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You’re a New Dad—Now What?

6/13/2013, 9:18 p.m.
First-time fathers experience many emotions: love, responsibility, protectiveness and even fear.

First-time fathers experience many emotions: love, responsibility, protectiveness and even fear. Whatever the father’s relationship is with the baby’s mother, both parents’ lives are forever changed. But it’s important to remember that while much of the attention may be on new mothers, fathers can— and do— perform all aspects of

child care, except breastfeeding.

According to the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC), fathers of infants face special challenges. These tips, when followed, can help reduce stress and build healthy routines.

Tip #1: Learn to survive without sleep. Babies do not have established sleep patterns that align with yours. Especially during the first few months, it is important to sleep when you can. If the baby is napping, try to take a nap, too. And, when possible, go to bed early so that when the baby wakes up during the night you will awaken having had some rest.

Tip #2: Manage stress. Your baby is 100 percent dependent on others for all of his or her needs. And many of your care giving responsibilities may be brand new. This can be stressful. Do your best to eat well, exercise, and accept help from others— grandparents, siblings, or close friends— who can give you and the baby’s mother a break. And, give yourself a break, too. Laundry and other household chores are less important than caring for the baby, the baby’s mother and yourself.

Tip #3: Share in the feeding. Even if the baby’s mother is breastfeeding, you can participate by bringing the baby to her or changing the baby’s diaper. If it is a late-night feeding, you can take the baby afterwards until he has gone to sleep. The more rested each member of the family is, the less stress there will be (see Tips 1 & 2 above). And, if you are both working outside the home, taking turns on late-night baby care will go a long way to ensuring you both have enough sleep to be productive.

Tip #4: Establish a routine. We are all creatures of habit. The sooner you establish a routine for the baby the sooner he or she will adopt regular sleeping habits, which will be good for the entire family.

Tip #5: Give Mom a break. Take the baby out of the house for an hour or so— for a walk, to the grocery store, wherever— to ensure that Mom has some down time. More importantly, this will provide you with one-on-one baby time.

Tip #6: Invest in your relationship. While each of you is getting used to your new role— “father” or “mother”—don’t forget that you are parents together. Continue to support each other as you incorporate a third person into your established relationship. And, dads, recognize that you likely will no longer be the #1 focus in the family; be understanding as everyone adjusts to their new roles.

Tip #7: Build trust. When an infant cries, your response (a clean diaper, a bottle, or simply holding her) will begin to establish trust. Providing a consistent, timely response shows the baby that you care for her and she can count on you.