Anything your partner can do for your baby (except for breast-feeding), you can do, too. Among many other things, you can:
Of course, just because you're now expected to share (if not equally, at least wholeheartedly) in baby care doesn't mean you'll be a natural at it (though you may very well be). You may have to work on building the patience, tuning in the radar, expressing the gentleness, and unleashing the playfulness that caring for an infant often demands. But it may surprise you to find that many mothers, including your partner, probably need to develop these skills, too.
The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act applies to you as well as your partner, provided that you work for a company with 50 or more employees. By law, you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for family reasons, yet too few new fathers take advantage of this law.
In addition to love and caring, all you need to become a good father is time. You've got to put in your hours, whether it means changing diapers, bathing your baby, feeding her, putting her to bed, hugging and kissing her, or playing, singing, and reading with her.
If you already feel pressed for time as the family breadwinner, this amount of time can seem like a big demand. Even if you work 60 or more hours a week, however, you can still probably manage to set aside at least four hours a day to spend with your baby. (Time when one or both of you are sleeping doesn't count.) But you have to make your baby and family a real priority in order to accomplish this scheduling feat. You may need to cut back on leisure activities, for example. Set aside blocks of time, daily if possible, when you will have absolutely nothing to do but devote yourself to your baby. Your baby will come to cherish these special times with her daddy-and you probably will, too.
The more hours you put into baby care, the better you'll feel about your parenting skills. In addition, given enough time, your baby is just as likely to attach to you as to your partner. Indeed, when hurt or scared, your child may even begin to turn to you for comfort as often as or even more often than she turns to her mother. But again, you need to put in your hours in order to win your baby's confidence, build her trust in you, and help her to feel secure in your presence.
Your willingness to feed your baby from a bottle will become especially helpful at weaning time. You can give your baby a bottle while your partner stays out of sight-and hopefully, out of mind.
If you possibly can, take a good chunk of paternity leave when your baby is born or shortly thereafter. Both you and your partner could use the extra rest you'll get by sharing baby care duties in the first weeks. In addition, you'll have the opportunity, never to be repeated, to get to know and enjoy your new baby in a relaxed, leisurely way. Paternity leave affords you the chance to get comfortable with your child. If leave is either not available or not affordable, then take some vacation time or personal days.
If spending time with your baby is a priority for you, consider some of the alternative employment options discussed in Deciding to Work After Baby Is Born. You, too, can perhaps customize your work schedule to spend more time with your family. You may be able to take advantage of flex time or working part-time (at least for a month or two). If you have a marketable skill, you might want to consider starting a freelance business from your home. Or you and your partner might work out an arrangement where you both work part-time or you stagger your work hours to share baby care.
Even if you cannot or will not alter your work schedule after the baby is born, try to make yourself available for emergencies. After all, you are just as capable of taking time off from work to take your baby to the doctor or to stay home with him when he's sick (or the baby sitter is unavailable).
Whether feeding your baby, playing with her, or doing any other activity with her, try to maintain as much eye contact as possible. Eye contact is as important as physical contact in creating and sustaining an intimate relationship with your child. Singing or cooing softly to her while feeding her or cuddling her can not only keep her gazing up at you, but can also deepen your relationship. A warm smile will also keep your baby's eyes glued to your face.
You may be able to put your baby back to sleep in the middle of the night more easily than your partner can. Precisely because you don't have breasts to excite your baby, your hugging, rocking, and singing lullabies may have a more soothing effect on her than your partner's attempts to do the same. Your partner's breasts can become a distraction or obsession no matter how tired your baby seems.
Some new fathers wonder whether their inability to nurse will prevent them from bonding as completely as their partners do with their babies. Though it's true that if your partner breast-feeds you can't bond with your baby in quite the same way she does, you can demonstrate your love in so many other ways besides nursing that this one area should not interfere with your ability to get to know and love your baby.
Your baby will bond with both you and your partner not just through breast-feeding, but through smiling, clinging, seeing, hearing, and crying. If you respond to your baby in a loving way, she will love you regardless of whether you have the ability to lactate. Besides, just because you don't have breasts that produce milk doesn't mean you can't feed your baby and take advantage of the opportunity it presents to forge a stronger bond between you both. If your baby needs bottle-feedings to supplement breast-feeding or to give your partner some time away from baby care, you can give all, or at least most, of them.
If and when you do feed your baby, take full advantage of the opportunity that feeding provides to bond with her in a special way. Don't nonchalantly prop a bottle in your baby's mouth while you watch TV or read the newspaper or talk with friends. The food (whether formula or expressed breast milk) you give your baby is important. But just as important (if not more so) is the warm physical contact that comes with holding her close. Loving, gentle touch gives your baby an all-encompassing sense of support, calm, security, and love. So cradle your darling in your arms, hold her against your chest, and stare into her beautiful eyes.
If your baby gets fed breast milk exclusively, you can still participate in the feeding process. You can help, for instance, by getting your baby out of her crib when she cries in the night. You can also help out with any other middle-of-the-night activities: changing soggy diapers, for instance, or getting your baby to go back to sleep.
If you can feed your baby an occasional bottle, great! If not, then make the most of all your other opportunities to do for your child. When your partner is nursing your baby, admire the miracle of breast-feeding (as long as it doesn't make your partner feel too self-conscious). But try not to feel jealous or left out. You are not in a competition for your baby's affections or attention.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bringing Up Baby © 1997 by Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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