This week, we're focusing on all things dads, birth, and beyond in celebration of Father's Day. First we posted A Dad's Quick Guide to Childbirth with a handful of targeted, essential tips to know for birth. Today, we're talking post-birth, also known as postpartum. The postpartum period is generally defined as the first six weeks after birth, but I'm going to let you in on a little secret: it's longer. Think about it: if pregnancy took 9ish months, don't you think it will take a bit longer than six weeks to be un-pregnant? Plus, there's a shift in roles and relationship that certainly takes longer than six weeks to shape and evolve. As with any big life event and changes, it helps to learn and prepare in advance. Let's take a look at some of the most important points to consider.
Dad's Quick-Tips Guide to Postpartum
What are the expectations - When you think about life after birth, what kinds of things do you see yourself doing to care for your baby and support your partner? Do you see yourself as hands-on, getting down & dirty with diaper changes and rocking baby back to sleep after feedings? Or, do you see yourself taking care of meals while your partner takes care of baby? Whatever you envision, it's important to sit down and talk it through with your partner. Find out what your partner expects of you, too. If your ideas are wildly different, you'll need to come up with a game plan so that each person feels like their needs are met. Doing so will help cut down on conflict in the early weeks and months after your baby is born.
Navigating time off - If time off from work to be at your child's birth and to be home after birth will be challenging for you, talk to your employer as soon as possible during pregnancy to find out about your options. If time off after baby is born is limited, talk to your partner about preferences. For example, if family members are coming to stay for two weeks after baby is born, consider taking a few days off of work after that time to help ease the transition.
Sleep - You probably already know that getting good sleep during the postpartum period is tricky, but unless you've done it before, you probably don't know to what extent the lack of sleep will affect you and your partner. There's no real way to physically prepare for sleepless or broken sleep nights, but you can discuss ways in which the two of you will try to help each other catch up on sleep throughout the day. It also helps to know that a sleep deficit will make everything feel harder -- you and your partner will not be at your "best," will likely be short-fused, and just plain old worn out. Go easy on yourselves - it's a tough time!
Sex - Ah, yes. This too, will look different and the length of time it takes to resume will vary. Most couples are given the go-ahead to physically resume sexual intercourse at six weeks postpartum. However, understand that if your partner endured any stitches, whether through c-section or repairing vaginal tears after birth, it may be longer. The good news? Sex isn't just intercourse! If your partner is up to it, enjoy other sexual acts with each other. The bad news? Your partner may not be ready for any kind of sexual play or touching after six weeks. Birth, caring for a newborn, breastfeeding, and lack of sleep takes its toll on a person, not to mention the hormones fluctuation that takes place. It's hard to make the shift back into a sexual being when so much is being demanded of you. Again, the key here is to communicate, even if it's uncomfortable and awkward. The more you can be open and honest with each other, the more you'll be able to understand how the other person feels, which is a closeness in and of itself.
Intimacy - Did you notice how this is separate from sex? Yes, sex can bring intimacy, but intimacy does not require sex. It's important to maintain some level of intimacy, or closeness, with your partner during the postpartum period. Of course, it will likely look a little different now that you have a third party present, but that doesn't mean it's not possible. Intimacy is important in a relationship as it helps fulfill important emotional and physical needs. Consider ways to fulfill intimacy without sex. It could be holding hands, cuddling on the couch, having a candlelight dinner at home while the baby sleeps, or just a good, long hug.
Mental health - It's critical to know the signs of postpartum mental health disorders, which can occur in men and women. One out of 10 fathers experience a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder in the first six months after birth, and one out of eight women will also experience it. For a list of online resources and reading suggestions, check out this post on paternal postpartum depression on our sister blog, Science & Sensibility. The bottom line -- if you are questioning at all the mental health of yourself or your partner, contact a mental health professional as soon as possible.
A good, comprehensive childbirth class will include a lesson on the postpartum period and include information on what to expect and how to handle common scenarios. Additionally, taking a baby care class can be helpful for parents who feel unsure and anxious about caring for a new baby. Many areas also have support groups for new dads. If you can't find one near you, consider joining an online father-to-father group like Becoming Dad for new and soon-to-be dads. Additionally, Lamaze offers two parenting-specific online classes -- Bringing Home Baby and Parenting Together: Starting Off Strong -- to help prepare you for the newborn and postpartum period.