Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari
4 Tips for Involving Your Partner with a Newborn
The first few weeks and months of a baby’s life is a journey like no other. Every day is a learning curve for parents, filled with a range of emotions.
In the early days, couples raising a child will find that they are establishing their roles in the new day-to-day routine and forming their own bonds with the baby.
If you’re a new mother, you’ll naturally be drawn to taking more responsibility for nurturing your baby - especially if you are breastfeeding. In addition, shorter paternity leave generally means that partners spend less time with the baby, which might result in them becoming less involved in the everyday.
But it’s equally as important to nurture the bond between your baby and your partner* at this crucial time. As a mother, you might instinctively take on the bulk of the tasks, but there are lots of ways you can accommodate your partner’s involvement and support their bonding. At the end of the day, it is in the baby’s best interest to have a close bond and relationship with both parents.
Here are four tips for supporting your partner in being involved with the baby to nurture their bond:
1. Share roles
Mothers who are breastfeeding will naturally find that the baby spends more time on them. However, there are plenty of other roles that your partner can take responsibility for if this is the case. I recommend encouraging as many of these as possible.
Once the baby has finished feeding, you could pass them to your partner to be burped. They can change the baby’s nappy or have skin-to-skin contact. They might like to take them out for a walk in a carrier.
I remember that after I gave birth to my first daughter, I wanted to do everything by myself. But seeing the joy of my husband getting involved, and understanding the importance of this bonding for my child, helped me to encourage this involvement as much possible. If your baby is bottle fed then you have the option to share the role of feeding too.
2. Support their intuition
You and your partner will undoubtedly have different ways of doing things - whether it’s nappy changing, feeding, dressing or comforting the baby. But that’s not to say that either of you are wrong in any of them. These differences are something to be celebrated as they are significant in the baby’s development.
I encourage you to support your partner to do things their own way, without judgement or interjection.
Consider leaving the room or the house while they take over. Allowing them time alone together will strengthen their bond and help them to find their way. Only through experience do we develop a relationship and intuition.
Having the confidence to try, cope with challenges and bounce back will strengthen their relationship and sense of competence. Offer your partner this safe space to learn and use it as an opportunity for me-time, you might like to go for a walk or take a bath.
3. Move away from negativity and move towards empowerment
Even the slightest hint of criticism or disapproval can seriously knock a partner’s confidence. Be mindful of both your words and your body language, as your partner - just like you - might be sensitive to it.
Try to avoid things like critical language, eye-rolling, worried facial expressions and regular intervention. This can cause them to doubt their ability and become reluctant to get more involved. I see this a lot in my work - the partner becomes more distant because they don’t trust their own intuition or skills. Support them at every stage and appreciate their effort and intentions even when (and perhaps more so) when things goes wrong.
Try not to tell them what they are doing wrong or what they are not doing. Instead, demonstrate and allow them to observe. Ideally, wait to be asked.
If they are asking for your advice, use soft language and a tone of voice – for example instead of “you should do this…don’t do …” consider something like “What I find helps me is….” Or “how about trying…”. Again, this will help build their confidence and remind them that you are both equals on this journey.
4. Communicate and be open with each other
As with every stage in a relationship, communication is key.
Create space to have a safe conversation with your partner about your feelings, expectations, fears and dreams for your family. Talk about how you were parented, and how you would like to parent your children. What are your shared values and how would you work as a team to support each other in this magnificent journey?
Check in with each other to discuss how you’re finding things, your wishes for their role in parenting and allow yourself to listen to their point of view. In the early days, the landscape of your parenthood is constantly changing, which requires more check-ins than usual.
Once you have an understanding of each other’s desires, you can create a routine that works for you both and form a mutual bond with your baby. When parents work together the biggest winner is you child.
*When I refer to partner, this represents both female and male partners. These tips are applicable to both heterosexual and same sex couples.
This article was written by couples therapist and parental advisor Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari. With a doctorate in Psychology, Dr Ben-Ari has worked in the field for over 20 years and runs a private clinic in Hampstead, London. She is also an author, speaker, therapist supervisor and has been the Chair of Imago UK since 2013.