Paternity leave comes sparingly at most places of employment in the U.S. A lucky new father can get up to two weeks, in my employment experience that is on the high end unfortunately. I took a week’s off in total. My wife went into labor on a Monday and I went into work the following Monday. I used precious vacation time for that week. Luckily, I saved up vacation from the prior year, and made sure I had vacation available for the week off, and for follow up appointments for our daughter. So, you only get a week maybe two off, how should you spend it?
Focus on your wife
It may seem obvious before the baby comes, you’d think your focus should be on the new baby. I personally no longer think that is true. Your primary focus should be on your wife. Even if labor and delivery went as simple and smooth as possible, your wife’s body has still experienced more strain, stress, and exhaustion than ever before. She will need help, and she may not be willing to ask for it. This is where you come in. Any thing you think may need done, just do it. Anticipate the problems and act. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s the little things that count. Not having to make dinner, or worry about laundry for a few days, can be exactly the kind of relief she needs. She will be spending every waking second either with or worrying about the baby. Let her focus on the baby, just be ready to help with anything and everything. Try to keep her relaxed and keep her still. She doesn’t need to be up and down so if it requires her to get out of bed, maybe it’s something you can take care of.
Establish a routine
Given the time frame on paternity leave, this is easier said than done. Getting into something that even resembles a schedule can help tremendously. You are about to leave for work again, and your wife will half to take care of a newborn on her own.
Plenty of things can be put on a schedule, Baby’s feedings, Baby’s naps, and visitors. That first week after you return to work, you are bound to have family and friends flooding in to see the new baby and to help. It’s important that you take the brunt of all the attention and schedule the visitors. Talk to anyone and make sure there isn’t a bunch of overlap between visitors and make sure they are timed, so they don’t interrupt the baby feedings and baby naps. Make sure your wife is also eating on a schedule. It’s surprising how easily self-care can go by the wayside when taking care of a newborn, plus it’s important for her milk supply if she is breastfeeding.
Connect with your baby
Overwhelmed yet? Trust me, you will be and that’s ok. Every new parent gets overwhelmed in the first few weeks of parenthood, and potentially everyday from that point on. You still need to make time in-between everything to connect with your baby. The easier way is to just be as present as possible. Avoid leaving the house if possible. Keep the phone at bay, with the exceptions of photos of your beautiful newborn. Keep visitors to a strict and short time frame to give your new family the alone time they need and deserve. Change as many diapers as possible, they add up quick but it’s valuable one on one time. I think the most bonding I had with my daughter in the first few days were from 12 to 6 A.M. Holding your newborn, with barely any sleep and trying to keep yourself awake is your first true testament as a father. I felt like a father, and I knew that I wouldn’t do this for anyone else. My daughter was here, and I loved her more than anything. Connecting comes naturally, just make sure you put the effort and time in.
Ultimately, everything I have said naturally occurs in small amounts. You do little things here and there for your wife, you get a small routine beneficial or not, and you connect with your newborn child. It’s important to focus yourself on these things due to limited time given on paternity leave. You don’t want to miss out on opportunities, and you don’t get a chance to redo your wife’s first child experience. Having a baby doesn’t just end once she gives birth. The coming weeks are all going to be remembered when she thinks back to having a baby. Smoothing the transition will help her think back on it all fondly, and that’s a gift worth giving.