they are back to their full-time job, while also having to take on more responsibilities in the home, while on less sleep than usual. Combine that with getting to know their new baby and trying to support their partner emotionally, and it can be draining.
Because the mom spends the most time with the baby, it can be an added challenge for dad to learn how to soothe his infant. I remember in one of my less shining moments half-shrieking at my husband to just hand me the baby whenever he cried because he likely needed to nurse. While this was mostly true, it wasn’t very helpful or conducive to getting him to take an active role in nurturing his son. Fortunately, he likely chalked it up to my being tired and emotional, and he didn’t seem to take it personally. There were times it was only him who could settle him: we went through a phase where the only way our baby would go to sleep was if he was placed in his carseat and rocked faster and higher than I could physically handle, so it fell to daddy. One of the sweetest moments was when I needed a nap, and my husband needed to let a potential tenant into our condo down the street. Without any help or instruction from me, he managed to wrap our son in our mei tai and wore him to the meeting.
We were fortunate that my husband has always had some level of flexibility with his work. If I felt I desperately needed him, he could be there. Not every father is so fortunate, and that would create added stress and worry: how powerless would you feel if your partner was sobbing on the phone, but you felt you couldn’t go there to be with them?
We didn’t hire a postpartum doula after we had our son, but I see now the benefit this would have, even for dads (honestly, just like how a labour/birth doula can be a huge support for dads, not just moms). A postpartum doula is a safe person to question, to listen to, to seek advice on things like baby care if inexperienced. There is no prior history between a postpartum doula and a new father, and there is no agenda besides making the postpartum period as pleasant as possible for everyone. The doula might be able to see both points of view of the mother and father and help them understand each other. My husband once confided to me that he was stressed, too: he pointed out that I had fellow new mom friends and many other friends to confide in who could relate. He had almost no one. Sadly, that’s not an uncommon feeling among dads. There just aren’t the same type of supports out there for new dads, but they need support just like mom does – especially because he is expected to have the strength to support mom!
What was good is my husband felt safe telling me this. Having open communication so you can both talk about your fears and stress will keep the relationship healthy and moving forward. Let dad know you still love him even though things have changed! And let him know you appreciate how much he is taking on and how hard he is working. No, he may not understand exactly what you are going through each day with the baby, but you also don’t understand exactly what he is going through each day at work and then coming home to his family. Both roles are important. Both roles require love and support from the other partner.
Remember that it isn’t just the mom who may be struggling during the postpartum period. Dad may be, too, so it doesn’t hurt to ask how he’s doing, send over a meal so it’s one less he has to worry about, or offer to come by and do the dishes so he can instead spend time with his partner and baby.