PHOTO BY CARMEN CHEUNG
1. OK, don’t hate me for this one, but I’m a firm believer that the person who is not doing the night feeds should be the one to get up in the morning with the baby.
If she’s handling the middle-of-the-night wake-ups (like, at midnight, at 2 am, and at 4 am) then you should be the one to take the baby after the 6 or 7 am morning feed and let your partner sleep an extra 30 minutes. Sure, you have a busy workday ahead, but there’s no reason you can’t make a tradition of fixing breakfast while wearing the baby in a sling or carrier, or drag a Moses basket or a bouncer chair into the kitchen. You can even set up a bouncer chair in the bathroom while you shower (just secure your infant in the straps, and leave the shower curtain a little open). It’s a small thing that will reap huge rewards: you’re building up goodwill with your partner for when you can’t make it home by 6 pm, and the extra zzzzs—plus your willingness to pitch in and parent as much as you can, despite your work responsibilities—help preserve a new mom’s sanity as she faces (another) day of solo parenting. Think of mornings as your special one-on-one time with your kid. (A word to the wise: babies are usually in a better mood in the morning than during those evening, post-work witching hours.)
2. If your partner is breastfeeding, you’ll want to be involved, but not TOO involved.
This is a tricky one. Watch breastfeeding and latch how-to videos online, and try to educate yourself, too. You’re both beginners at this (and so is your newborn, for that matter). No woman wants to be mansplained about breastfeeding, but I’ll admit that sometimes my husband was more observant than I was, could notice the baby’s position, and was able to make helpful, quiet adjustments. Plus, he wasn’t as tired or as hormonal as I was. He’d seen the lactation consultant re-positioning us and helped me remember (and recreate) tips we’d received at the Newman breastfeeding clinic during the first week. Before your partners’ due date, it’s a good idea to program some lactation consultant numbers into your phone and research the nearest clinic locations and hours. Have them on hand, just in case. Even when breastfeeding comes easily, it’s an ever-evolving relationship. Something that was painless during week two could hit a few hiccups in week four—you never know.
3. Every time your partner sits down to nurse or feed the baby, check to see if she needs anything.
Even moms who love and cherish breastfeeding can feel marooned in the rocking chair while the baby eats for the twelfth time in one day and then, inevitably, falls asleep on her. Does she need her phone, her phone charger, a fresh glass of water, a coffee refill, or a snack? Is the TV remote annoyingly just out of reach at the other end of the coffee table? Move it closer to her. This can seem like a small thing, but it is EVERYTHING.
4. Surprise her.
With sushi she hasn’t had for nine months, grocery-store flowers, a bottle of wine, a trashy magazine, or a fancy coffee-shop drink instead of the usual home brew. It doesn’t have to be an expensive push present. Teeny, frequent gestures of kindness and consideration are key.
5. There’s no reason why the parent who gave birth also has to be the one doing all the washing and sterilizing of pump parts, bottles, nipples and pacifiers.
Learn about sterilizing and storing breastmilk and formula here—you should be as much of an expert as your partner. Take ownership of this task. Devote some brain space to always having a mental accounting of how many clean bottles are in the cupboard or on the counter, and make sure you wash and clean them nightly so you never run out. Same with diapers. (Hint: Amazon is your friend.)
6. Check in with your little family often when you’re at work.
Being alone with a baby all day can be crazy-making, even when things are going really well. She’ll be starving for adult conversation, or someone who cares just as much as she does about what the baby’s poop looked like this morning (and do you think that’s weird?). Text and call, and when you get home, let her debrief you about her day. If she’s too frazzled or too cranky to chat, immediately take the baby (no questions asked) and send her out for a walk.
7. MAKE HER FOOD.
Preferably food that can be easily eaten with one hand. Stock up on muffins, bagels, apples, cheese, almonds, granola bars—anything snack-y, filling, delicious and easy to eat on the go. She’s feeding the baby; you’re responsible for feeding her. This brings me to the dinner issue. Yes, even though I was “home all day” for a year, I really wasn’t able to pull off both full-time baby care and dinner until about month six. I know moms having their second and third kids (or more) have this mastered much faster than I did as a new mom, but it may take several months to learn how to multitask, how to adjust to your new sleep situation, and to figure out how to time grocery store outings with naps, feeds, and diaper explosions. While mat leave days can seem unstructured, the window to leave the house can be ridiculously narrow. Even the most basic to-do list is at the mercy of your baby’s ever changing moods and needs. If you want to be really awesome, spend your evenings and weekends batch cooking and freezing some meals. If you can’t cook, ask eager-to-help family members to channel their generosity into meal deliveries, stock up on takeout menus, and download an app like UberEats.
8. Go easy on her, she has a lot on her mind.
It’s not “baby brain,” it’s that she’s actually keeping track of a lot of details that aren’t preoccupying the rest of the household. When will my milk come in?What if it never does? How many hours has it been since the baby last fed? Was it the left breast or the right? (And is it OK if the baby didn’t feed from both? Will my boobs be lopsided?) Has the baby been awake for more than two hours? Was that last catnap long enough to “count” as a nap? Did I remember to sterilize the breast pump parts from last night? Why is the baby seeming to nurse more this morning than she did yesterday morning? Should I be worried about my milk supply? (Quick, google how to boost low milk supply.) When is that next paediatrician appointment again? Does the subway station near the doctor’s office have an elevator for the stroller, or do I need to take the baby in a carrier? And which infant-transportation method guarantees better sleep? That’s just a snapshot. While your partner may not be vocalizing all of these seemingly minute—but very important—thoughts and questions, she’s attempting to manage it all. And it’s exhausting.
9. Become the baby whisperer.
I know, this is easier said than done. Yes, your partner, if she’s nursing, has the secret weapon—lactating breasts—and she’s spent the last nine months developing a bond with your new arrival. But don’t immediately hand your crying infant off to your partner—resolve to be confident. You need to exude a cool and calm “Don’t worry, I got this” attitude. (It’s reassuring to both the baby and your co-parent.) Whenever my son was crying, I could always offer a boob as a potential solution. My husband, obviously, did not have that trump card. So he had to get creative. He came up with all these silly faces, songs and techniques (he mastered Harvey Karp’s five “S” tips early on) for soothing and distracting a fussy newborn, and as a result, he’s a better baby whisperer than I am. Now that our little guy is almost two years old, and I’m not nursing anymore, relying on my boobs to solve everything is no longer an option (this is both a blessing and a curse). But the patience and sense of humour my husband utilized in the first few months as a dad has grown into an impressive ability to deflect and redirect epic toddler tantrums, which is useful to this day.