I remember when we brought my son home from the hospital, he cried excessively. He was a “High Needs” baby and the situation was nothing like my husband had envisioned. When he tried to feed or get the baby to sleep, most often he was unsuccessful. This understandably influenced his confidence when it came to caring for our baby son. I remember he would always offer to do diaper changes, which I think was because he knew he could complete that task successfully.
When a new baby is born, many fathers don’t know how or when to step in and help. They might be confused about their role, wanting to be supportive but not always confident in their abilities to care for an infant. If this is the case in your relationship, I suggest beginning each day with the phrase “What can I do to help.” These words are worth their weight in gold and will be met with sincere appreciation.
Moms most often take the lead when it comes to caring for a newborn so she will most likely know what needs to be done. I suggest checking in with your significant other throughout the day and asking her this question. If you are at the other end of a mood swing here or there, try to let it roll off your back, odds are Mom is reacting due to lack of sleep and hormone fluctuation. Maintaining a calm, supportive temperament is the best thing that you can do as a new father.
One bottle a day
After baby has learned to latch, and Mom and baby have a solid nursing routine established, I recommend that Dad feed baby at least one bottle of expressed breast milk in a 24 hour period. A great time to do this is during one of the night feedings. This will give Mom a chance to get a solid period of rest at night and it will also be a great bonding experience that Dad and baby will look forward to. Getting your child used to taking a bottle will make life easier in the future if Mom returns to work or when someone else will be caring for them.
The Finishing Touch technique
Through my experience as a child sleep consultant, Mothers who have their husband’s full support as an equal partner throughout the day and night, have the most success when it comes to implementing healthy sleep habits and routines. This consists of anything from teaching baby to self soothe and helping them sleep through the night, to taking long, restorative naps. One of my favorite ways to establish this partnership is with “The Finishing Touch technique.” This is when Mom nurses baby and then goes straight to get some rest. Dad then takes over, burps baby and uses some of several different techniques in order to soothe baby to sleep.
Taking the lead
When baby is ready to sleep through the night, (always check with your pediatrician) the most important thing to do is to teach them how to self soothe. When a child is constantly nursed or rocked to sleep, the next time that they wake, the same conditions must be repeated in order for that child to return to sleep. This is simply because they have not yet learned any different.
When going through the sleep training process with a family, I always ask Dad how he feels about “taking the lead.” I can always tell from his response whether or not he has the confidence to do so or if I need to address that before we begin. Moms are often pleasantly surprised by their husband’s willingness and abilities to lead the training process.
CIDA (Crying in dad’s arms)
One of the scenarios in which I have Dad handle the initial training process is when I have a breastfed baby with a strong eat/sleep association. I do this because Dad cannot break down and nurse baby to sleep and also because baby can smell Mom’s milk which may cause them to get more upset and further stimulated. This is when I present the idea of CIDA (Crying in Dad’s Arms.)
I know most of us have heard of “Crying it Out,” but there is also the option to let your baby cry while you are holding them in your arms. Allowing a baby to cry in someone’s arms is vastly different from leaving a baby alone to cry in a crib. Crying in the arms of someone he knows and trusts is not the same as crying it out alone. The reason that your baby is crying in this situation is most likely because they are confused as to why they are no longer being fed in the middle of the night. Crying is their only way of communicating with us, and holding them while they do so is our way of letting them know that we are still here to comfort them.
A father’s touch
During the new born state (0-4 months) it is the parents job to get their baby to sleep. When the child gets a little older, (about 16 weeks) it then becomes the child’s job to put them self to sleep. During the newborn stage, Dads should experiment with a number of techniques in order to soothe their baby to sleep. Use trial and error to figure out which ones work best. Always make sure baby is in a comfortable position, nestled into your neck or chest. Repeat a key phrase to let your baby know it is time for sleep. (A key phrase is a short and simple phrase to let baby know it is time for sleep. Ex: “Time to go night night”)
Once your baby is asleep, put one hand on their chest while transferring them into the crib from your arms. In the middle of the night, when baby stirs, Dad can try putting his hands on baby so that she feels as though she is being held; one hand on her chest, the other on her stomach.
Pick your battles! This is very crucial. When hormones are fluctuating, Mom is healing from birth and trying to establishing a feed/sleep routine for her and baby, it is easy for Mom to “Snap” at their significant others without much of a reason. If Mom wants things done a certain way or makes a special request, think to yourself “Is this an argument I really want to engage in right now?” “Could this be part of the process of having a baby?” More often than not, that will be the case.
Be vocal about what you need from your husband and what he can help you with throughout the day. Be patient if he hasn’t gotten the routine figured out as quickly as you have. Always encourage and show support! Many times, (especially with a breastfed baby) a child will prefer to be in their mothers arms and will be more comforted by their mother’s presence. Meeting baby’s needs will most likely come more naturally to you.
The best way to teach your husband and build his confidence is to encourage him to feed, soothe and change baby as often as possible so that baby understands that both Mommy and Daddy are here to care for them. If you see your husband struggling and getting frustrated, be prepared to tag out with him, but first offer encouragement and praise for his attempt and always encourage him to try again, at the next feeding, changing, etc. Showing support and encouragement will go a long way.
Don’t ever feel like you are doing something wrong by delegating tasks to your husband.
“I reassured her that turning over nighttime parenting responsibilities to Dad didn’t mean she was an uncaring or insensitive mother. On the contrary, she was ultimately doing what was best for her baby.
- Plan in advance. If possible, take time off of work.
- Mom will nurse and hand baby to dad to “finish off the job”
- Experiment with several different soothing techniques in order to see what works the best.
- Practice soothing baby during the day, it will make it easier for you at night.
- Get involved early and stay involved.
- Support Mom and make her job as easy as possible.
- Maintain a clean and healthy environment for your family.
- Give Mom a break whenever possible so that she can rest, get things done around the house or take time for herself.
- Remember that your wife is now in “mother mode” and the best thing you can do is create a pleasant environment so that Mom can focus all of her time and energy on meeting baby’s needs.
- If all else fails, be supportive!
I often refer to Dad’s as the “secret weapon” when it comes to infant care. There is something about a father’s touch that is unmatched. Never underestimate the bond you will develop with your child or how important your presence is, even when your child is just an infant. Take an active role in infant care and prepare for the arrival of your child. Don’t leave everything up to Mom. If you have no experience with infants, educate yourself; read books, do research and/or take parenting classes. You never know when a tip you read or fact you learned will come in handy at 3am when everyone is exhausted! The more you know the better things will be!
Sears, William. The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Rest for the Whole Family. New York: Little, Brown, 2005. Print.
A version of this article appeared on Diana’s blog titled Fathering to Sleep: Never Underestimate a Fathers Touch
Diana Flutie is a Certified Child Sleep Consultant from Helena, Montana. Originally from the UK, Diana graduated from the School of Justice Studies and Social Inquiry at Arizona State University with a specialization in developmental psychology and English.