Congratulations on your new baby. Taking care of your newborn is a learning curve for you and your partner. The thing is, supporting your lady can be almost as challenging as working out what your baby needs. If you are feeling as though you are opening your mouth and putting your great big foot in it, here is a quick lesson of things to avoid saying, what to do instead – and one thing you absolutely must say!
1) He must be hungry!
Although ‘if in doubt, whip it out’ is great advice, a boob isn’t the answer to every whimper your baby makes. Right now, her boobs are sore, she’s feeding almost non- stop trying to bring her milk in, she is all touched out and she just wants to scream, “get that baby off me!”
Questioning a new mum’s milk supply will bust her confidence, create doubts about her milk supply and make it even harder for the milk to flow. So, take your baby, open your shirt, snuggle him skin to skin and sway as you hum to him. Chances are, your baby will settle down and stop rooting around for a boob because you don’t smell like mama milk and he feels all snug and secure, close to your heart beat, just like he was on the inside.
2) My mother says you should….
Yes, your mother did a great job of bringing you up and she has loads of experience, but you are a big boy now, you don’t need mummy to hold your hand. Don’t let your mother (or anyone else) ‘should’ on the mother of your baby. She will be getting enough advice from everyone who knows you have a baby and even perfect strangers. If you want your baby’s mother to feel confident (which will mean a calmer baby), it’s your job to block out the noise and support her to find her own way. She really does know your baby better than anyone else – even your own mum. You and your partner and baby are a family now. If she wants you to ask your mum for help, she will tell you.
3) Are you going to change your top?
You are going out and you notice a little bit of baby vomit on her shoulder – please don’t tell her to change her clothes. Firstly, her boobs are big, her tummy is wobbly and she can only fit three things in her wardrobe – and they ALL have baby vomit on them. Or milk. Or baby poo. She knows. She cares more about just getting out of the house in one piece – she’s already fed the baby, packed up all the baby gear and dressed the baby and herself. If you don’t want your outing to end in tears (before you even leave the house) shut up and strap the baby in the car before he wakes and needs a feed. Again.
4) Why is he crying?
If she knew why the baby was crying, she would have sorted him out and he wouldn’t be crying. Your partner is as confused as you are. You are both getting to know your baby and you will work it out – together. You could ask,” what can I do to help?” This will help her stay calm because she feels supported. A calm mother has a far better chance of helping your baby calm down than if she is feeling pressured to stop the crying or if she feels like a dumb-ass because even her partner thinks she’s a bad mummy.
5) He slept well last night
No, YOU slept well. While you were snoring away, your partner was up to the baby five times! She feels like shit on a plate. Of course, your baby is now sleeping peacefully just like you did last night. So, dare to mutter these words and you risk your beloved wanting to hold a pillow over your face.
Need gentle, evidence based tips help your baby (and you) sleep soundly, check out my book Sleeping Like a Baby (Penguin Random House). You can download the first chapter FREE .
6) I did all the dishes for you
Whose dishes? You ate off those dishes, didn’t you? The baby certainly isn’t eating off them and your partner has barely had time all day to make a sandwich, let alone eat anything hot. What do you want – a medal or a pair of boobs to pin it on (she’d love it if you could lactate)?
Shut up and listen up. Now you are a parent, the best kind of foreplay (if you ever want to get laid again), is doing the dishes. Or tidying up. Or popping a load of washing on. Without making a fuss. You are a team. You are in this together. You are not ‘helping’, you are partners! This is your baby too and if you step up and share the load, your beloved will have more time and energy to connect with you.
7) It’s lucky you don’t have to work tomorrow
You think she just sits around all day watching Netflix? She can sleep during the day too. The thing is, taking care of a baby is a full-time job in itself – well, without the lunch and tea breaks and, most of the day, without a co-worker to laugh with or bitch to when the going gets tough. And, did you know that even the most easy-going baby takes at least nine hours of ‘hands on’ care each day (and night)?
When you are at work, you have a predictable rhythm to your day with lunch and tea breaks, you can drink a hot cuppa, eat lunch with two hands and go to the toilet without waiting until you feel as though you are going to pee yourself because you have a crying baby that’s taking two hands to hold and calm. Taking care of a baby and a home is work. If you work long hours or feel overwhelmed too, get some help (perhaps you can ask your mum for practical help).
8) What did you do today?
She’s sitting in the same chair she was in this morning when you left for work. She’s still in her pyjamas with a baby on her boob.
What does it look as though she’s been doing all day?
And don’t dare say, “you could have got dressed while he was asleep (he didn’t damn well sleep. That’s why she’s still sitting in the chair in her pyjamas!).” She is exhausted (even though it looks like she has done nothing except sit in a chair and cuddle the baby – who now seems perfectly calm because she has sat in the chair and cuddled and fed and burped him all day). Give her a kiss and a cuddle and ask her what you can do to help. Or, even better, make her a drink, get her some food and offer to hold the baby or take him for a walk while she enjoys a HOT cuppa or a shower. Tomorrow night, bring dinner home with you – she may have had a better day but she will love you even more for caring.
9) I’m so tired
Yes, you are tired but so is she. It’s not a competition. And, it’s certainly not OK to complain about being tired if you have had a night out. Tip: wet the baby’s head before she gets home from hospital – she doesn’t need you slumped on the sofa with a hangover if she’s been up all night with your baby.
Being tired is the new black when you have a baby. Babies don’t know day from night for weeks, so somebody won’t be getting much sleep – mostly the person with the breasts. Remember too, growing a baby, birthing a baby, making milk for a baby and interrupted sleep every couple of hours means it will take time for your partner to recover and regain her energy. The more rest she gets now, the quicker she will recover and the more you can both enjoy this precious time.
10) When do you want to try for the next one?
Don’t. Even. Go. There. It might seem incredible that an eight-pound baby has just passed through her vagina but the slightest nudge from a penis can have her crossing her legs in fear. All that fiddling around her fanny during birth by people in white coats can affect her most important sex organ – her brain. Be patient: cuddles, massages, talking and listening to each other without expecting anything more will see you back on track in the sack more quickly than being too pushy (pun intended), too soon. See also ‘doing dishes’.
And one thing you CAN say:
“You are doing a great job. I love the way you … (fill in the gap).
New mums don’t get much positive feedback from anyone. Even if it doesn’t seem like it right now, your partner needs your love and support. She is exhausted, overwhelmed and vulnerable and she doesn’t have any tangible evidence that she really is doing an awesome job. Thanking your partner for your beautiful baby and showing you appreciate her is an investment in your relationship with her and your baby and, ultimately, your growing family. Remember the old adage, ‘happy wife, happy life’.
Pinky McKay is Australia’s most recognised and respected breastfeeding expert and advocate for gentle parenting. She’s an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), TEDX speaker and best-selling author of ‘Sleeping Like a Baby’. Download the first chapter FREE .