Ideas for being the best husband ever after the birth of our first child?
August 13, 2010 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Help me be the best post-birth husband ever! We are expecting a new daughter (our first child) the first week in September - which means she could arrive very soon. What can I do to be the best husband ever after our daughter is born?

At this point, I'm not too worried about being a good father (that question will invariably come later). Right now, I want to make sure I do what I can to be an fantastic husband. The catch - I get very little time off work for the birth. I am not eligible for leave, and have only a few days of vacation to use. So I will be returning to work (litigation attorney hours) very quickly. My wife has roughly three months of leave. There are obviously going to be imbalances in how we each take care of our little girl, and I will be gone during the day on weekdays - which pretty much means I am on night and weekend duty full time. I am hoping for suggestions on things I can do for my wife to show I am trying my best to be as supportive as I can be. For the mothers out there - what did your SO do for you after the birth of your child that you really appreciated? Or what do you wish your SO had done for/with you? Dads - what did you do that she appreciated most? My wife and I have a very strong relationship, and I am usually reasonably in tune with my wife when it comes to her desires, needs, anxieties, etc. (so I'm not totally clueless). But I would love to hear ideas on what really worked to bring you closer to your partner (or maintain your closeness) after the birth of your child - from the moment the baby was born (we'll deliver at a hospital) through the first several months. Thanks in advance!
posted by dilettanti to Human Relations (48 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Do whatever your wife tells you to do.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:59 PM on August 13, 2010 [8 favorites]

Let your wife SLEEP as often as possible.
posted by xingcat at 12:59 PM on August 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

When you get home from work, no matter how tired you are, TAKE THE BABY. Unless he's nursing right that second, offer to take him the instant instant you walk through the door, and plan on having him for an hour or two or until he nurses again.

Also, I and my husband both found that we could function on five hours of sleep. Not necessarily well, and if you're a litigation atty you might need more. But you must, must, MUST get enough sleep, or you're going to fall to bits and make your wife caretake you as well as the baby. This sounds counterintuitive, but it's sadly true. So work it out with your wife when your sleep stretch is, and be prepared to change it up if you need to. For me and my husband, it was 2AM-7AM that he got guaranteed undisturbed, and then at 7 AM he was back on call if I needed it for the next 90 minutes or so so that I could eat and pee and shower.

Don't expect any household chores to occur while you're at work. I mean not one. No laundry, no nothing. If anything does happen? That's a bonus, and should be treated as going above and beyond. Basically, assume that she's working as hard or harder than you are, all the time, and think about how you'd like to be treated in that situation.
posted by KathrynT at 1:03 PM on August 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

-"wow you did great" (after the delivery - praise. It really meant a lot to me, because it was like running a marathon, and having my hubby telling me how amazed he was at my strength and courage was really nice)
-"I'll cook dinner, clean up, and give you a foot rub while you nurse and cuddle up with baby-dilettanti, oh and by the way, you look radiant" (for the first 10 days after delivery - it is really hard, physically, breastfeeding is great but it is difficult at the beginning, it's exhausting, and you're already knackered by the above said marathon)
-"wow you're losing all the weight so fast, you look great" (should I explain the obvious?)
-the baby is crying inconsolably and your wife is desperate because she doesn't know what to do: "let me put her in the sling and take her for a walk while you have a bath and relax."
posted by uauage at 1:03 PM on August 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Bring flowers to the hospital after the baby is born.

Don't ever refer to staying home as vacation, not work, or easy.
posted by aetg at 1:04 PM on August 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

My wife & I have been through this with three children. The most basic advice I can give you is to have her back. Be there to do stuff, and do it before she asks. It's just three months* -- you can do it!

posted by MustardTent at 1:13 PM on August 13, 2010

Bring dinner home and make sure there are really easy things for your wife to eat for lunch. Things like cold cuts or microwave meals that she can cook and eat easily and one handed. She may be so exhausted that she'll forget to eat.

Hire a maid.
Bring your wife water when she's nursing so that she can stay hydrated.
Insist that she sleep when the baby is.
Offer to change as many poopy diapers as you can.

Be prepared for wild mood swings. DO NOT TAKE OFFENSE!! Don't make it about you.

Be on the lookout for postpartum depression. Mine never would have been diagnosed if my husband hadn't insisted that I see a doctor and then took me to the appointment and explained things that I couldn't.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:14 PM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

The fact that you're asking this question leads me to believe that you are an awesome husband and not the sort who would pout about this, but be aware that in the next few months there's a chance your wife may not want you to touch her at all, let alone have sex. It's not personal.

Guarding the Moon by Francesca Lia Block is a very intimate account of the first year of the author's first baby. It's a nice insight into some of the joys and fears and stresses of a first-time mama.
posted by corey flood at 1:17 PM on August 13, 2010

Congratulations, you sound like a great husband, and I'm sure you'll be an awesome dad!

Food - My husband took care of all the food stuff for the first month or so. This meant he would often call and have stuff delivered when he wasn't home, making meals and putting them in the freezer and doing the grocery shopping.

Support - If you can swing it, a postpartum doula might be a good way to go. I don't have personal experience with one, but my sister swears by having one. Try to shield her from overzealous visitors. If people want to see the baby, they can do it on the baby's schedule for limited amount of time. Visitors staying longer than 30 min should be doing chores. On that note, getting an occasional house cleaner to come in is pretty nice, too.

Knowledge - Educate yourself about breastfeeding. My husband is super awesome, and I remember I was talking to him about my nugget's latch, and he actually had input that helped. It made me feel loved. Put the pediatrician's number in your cell phone. Keep an eye on the supply of things like diapers, it was a huge relief to always have what I needed on hand.

Rest - Let her sleep as much as possible. Make sure she sleeps when the baby sleeps. If possible, try to take one of the shifts in the middle of the night.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2010

Hire a cleaning person. Just do it.
Bring dinner home and have handheld food in the fridge ready for your wife. (Trader Joe's FTW.)
The second you get home, take the baby unless she is nursing.

One of the hardest things for me was showering. I was too worried that the newborn would wake up while I was in there. Make sure to have special baby-daddy time for her to shower whenever.

Do whatever she says without asking questions.
posted by k8t at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Help with the laundry. Do the dishes. Order out or cook for the family. Let her sleep when the baby is sleeping. If she is recovering physically from a tough delivery, ask her if she'd like a massage, a bath run for her, her feet rubbed, help getting up out of bed (depending on how things go, this would have been the nicest thing anyone could have done for me). Ask her if she'd like you to bring the baby to her for middle of the night feedings. Watch for signs that she is overwhelmed and ask her what you can do to help.

Lastly, don't pressure her for sex at the six week mark. Giving birth is traumatic and having a baby gnawing on you is exhausting. Let her know you think she is smokin' and want to be with her but that you'll be patient until she is ready.
posted by supercapitalist at 1:20 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My wife and I are both firstborn children, and I've heard that this explains why we both like to be in charge. Regarding baby stuff, I've learned to let her make a lot of the calls, because she was with the baby all day, and is just an all around great mother. So basically, I let her know that I was there to be a supportive role for her, to give her the space to feel like things could get done, with my help, rather than me vying for joint management. Sounds obvious, probably, but I had to think about being intentional about this, or else she would get stressed out by all my awesome ideas, when something else was already working as well or better.

Also, sleep. If you can help your wife get sleep, it will effect every other single thing that will happen in your entire lives for the next couple of years.

And if there's any way that you can give your wife time to herself, as well -- like one night off a week where she doesn't have to do anything but take a bath while drinking her favorite beer (or whatever she likes to do) -- you will find that this can provide renewed energy for her. Keep in mind that the one major thing that can break your wife emotionally is feeling like there's no light at the end of the tunnel for a break, which child rearing often does. If you can help her see that light is right around the corner every week or so, it'll be a big help.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:20 PM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

For the first year, you will not put any of your needs first, or even second. It is going to be a hard year, but you need to devote your life, outside of work, to the care and feeding of your wife and baby.

If your wife is going to nurse, be "on call," including the middle of the night, to spell her.

Any diaper that needs changing while you are around, just do it cheerfully.

Act adoringly towards your wife, whether or not you actually feel that way. Let her know that you are still very attracted to her (you will be) and, although don't come out and say it this way, the resumption of your sex life is in her court.

(19 years ago, our kid threw up 3 different times in one night and I slept through all of them. I am still climbing out from that one.)

I am assuming that you have the income to order in a lot, so do that.
posted by Danf at 1:20 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

This could be my generic response to most relationship questions but it fits here too:

Date night.

It's cheesy, but it works. Even if date night is at home and the baby is right near by and it's not really a "date"; just have you and she time that has nothing to do with either of your new duties for a change.

The two of you will become the three of you and that's freakin' awesome. But don't forget time for just the two of you, and that even though her life is going to be more centered around the baby than either one of you can possibly imagine, don't forget to treat her like your wife, not your daughter's mother*. Encourage her to have rest time without your daughter, but also encourage her to have as much of a life as possible, so that the two of you still have things to talk about.

* Nothing about your question makes you seem like you're on your path. I just know that this is something I've heard so many times, after the fact, in a relationship gone bad.

posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:20 PM on August 13, 2010

TooFewShoes is right on. I remember spilling mac and cheese all over the damn stove and just crying because I didn't even have enough time to make it correctly because of the tiny newborn overlord. Pre-made meals, hell even crappy frozen ones, are better than nothing.

And be cool, calm, and collected through the baby blues. Right when we took our son home from the hospital, breastfeeding hurt so bad and my hormones all crashed and I cried a lot and made a lot of dramatic assumptions about how horrible of a mom I would be. It didn't last too long, but my husband's reassurance that I doing a good job helped a lot.
posted by kpht at 1:23 PM on August 13, 2010

One of the hard parts to mothering is the feeling that, even if you aren't technically in charge of the baby at that instant, you are mentally in charge forever. So anything that will instill confidence in your ability to care for the baby is helpful. Watch for particular ways that she holds the baby or how she prepares the diaper before putting it on and imitate that.

Seconding 'take the baby' when you get home.

If you're in a position to do so, consider hiring a post-partum doula -- they are experts who come to the house and help the new mom and sometimes also will cook/clean, some of them are even willing to do overnight duty, allowing both of you to get consecutive hours of sleep. Or sit on the toilet in peace. Or have a shower without listening for crying.

Tell her she's amazing and beautiful. Find other ways to say it and say it daily for 6 months.

Know that the physical and emotional fatigue of having a newborn peaks at about 3 weeks, and really eases off after 12 weeks. Remembering that can help you logically stop freaking out if either of you are overwhelmed.

At some point there may be some fight, fueled by fatigue and hormones -- and even though she's supposed to be the hormonal one, you'll be just as certain that your own anger is justified -- suck it up and bite your tongue. It's better than either of you crying oneself to sleep, wondering who the heck their partner is. If the topic is a real issue, you can bring it up after everyone has had some sleep.

There used to be some line about skin hunger -- that "a person needs 6 hugs a day to satisfy skin hunger" . . . she may be getting all her skin hunger needs met by the baby and be averse to being snuggled, so don't hold that against her if it works out that way.
posted by MeiraV at 1:24 PM on August 13, 2010

Oh yeah, you can also start your Daddy-Kid bedtime ritual right away.

At least that's what you'll call it when you take the baby every night and give him his bath and read him a story. Really you're giving Mommy time to take a shower or just rest for a few minutes.

By insisting on having your ritual you're giving your wife a pass and some free time of her own, plus you get bonus bonding time.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:28 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If she is handling what goes into the baby, you get to be in charge of what comes out. Wake up with her for all the nightly feedings, change the baby and then sit there with her or watch TV with her or whatever while she nurses. No you won"t be doing anything productive and it would make more sense for you to just go back to sleep, but don't do it. She does not want to be up at 3:30am exhausted from taking care of a baby all day and watch your ass sleep. Everyone at work will know you just had a baby and will understand that you are tired and fuzzy-headed the next day. Encourage her to get out of the house and be around friends or family or whatever, anyone who will prevent her from being the baby's sole caretaker all day five days a week. If the baby is full and dry and warm and still won't stop crying, load it up in the stroller and take a walk or load it up in the car seat and take it for a drive. Just you. There are ways you can help her and the baby with breast-feeding that a lactation consultant can coach you on. Breast-feeding is sometimes easy, sometimes hard, sometimes incredibly hard, and sometime impossible. You know nothing about it and need to at least be available to contribute to helping her make the determination of which one of those it is with y'all. Good luck with that. If your baby is healthy there will still be a half dozen or so doctor's appointment over the first few weeks. Get up from your desk and say "I have to be at a doctor's appointment" and walk out the door and if anyone has a problem with it find a new job. She doesn't want to be alone holding a two-week old who is screaming its head off cause it just got a shot.

I'm five weeks in on our second and went back to working at my firm after 6 days and I'm not going to lie to you it is kicking my ass. Just buckle down and count every day everyone is still alive and healthy as a win and power through.
posted by ND¢ at 1:30 PM on August 13, 2010

So much wonderful advice, I can only add: try not to second guess your wife or be a worrywart. Like, "Do you really need to change the diapers this often?" or "Can't you just put the baby down now?" or "OMG! The baby's temperature is 98.69! Call an ambulance!!"

Of course you may question your parenting skills, but undoubtedly so is the new momma, so if you start questioning how she does things, she may not take it well.

Go out right now and buy your new momma a very comfortable, brand-spanking-new-and-pretty sweatpants and sweatshirt (or yoga pants; whatever she normally wears) from Victoria's Secret "Pink" line. Preferably in a bright color (like red).

It feels so nice to have something non-maternity and new (with an elastic waistband and rhinestones).

Lastly, try to hold the baby as much as you, let her get to feel comfortable in your arms (instead of putting her down).

It's also very sweet for your wife to see you holding your baby.
posted by dzaz at 1:44 PM on August 13, 2010

One of the best bits of advice I got came before the birth of my second child, and I wished I'd had it before my first. Basically, you know how scuba divers have hand signals to let other divers know they are in trouble, when they're down deep and cannot talk or otherwise communicate? Those first few months of parenting are going to plunge you both down deep, and there will be times when you will not be able to breathe or formulate the words to say "I need help." So it's a good idea to come up with -- as cheesy as it sounds -- a signal. Something either of you can use when it all gets too much, whether it's a literal hand signal or a word or whatever, to let the other person know, I'm overwhelmed, I need you to help me/hug me/give me a break/whatever. This was such a good thing for us -- after we were given this advice, we joked around about it and picked a thumbs-up as our ironic hand signal, thinking we'd never have to resort to anything so silly. But I am here to tell you, it's possible to give a thumbs-up while you and a tiny baby are both sobbing. (And it was so nice to not have to explain anything -- just busting out the signal was enough to de-escalate whatever was going on, or to stop the cycle of "I need help/it's hard for me to ask for help/why aren't you helping me/why don't you automatically know what I need you to help me with" etc.
posted by mothershock at 1:47 PM on August 13, 2010 [10 favorites]

Awesome things my husband did in the post-partum:

- Changed every single diaper when he was around. Every. Single. One.

- Took the baby off me as soon as she nursed and said "take a shower and go for a walk. She'll be fine" (I was stir-crazy)

- Let me tell him what I needed in a peremptory manner, and didn't take it personally.
posted by gaspode at 1:50 PM on August 13, 2010

This is going to sound ridiculous, and may not apply to you, but: if your house is messy when you go to the hospital to have the baby, make SURE it is clean when you bring your wife and baby home. I don't care if you have to beg, borrow, or steal to get it done. Maybe it's just me, but when I walked in the house with our second, and realized that my husband (who had spent the night at home, btw, alone, at my bidding) had done nothing to make home more welcoming for our arrival, I completely dropped my basket. All I wanted was to go to bed on clean sheets with my new baby, and I couldn't even do that unless I either did it myself or waited for him to do it. This was not a highlight of the child-having or marital experience, though we got it under control.

Arrange for someone to come over and change the sheets, run the vacuum, put clean towels in the bathrooms, get fresh food in the fridge, whatever will help your wife (and you) relax as soon as you walk in the door with your newborn. If your house is normally tidy, that's fabulous - but if you can find someone to help you make it extra cozy and welcoming, you will be the Best Husband Ever, at least in *my* book.

Oh, and make sure your wife has time to bathe and brush her teeth EVERY DAY. Somehow, being home alone with a newborn, that sort of thing gets overlooked, and even if she's not thinking about it, I know it made me feel cruddy and crusty and out-of-sorts. Clean clothes and brushed teeth, at a minimum, make a huge difference on a day-to-day basis.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 1:57 PM on August 13, 2010 [8 favorites]

Awesome things my husband did in the post-partum:

- Changed every single diaper when he was around. Every. Single. One.

Ditto this. Our motto was, I'm in charge of the inputs, he's in charge of the outputs.

Also, came home and made dinner every night. So freaking awesome not to have to think about planning/preparing food.

Encouraged me to go sleep as much as I possibly could.
posted by ambrosia at 2:02 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just had a baby 6 months ago. Yay! She's awesome! Below are the top 10 things that popped into my mind. I tried not to project too much. Hope they are helpful.

And, congratulations! It'll be great.

1. Have a plan for dinner. Execute said plan. Or, if your wife likes to cook, make sure she has the items necessary and be ready to take care of the baby while she cooks. I froze 30 meals before I gave birth 6 months ago. It was really good to not have to worry about meals. I love to cook, and was happy to get back to it.

2. Hire someone to clean your house. Have them come before the baby comes to do a deep clean.

3. Have clean sheets ready to go for the return home.

4. Do all the baby's laundry. My husband just did this unprompted and it was wonderful. Now that I'm back to work and things are under control, we both do her laundry as necessary.

5. Be supportive of your wife's decisions regarding breastfeeding. I had to solely pump due to some latching problems. Breastfeeding is very hard. Sometimes it doesn't work out, and that's okay. If she tried, and it doesn't work, trust me, the guilt is overwhelming. Don't add to it.

6. Have a plan for night time. Don't be ambiguous about it. Because you'll be going to work, and she is staying home, she may think she has to get up every time the baby needs something in the middle of the night. Let your wife know that you insist to be woken up during your "shift" if the baby wakes. It was imperative for me that the shifts were explicitly laid out, or I wouldn't wake my husband up.

7. Take pictures of your wife with the baby. I take lots of pictures of my husband with our daughter, he's not so good at remembering to take pictures of me with her. And, it makes you feel jerky to be like, "Hey, take a picture of me!"

8. Take charge in organizing who visits when. I was too exhausted and overwhelmed to tell in-laws no, and when I did they didn't really listen and showed up anyway. Don't make your wife be the sole communicator.

9. Right after labor, make sure your wife gets some FOOD! She will be hungry, hungry, hungry!

10. Make time for your wife to go out shopping for clothes before she returns to work. And, understand that she is likely to burst out in tears many times that last week before she returns to work. Because it freaks us out.

You're going to be a great dad, and you are certainly a great, caring husband already.
posted by fyrebelley at 2:37 PM on August 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

Take a few things off her plate and do so for at least the next year, especially since your wife is going back to work. Does she make dinner all the time? Is she the one to do the laundry? Bam: It's your job now. I am a working mother of a 16-month-old and I cannot even begin to tell you how relieving it is that my husband has basically taken over the kitchen - cooking AND cleaning. And food shopping! It is one less thing I have to think about, and I am eternally grateful for that.

Indulge her, if possible. I wanted to nurse my daughter in bed but my husband said, "Waah, it wakes me up." And I wasn't strong enough to tell him to stuff it, so I would get out of bed to feed her, making it much harder for me to fall back asleep. We talked about it a few months ago and he said to me, "Christ, I'm an asshole." Don't be an asshole. You think you're tired? Multiply that by 10, and you have your wife's level of tiredness.

Tell her you love her, tell her she's doing a fantastic job as a mom and don't be offended if she doesn't want to cuddle or snuggle like she used to. Get up with the baby on the weekend. If she wants to breastfeed and is having problems, get the number of a lactation consultant and call for advice, and keep encouraging her -- tell her she's doing a great job. And if for whatever reason you have to use formula, tell her she is NOT a failure. These are all things my husband did for me and they meant the world to me.

And as the year goes on, make sure you carve out time to have Daddy-Daughter time and not just to give mom a break. Do it to spend time with your daughter. Have your own "thing" with your daughter. Give her a pet name or play a special game with her, whatever it is -- but I love that my husband and my daughter have a very close relationship independent of me. Not only does it give me time to myself, but it's also just lovely and gratifying to watch.
posted by sutel at 2:45 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

When the baby's crying, figure it out. When mom is the primary caretaker, and with the cultural baggage that goes with "dad" and "mom," it's so easy for dads to hand a crying baby over to moms because mom "knows better" how to take care of the baby. And moms will often say, "Oh, just give her to me, I'll soothe her." No! Figure out how to soothe the baby, get your dad groove on with the soothing, and then DO IT.

After a few weeks/when your wife feels up to it, find some time that will be daddy/baby time, whether that's Saturday mornings or one evening a week, when either the two of you leave the house, or she leaves the house. If she's breastfeeding these will of course be short excursions at first, but you can always do a breastfeeding and then be off again. This will give you practice being dad-on-the-spot without mom backup, and will give her a chance to be alone.

Keep in mind that your desires shift, too -- when the baby was first born and I was up and around, going to the grocery store by myself was like the most exciting thing EVER -- I was leaving the house! I was seeing people! Nobody was hanging on me! Now, though, I kind-of resent groceries for needing to be bought when I could be using my leisure time to do other things. My husband was letting me do all the grocery shopping because I'd been so excited about it, so I had to tell him I wanted to go back to splitting it because now I hated it. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:07 PM on August 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

First of all, congrats!

I'll be nthing what's already been said, but here what's worked for me. My daughters are 12 & 14 now.

Cleaning - make sure the dishes get done, floor swept, dusted, laundry done, what ever you can to keep the house at HER LEVEL of cleanliness is key to helping her relax.

You are never tired - You will never, ever mention that you are tired, that you worked a full day too, or that you need a break. You will STFU and always be ready to help. Yes, this sucks, but trust me, you will never mention you are tired until you kids are full on toddlers. If you do need a break, you need to get someone else to suggest it to your wife that you are looking tired and need a break, at which point you will hopefully be told to take a break.

She always looks good - Regardless of the baby spit up, sweat pants, and unkempt hair, your wife always looks good. She never looks tired or needs make up. You will remind her how good she looks and how well she's handling things. She still stirs the fire in your loins even though she's a mom now.

Don't argue - Unless someone may die as a result, your wife is right. Even if you are right, you are wrong. If she thinks she heard the baby, she did. If she's concerned that someone stole the baby from the hospital nursery, you will go check. If she thinks the baby is allergic to soy, she's right. If she thinks the new diapers don't fit, they don't fit. If she thinks you need to double check the car seat, double check the car seat.

First Mother's Day - On her first Mother's Day, you will buy her a large, very shiny piece of jewelry in recognition of her huge sacrifice for your child.
posted by Argyle at 3:16 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, boy, I've just been waiting for someone to ask this question!

My husband is great and is a fantastic father, but we had some terrible times after the baby was born. My post-partum and lactation hormones were raging, and I'm usually a person who doesn't even get PMS.

Many babies will nurse round the clock if you let them; the parents have got to find ways to soothe a crying baby other than the breast. This is where you come in, dad. Don't keep handing your wife the baby every time she cries, assuming hunger. Your wife needs a break! Take the baby as often as you can so your wife can shower, take a walk, eat while unencumbered, etc.

When you get home, don't ask your wife, "What shall we do for dinner?" She doesn't want to think about it, and may interpret the question as a burden of decision or work that is being placed upon her. Call her on your way home and say, "I'm thinking of picking up either X or Y for dinner, which would you prefer?" Or else don't call her, just bring home something you know she likes. (This doesn't have to be takeout, you can go to the market for dinner "fixings" to assemble at home.)

Run interference when people want to come visit, especially if they are going to be overnight guests. Even if your wife usually manages the social calendar, you've now got to jump in and protect her. You've got to be the bad guy and say "no" to unwanted company, or ask relatives to put off visits until the baby is a little older. (Some wives may want a particular person around as much as possible, though, which is fine. But that person is probably not your Mom.)

As time goes by and your wife feels human enough to go out, but not anxiety-free enough to hire a babysitter for a newborn, you can offer to stay home with the baby while she catches a movie or just goes out. But it's imperative that you not let her feel guilty about time away from the baby, and don't tell her, "baby cried the whole time you were gone." On the other hand, if your wife is too anxious to ever leave the baby alone with you these first few months, don't give her a hard time about it. It will pass very soon.

Last: It is very emotionally draining to have a little person utterly dependent on you, and this is something I could never fully explain to my husband. It's a difficult concept to get across. But that all-day-all-night baby care and complete selflessness left me emotionally exhausted, and of course, such a thing was completely new to me. The experience left me a little shell-shocked. Sleep deprivation just makes it worse. The only thing you can do here is be extremely understanding. That's why people keep saying, "Do whatever your wife says." Not because women become dictators, but because we NEED what we NEED and we are too emotionally drained to explain ourselves. Reasons will not be offered; it is all we can manage sometimes to just plead for your help. This isn't forever, we adjust in a few weeks or months. So, thanks for understanding.

And congratulations!
posted by Knowyournuts at 3:28 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dear life, I love MeFi. Thanks a ton for the answers so far - y'all are awesome. All good advice so far (the suggestion to ensure that we have clean sheets and a tidy house on return from the hospital is particularly good, and I know that's the sort of thing that will slip my mind in the excitement when she starts labor, so it's good to have a plan for making it happen ahead of time). Much appreciated!
posted by dilettanti at 3:28 PM on August 13, 2010

When our son was born, my husband decided to become the King of Diapers. He said, "you and Jack spend a lot of time nursing and that's not something I can do for him, but diapers, I can do." He took care of our little boy's tender bottom so carefully and so lovingly. Of course I appreciated not having to get up all the time to change the baby, but what I really loved was seeing my hubby take over this humble task with such love and good humor.

The thing that I felt like I wanted a lot more of was time without the baby. I wanted to go grocery shopping alone, or have some time alone in the house without the baby. So if you can take your daughter out for a walk or a car ride once in awhile, that to me is the greatest gift. I personally would not have liked a gift certificate for a massage or a spa day back then but I would have loved to have a couple of hours to putter around at home without waiting to hear that needy cry.

Wishing you and your family all the best in the weeks ahead.
posted by Kangaroo at 4:10 PM on August 13, 2010

From my recent education:

You will see her poop. You will never mention that you saw her poop. You will not remember anything poop related during the delivery.

You will bring baby pants to the hospital. Car seats work best with pants and you will not let your baby come home like some sort of hobo with an upside down shirt for 'pants.'

You will take note of how quickly her pregnancy weight comes off.

You will insist on taking the baby so she can get out of the house. You may even call up her friends to set up play dates.

You will get an Amazon Prime membership and ensure that diapers and wipes arrive magically on the doorstep before she realizes she needs them.

If you have friends or relatives you trust with the baby, you will have a Date Night.

You will not begrudge any sleep lost and will seek permission to wear earplugs should you have an Important Workday in the morning.

You will sing to the baby.

She will be stressed with worry and love. You will be calm with help and attentiveness.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:32 PM on August 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

Tell her on a constant basis how good she's doing, and how great of a mom she is, and how much the baby seems to love her. Newborns are hard, they don't smile right away, and they cry a lot. Reassure your wife that she's doing everything right and she's the perfect mom!
posted by katypickle at 4:49 PM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do whatever your wife tells you to do.

uh... yeah. do that.
posted by zombieApoc at 4:50 PM on August 13, 2010

Dude, you will soon discover that the husband-wife thing is over for 2-6 months. There's no time or energy for that. You'll be relying on the foundations of your relationship until baby starts to sleep through the night.

We have a small business and when surprise baby came, I had to take over her job and work 9-9 to ensure our finances. I found time during the day to hit the farmer's market and the co-op, bought a fridge for the office, brought home a decent dinner every night.

Two weeks in I discovered that every crying wake-up did not have to do with breasts. We were bottling it, so it was an option for me. (And oh, the look baby gives you the first time dad does that- "Hmm, Dad might be useful after all. ")

Sometimes, just taking the baby outside to sit in a rocking chair and look at the stars overawed him so much that he went back to sleep. A short, warm bath is another good one.

PBS around here used to run Teletubbies at two and five a.m. That was a wonderful thing and you'll find it intriguing too. It's Soma for babies.

Believe it or not you will miss this stage. Having a newborn in your lap makes you start seeing everything anew. "Stars, good gracious! Just look at all those stars!"

Have fun. It will be over before you know it.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:54 PM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is a great way to be thinking ahead -- my wife and I had our first child in February, and let me tell you, you're on the right track thinking ahead, because once she goes into labor, you'll hit the ground running. Good suggestion in this thread, just wanted to give you/reiterate a few points from my recent experience:

Maybe most important: Be prepared to offer a ton of emotional support. As people said above, be ready during labor to tell her she's doing great, and maintain your cool and confidence during the hours she'll be in pain and exhausted. Be there and ready to tell her she's fantastic, she's doing great, your daughter can't wait to come out and see her, etc.

Once she's out, get ready to be the "don't worry" person. There are a lot of things that will cause BOTH of you a lot of anxiety in the first hours/days/weeks. Is the baby nursing well, healthy, happy?

Your wife may feel a lot of performance anxiety about nursing and you want to be there to say "don't worry, she'll get there, you're doing great" if the baby doesn't just get right to perfect nursing immediately. It sometimes takes a few days for the baby to get competent at nursing, and this can make a mother feel inadequate and anxious. Be prepared to tell her she's doing it fine, it'll just take time, and she's a great mother. This can be a challenge because you will naturally be worried too -- but don't give into the anxiety. Be the rock. (This is not to imply that your wife, or any mothers, are wilting, scared and overly emotional. I'm not saying that at all. But, your wife is the one who has to actually deliver and deliver the milk, so she'll feel the brunt of any guilt/anxiety if things aren't going perfectly -- and as we all know, thing's often don't go *perfectly* the first time :) ).

Other than that, mostly what everyone else has said. Be prepared to help with the little things, making food to freeze and microwave, running errands, washing things (there will be LOTS of things to wash!) etc. Be there emotionally and be there physically, as much as possible, and remember -- everything will be new and scary and tiring.

I guess, if I can sum it up in one sentence: Remember (and express to her) that you are *partners* -- 50 - 50, and you expect, nay demand! to shoulder your fair share of all of the responsibilities and anxieties and burdens.

Congratulations, you'll do great!
posted by diocletian at 6:29 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get sleep too! Sleep when the baby sleeps, it works for everyone.

Find some time to let the baby sleep on your bare chest, it's soothing for both of you and a wonderful way to bond.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:45 PM on August 13, 2010

Encourage your wife to take some time for herself. When my son was 10 days old, I signed up for a restorative yoga class (it was the most physical activity I could do after a C-section). My husband stayed with the baby a couple evenings a week, so I could get out of the house. It was probably the best thing for my recovery to be able to relax without worrying about the baby every second.

Be sensitive to her emotional needs. She could end up with post-partum depression, or just baby blues. Or she could just feel anxious about being a new mom, or worried about her abilities as a mother. These feelings are all pretty normal (I know I went through them). Assure her that she's doing a good job. Let her know that you're there to listen, or let her cry on your shoulder when she's stressed out. Just make yourself extra emotionally available.

Take on more of the household responsibilities. Cook and clean, help out with the baby, whatever. Your wife is going to be doing a lot of work taking care of a newborn full time. It's exhausting. Do whatever you can to help her out. When the baby wakes up for the third time in the middle of the night, go take care of her. When my son was a newborn, his bedtime was pretty early (about 5 pm). I was usually in bed by 9, while my husband would stay up until midnight. So, if the baby woke before midnight, my husband would go take care of him, so I could get some sleep.

I'm sure you'll do a good job as a father and a husband.
posted by lexicakes at 7:50 PM on August 13, 2010

-"wow you're losing all the weight so fast, you look great" (should I explain the obvious?)

Fuck that! It's only weight. Weight loss =/= health!!

The correct response isn't 'Thank god you're finally getting thin again.' That's...asinine. The correct response is to be attentive to how she feels and encourage her to be healthy. If she feels good she'll feel she looks good, like everyone else. Help her feel good.

I guarantee she's gonna look good anyway.
posted by waxbanks at 9:42 PM on August 13, 2010

From the wife's POV:

Hire help (housecleaning, and I would suggest a postpartum doula as well. And when the baby's a little older, a babysitter part time is like a gift from almighty god. Seriously. Babysitter. Will save your marriage/sanity.)

Spend time with baby and wife, but also spend time with wife alone. She will feel lonely with a baby all day; they're not great talkers, you know. She needs to know that you still think she's beautiful, that you think she's an awesome mom, that you're really glad to have had a baby with her, and that there is still a world outside. Don't let every conversation be about poop, I mean. (yes, it happens).

If she gets down...can't stop crying, can't function, feels her get help. PPD is a bitch and it's very common.

Develop caretaker-competence; be good at diapers, burping, cleanup, putting clothes on the baby, etc. etc. This lets her know you do not think of the baby as her personal project on which you are merely assisting. Do not stare at baby uselessly while it wails waiting for her to tell you what to do. Jump in there and get after it.
posted by emjaybee at 10:52 PM on August 13, 2010

Anything to help her sleep is good. When we had a newborn I would make sure the dishes were done and any other chores taken care of then get to bed as early as possible. Then I would get up at 3-4 AM and deal with any early-morning needs of our daughter while my wife got a little sleep before I was off to work. If you do well you may be rewarded with this shirt on fathers day. Wear it proudly.
posted by TedW at 12:21 AM on August 14, 2010

In re. crying at spilled mac and cheese: my toilet overflowed in the newborn period, very badly, lots of water and shit everywhere. Of course I burst into tears. No PPD, and not all boo-hoo-hoo is "depression" -- I think sometimes the reasonable outcome of interrupted sleep is labelled "depression!" in too much of a rush. Anyway. When faced with an inch of shitwater and an adult in tears, you want to say "I got it, no worries" and get with the mop and Mr Clean and act like all is well. Nth do whatever she says, nth even if the request is not ideally phrased. If you are asked to take the baby, take the baby; if you are asked to return the baby, return the baby with no delay. Yes, yes, you're a parent too, but the process of mother and baby figuring out that they are separate people can take a while. If she is not interested in a sitter, don't push it.
posted by kmennie at 5:54 AM on August 14, 2010

"Yes, yes, you're a parent too, but the process of mother and baby figuring out that they are separate people can take a while."
Those are very wise words!
My husband rubbed my feet every single night. It made up for a lot of things. He also brought me a lovely gift of jewelry and a sweet card in which he THANKED ME for giving birth to our son. He got a lot of mileage out of those small things. He wasn't the type to do either thing, and it was touching to me.
posted by littleflowers at 3:06 PM on August 14, 2010

Hey - a ton of great stuff here for you to use, I'm not sure if I'm repeating anything here but the two things that I learned this time last year (that I didn't necessarily see coming) were:

1. You now really, really come last - so, just, support your wife (and baby) in everything and agree with pretty much everything she says. This is not my dynamic with my wife, but for a couple of months it was exactly that. It was just all about support and, just like another poster said, having her back.

2. Be decisive and take control. It's old fashioned but in a new kind of way! If your wife is struggling at all at the beginning, take control, assure her she's doing an awesome job but, at the same time, show her that you're totally down and confident with all this bathing, holding, feeding, changing, burping stuff. Seeing you confident and secure will make her feel more confident and secure. This one really surprised me - my wife is very in control but there were times when she lost it and had zero self-confidence. Seeing me take over and do so confidently reminded her that she could do it too.

Congratulations by the way, it's going to be, truly, awesome!
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 4:52 PM on August 14, 2010

Get up and take care of the baby when it cries so your wife can sleep. She's recovering from a huge physical trauma after 9 months of illness and discomfort and really needs her sleep so she can get better.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:41 PM on August 14, 2010

Trust your wife when she tells you what she needs. If she needs time out that's what she needs so don't start with the bonding thing. If she needs bonding time, don't start with the 'but you'll lose your identity' thing. But more importantly (since I assume you're not a dick) run interference when other people inevitably do this - your wife is supreme ruler of what she's feeling and what she needs.

Also, if she breaks down crying in a coffee shop because of a line from a Mumford and Sons song? She needs some sleep real bad.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:04 AM on August 15, 2010

I would encourage her to REST when the baby sleeps. After two weeks of people telling me to sleep when the baby slept, I was ready to cry -- I don't nap well and I felt like I was failing AT SLEEP. I was too tired to realize this was silly. It was better for me to lie down with a book, watch silly TV quietly, or eat something nourishing. If I felt like it, I could nap. But I felt a lot more rested when I rested pleasantly when he napped then when I lay there NOT NAPPING and bored while he napped. :)

Which is all the sort of thing someone who ISN'T full o' hormones can figure out without having to cry about it for two weeks first.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:34 AM on August 15, 2010

Oh, I love that you like my suggestion!

Along the lines of the idea of a high sign or distress signal, it helps to establish some way of making it clear between the two of you who is on Primary Baby Duty at any given time. My husband and I call it being ON - "I'm ON" or "Can you please be ON for the next hour?" We make sure it is VERY clear - I acknowlege that he is ON, or he says "yes, I will be ON for the next hour."

The parent who is ON is the Primary Parent, the Parent In Charge, the One Who Solves All Problems and Provides All Entertainment And Distraction. This really helps when one of you needs down time but can't or doesn't want to leave the house. We *still* use this, even though our kids are now 7 and almost 4, and will definitely be using it when the new baby arrives.

If your wife is nursing, being ON can definitely work around that - but work on that explicit signal between the two of you. That way there's no mind-reading and no one's upset at the interruption of what they thought was their down time.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 3:49 PM on August 15, 2010

You are never tired - You will never, ever mention that you are tired, that you worked a full day too, or that you need a break. You will STFU and always be ready to help.

Repeating for emphasis. You may spend months more tired than you've ever been in your life (like, "try to find some way to get to work that doesn't require you to drive" level tired). But complaining about this to someone who's experiencing it even worse would not be a good idea.
posted by roystgnr at 9:49 AM on August 16, 2010

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