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A Dad’s Guide to Life After Childbirth



To put it mildly, you’re overjoyed to be a dad. So why are you also feeling emotionally spent?

You’re overjoyed to be a father, and that’s putting it mildly. So why are you also feeling emotionally spent? After all that buildup, all the planning and spending and drama, your child has been born…and you feel not only run-down (that’s the sleep deprivation) but also a tiny bit letdown. Welcome to the Postpartum Dads Club, when you suddenly realize why the word postpartum is so often followed by depression. Not everyone experiences the so-called baby blues (about 10 percent of new dads do), but expect a profusion of emotions that can last from a few weeks to a year — in both of you (fortunately usually only one of you at a time). Be ready. And be strong. You’ll need the patience of a saint, the endurance of a triathlete, a temper with a mile-long fuse, and a sense of humor (big time), to work through this period of adjustment.


1. Create a new “normal.” On some level, you may have been waiting for the pregnancy to end and life to get back to normal. Forget it — those days are history, and it’s time to work out what your new routines are. Who does the shopping now? You should. Who does the laundry? Ditto. (How can such a small human being generate so much laundry, anyway?) When do you both shower? (Do you both shower?) What time do you eat? For the first time, it hits you what it really means for your life to have changed. Don’t fight it — go with the flow, and fall into a rhythm that works (don’t expect to hit your dad stride right out of the gate, though — it’ll take plenty of time and practice).

2. Get used to sleepus interruptus. It’s only fair, so take turns visiting the crib in the middle of the night (this will be a way shorter trip if baby’s sleeping in a bassinet in your room or right next to your bed in a bedside co-sleeper). Even if she’s breastfeeding and doesn’t “need” you at 3 a.m., be there (she’ll need you for the diaper change). Besides, those middle-of-the-night cuddles are prime bonding times for all of you. Don’t miss them. And even if you’re tired during the day — let her nap while you take over baby-duty. Sure, you both need to catch up on your z’s, but remember that she’s also recovering physically from childbirth (and if she’s nursing, expending plenty of energy making milk), so she definitely wins the exhaustion competition hands down (and eyes closed)

3. Keep an eye on her mood. Baby blues are one thing (they’re normal and self-limiting), but true postpartum depression is another (it’s a serious medical condition that requires treatment). If the new mom still seems truly overwhelmed several weeks after the baby comes home, or experiences bouts of crying, irritability, or sleep disruptions (other than those caused by the baby), encourage her to talk to her practitioner about it. Don’t leave it up to her if she says no — she may not recognize the signs of depression. Go with her on her next office visit and make her ‘fess up about what’s going on. Then make sure she gets the treatment she needs to feel better.

4. Be good to yourself. Your own hormones are in flux (remember your old pal couvade?), and it’s natural for the combination of the new baby, the stress of the past nine months, and the new sense of responsibility to take their toll. You may feel left out; on the other hand, you may feel overwhelmed by everything that’s expected of you. Above all, you’re still so excited you can barely stand it! Keep your energy level high by eating well and resting when you can. If the thrill of being a father puts you in a celebratory mood, do your celebrating at home. If you call in your buddies (to show off the baby you made), make sure they don’t overstay their welcome and that you’re the one offering up beverages and snacks and cleaning up in their wake.

5. Be good to her. Take over the bulk of the household chores for now (if you can score some paid or volunteer domestic help that lets you both focus your energy and attention on the new baby and each other, go for it). Bring her a snack and a drink while she breastfeeds, rub down her shoulders afterward. And hug her often — and for no reason at all.

This Month’s Survival Tactic: The one thing you can do for the rest of your life: Love the mother.