Newborn Advice for Dads/Partners

Parents discuss how fathers and partners can bond with their baby.

Just a reminder that dads come in all shapes, sizes, and genders. This article is geared toward folks including (but not limited to) dads, birth partners, and adoptive parents. No matter how you identify, we hope these resources will be relevant to you and your parenting journey!


As one PSP parent asks the group:


Dear Dads,

How do/did you enjoy your newborn baby?

We gave birth to our second son 12 weeks ago and my partner has a very generous paternity leave of 16 weeks. As wonderful as this is for so many reasons, my partner does not (know how to) enjoy spending time with our newborn. He does take care of him quite a bit, but does so just to help and solely out of a sense of duty.

I would love for him to get some enjoyment out of the last month of his paternity leave! My partner has been brought up in an environment where women take care of kids, therefore lacking a male role model as an active, involved parent. Me sharing with him how I enjoy our little one will just give him more mom-type things to try, which won't help.

So your dad experience with newborns would really help!

Thank you in advance -

Mom to 2


Wear a baby carrier:

From a mom: “My husband used to wear in a baby carrier our both children, that seemed to help him bond in a way that breastfeeding does for moms.”


Establish a routine thing that dad can own:

From a mom: “Also nighttime ritual was pretty much exclusively his (unless he was at work) with bathing, getting in the bathtub with the baby, infant massage and little giggles. Then hand them over to me for reading time and breastfeeding. He always talks how much these activities meant to him and helped him bond with the newborn, and let him be and feel like an active daddy.”

 From a dad: “Bath time was fun because I would just bring them in the bath with me. They could rest on my legs and splash around a bit. I continued taking baths with them for years and did so with my younger one about a month ago. We don't really fit in our tub like we used to.


Find his own expertise with the baby:

From a dad: “If you are both home, I wonder if there's something he can become an "expert" in.”


Have a fun game:

From a dad: “Are you really asking other dads what we do? My wife usually freaked out when I held them upside down and swung them around. (My kids loved it though.)”


Consider how to use paternity leave:

From a dad: “Paternity leave is kind of wasted on newborns. They're a lot more fun by six months or so. But one thing I loved was just letting them sleep on me or carrying them around the neighborhood in the Baby Bjorn.”

From a mom: “Is his paternity leave overlapping with yours? Is there any way he can do a decent chunk of solo time with the baby? My husband did a 5 week leave AFTER I went back to work, to delay when we would need daycare. The first week nearly killed him (he literally sent me links to divorce papers! not his finest moment but I had struggled with PPD so I understood some of what made it hard for him to shift his identity so much), but he eventually got into a groove and I think that time was invaluable in making him a competent parent. He knew things I didn't, and he accomplished certain baby things - like a nap schedule - that I hadn't been able to. I definitely had to back off and let him do it his way. He had no interest in taking the baby to meetups or music classes as I had, and he watched a ton more TV than I did, but once I let go of it all being done my way, I realized he really got it.”

From another mom: “First of all, I think it will be sooo valuable for him to spend dedicated time with the baby, since jumping into the deep end on his own will really give him ownership over the whole parenting process.  We did that with both of our kids - my husband took a month off after I went back to work and, both times he came out of it a 100% equal partner. First of all, leave is tedious as all heck so expectations should be set low.  But if your husband likes to get out of the house and do things, toting a newborn along is perfect.  He can take the kid to museums, to the movies (unless the baby is colicky), to restaurants, to coffee shops.  This is your second kid, so presumably you guys have made friends with other parents, some of whom might be home during the day?  He can also trade childcare with parents on leave to go to the gym or do something for himself.”

 From a dad: “Maybe the paternity leave is his opportunity to spend more time w baby #1. Certainly that would also be a great outcome for all?”


Understand fears and insecurities:

From a parent: “I would say you can't force it fear of hurting or dropping the baby? Is it fear of looking unmanly?  Or just belief in certain gender roles? If it's just activities to do with the baby I would suggest doing absolutely nothing special, just hold him, carry him, look at him, laugh with him, wonder and make faces with him, don't scare him, I found the knowledge that my son's entire life was literally in my hands frightening but also pushed me to deal with my anxieties and pushed me to be braver and more courageous in seeking fun ways to stimulate my child.  Truly a tough thing to do made easier by living in the slope.”


Find alone time with the baby:

From a dad: “That said, for me, alone time with our son has been very important. I take him after the 6am feeding for a few hours every morning so my wife can get some uninterrupted sleep. 2 days ago we went for a 5 mile hike. In shorter busts, a walk around the block or just holding the baby while you go into the pharmacy etc. Your partner can think of that as "just to help and solely out of a sense of duty." But if he does it regularly, he will end up with his own sense of what is best for the boy, moods, etc. not to mention getting his own independent enjoyment.”


Play music, sing, and read:

From a dad: “I can tell you the greatest way I found to communicate with my newborn was through music. I would play many albums and even started a spotify list for friends all over to contribute to the ongoing list. I would play (and continue to play) 2 songs from Bill Withers each morning and dance with my son. By sharing the music I loved (I started with orchestral, moved on to Sinatra, then the Beach Boys, motown etc) I bonded with him in a way that continues. Now, at 8 months, when H. hears the first notes of our morning dance party jam, he lifts his arms, smiles, and waits for his favorite dance partner. I hope to play these songs at his wedding someday :)

From another parent: “Yes, playing music while I fed him a bottle was amazing. And singing to him. And reading to him!!”


Understand the role of the mother as gatekeeper:

From a parent: “The original poster also mentioned that they have an older child too. The father could be using that time to better connect with that child as well, especially since that child is going through a big moment right now. This is hugely different from how my fathers (biological then step) interacted with us. But I think most people (male or female) have an innate desire to connect with their offspring. So, one question I have of the mother is whether or not she's a "gatekeeper"? Does she allow the father to freely interact with his son or is she always present and insist on things being done "the right" (i.e.: her) way?”

From a dad: “If he defers to you for all decisions, he _is_ just helping out. (Again, not the end of the world, but it seems you at least would like him to have more engagement at this stage.) So if you want him to have more engagement, the two of you might try to find a way for him to offer opinions (eg - maybe baby just needs to be comforted for a while and isn't really feeding for nutrition just now). That includes you being open to doing a thing he suggests even if it isn't your conclusion. That is to say, it may not be what can _he_ do differently but how can you both interact differently.”


Know that parenting is hard and may not be enjoyable at first:

From a dad: ““Your partner may just not like babies - doesn't make him a bad person or bad parent. While I can't get enough time with our 6 week old son, it must be said this little fellow is rather opaque. How is your partner with your first? If the answer is great, caring, engaged etc. then maybe don't worry too much about this phase? Different strokes.”

From a parent on the Dads Group: “This thread is confusing. It is asking for advice, but in soliciting people who enjoyed parenting a newborn, the result is probably going to be a bunch of people with completely different perspectives from the partner in question. Is anyone going to respond saying "yea, you know what? I didn't really enjoy parenting either. I suggest cartoons." Yea, music is awesome, but the more likely someone is to bond over the Beatles, the more likely they were to bond in the first place. We all have different skill sets, sometimes they evolve, sometimes they don't. Some of the most caring men I know just couldn't wrap their heads around parenting in the early months. Most, if not all, of them became affectionate and supportive fathers who are raising awesome kids. This happens to be the case with my own father, and I'm sure many of us have experience with dads who were born to a different era with different expectations, but managed to be affectionate as time went on (or perhaps not). Obviously, we all want to enjoy this at every step of the way, but if we were all the same, we wouldn't really need this listserv.”

From another parent on the Dads group: “I was just about to chime in with something like this. I didn't enjoy the newborn phase of either of my children really. I found it arduous and the lack of sleep put me in a constant state of morbidity. They were too small to play with in any substantive way, so I felt like a task-doer, not a vital part of their lives. That definitely changed as they grew up and became more mobile and as their personalities came to the fore. I could offer them something no one else could with a frequency no one else could. Now my sons and I have a great time and I'm a super engaged dad. But newborn? Eck. I hear a newborn's cry and I think, "God, I'm glad that's over."

From another parent on the Dads group: “Agree whole-heartedly those were brutal days and someone not liking the extremely early poop-eat-sleep-lather-rinse-repeat days doesn't mean they are lacking in any way shape or form - i think if anything, they may just be honest I certainly don't miss those days - other than the early smiles and giggles. But yes, you're mostly just doing chores.”

From a dad:  “I think these quoted replies below are very a propos.  Having a new child is many things, some of then delightful, and some of them difficult.  Speaking personally, for years before I met my wife my most burning, driving desires were (1) to meet the love of my life and settle down and (2) to be a father.  So when our first son was born, I was of course delighted.  In that sense I really enjoyed being a father.  Just being one-- just having a child-- was in itself a delight.  And I unfortunately got no parental leave (I think I got 2 days off from my firm, the infamous Bear Stearns, which wasn't did provide a particularly nurturing culture) and took another couple of weeks of hoarded vacation days. So I was delighted to be a father and delighted to experience it.  That said, I can' really say I "enjoyed" the newborn months.  Of course there were those magical moments-- the first smile, the first laugh, the sweet noises our son made when sleeping.  But mostly I recall the first few months as constant exhaustion-- the failed attempts to feed the bottle feed the baby,  doing housework to give my wife some rest, all the rest.  And it got worse: both my boys were poor sleepers and as toddlers would wake up at 5:30.  Usually I got up to tend to the child as my wife would be home the whole day and this was her chance to sleep.   And just when the first one started to sleep a little better, the next one was born, and he was even tougher. So I counted the months until my boys would be old enough for us to remove the baby monitor and let them play in their room for a bit after waking up and let their parents sleep.  And even at the time I new I would miss those days.  And I do.  And I am glad I don't have to go through them again.   And people kept saying "this is the easy part-- just wait till the are teenagers-- that's when it gets *really* hard!"  And they are right.  And I count the years till they go away to college, or at lease settle down a bit more emotionally.  And just as I do that, I realize that I will miss these days as well.   And after pondering that, I realize it is a paradox I am comfortable with.  I am glad to be a parent, and also can't wait till I can give it all a rest.
So-- back to the original question: the first question we should be asking is: why do we have the concept of "parental leave" at all?    Surely it is to bond, but when the infant spends most of the day sleeping or nursing, evenings and week-ends might do almost as well.  I think the purpose is largely to allow the father opportunity to share the responsibilities and duties of the mother *as well as bond*.  It's better to have both parents home for the first couple of months during a very exhausting period, and to help keep the mother from going crazy.  I think parental leave for the father (or for the "non-caretaking" parent in gay couples) is a matter of equity.  The father gets to spend more time with the child, and the mother gets to unload some of the arduous work of care-taking.  Perhaps the mother can even go back to work while the father stays home.”