This message is for all the daddies out there. I’m a newborn photographer so I spend my fair share of time with brand new families who are experiencing all the highs (and, yes, the lows too) of bringing home a newborn. Some daddies are complete naturals – this is what they were born to do. Those daddies feed (pumped milk or formula – I don’t know any super-nippled dads), change diapers, bathe, burp, hang out with, soothe, nap with, and nurture their new babies. It’s effortless and beautiful to watch. Sometimes it’s even a little bit funny because their mommy-partner often stands back and watches, like, am I here? Do you see me?? Am I only here because milk??? Daddies, you’re important too.
For other daddies, this life-stage is not as natural. My own husband fell into this category, God bless him, but more on that in a sec. For these “not born into it” dads, these times are a little more uncertain. Daddies who do not automatically possess that nurturing gene sometimes (a lot of times) feel “extraneous”. I’ve heard, “my baby doesn’t like me”, (which makes me want to weep for them). These daddies often have babies who are exclusively breastfed and who automatically settle more easily when snuggled with mommy. These daddies get handed a quiet, full-bellied baby on the brink of sleep and their exhausted wives move away to get a drink of water or take a shower or, save me, a nap, and within minutes that sleepy, milk-drunk baby is a screaming, red-faced fury monster. And daddy sits there, confused, disheartened, resigned. “My baby doesn’t like me.” It’s not true. Daddies, you’re important too.
So, here’s the thing about newborns. They’re eating, sleeping, pooping machines. Their sole existence is to be little leeches that take, take, take. That’s why God made them cute and gave us protective instincts. If not for the cute and the instincts, I feel sure there’d be a lot more newborns looking for a home. So take heart…this was all designed for a reason. Mommies do take the brunt those first few weeks and months, for sure. But Daddies – you’re important too. You may not mean all that much to that tiny human yet but you’re *SO* important to that mommy. You are basically her hero, swooping in when she has nothing left to give. And, in a couple months time, you’re going to be rewarded with a huge, gummy baby smile that is going to erase all the moments of doubt and resignation. And in a couple years time? You’re going to be that tiny human’s personal jungle gym. Playtime is going to be your middle name. Those tinies will scream your name when you walk in the door after a long day of work. It will be great. You just gotta get through the first couple months. Daddies, you’re important too.
So here’s what you do in the meantime. Back to my own husband, who never held a baby before I birthed his three. This is the number one thing I advised my husband when I handed him a tiny, sleepy, quiet bundle and, moments later, that bundle was screaming: If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something different. Most women (and lots of men!) naturally know how to handle and soothe newborns. Some women (and lots of men!) don’t. My husband didn’t (and please let me interject here that my husband is amazing at LOTS of things. I trust him 100% with our family’s wellbeing and he is the authority of our household. My husband sits on the highest pedestal in my life. He just didn’t have experience in this ONE thing. He’s a fast learner.) Okay, disclaimer done, back to the story. I’d hand him the quiet newborn and he’d take him and cradle him. That’s what you do, right? Well, the baby had just been fed and his immature esophagus was allowing that milk to flow back upwards instead of staying down in his stomach. The result? Screaming and crying. Angry, flailing newborn. The solution? Change positions! Put the baby over your shoulder and pat his back. Boom! Instant quiet. My husband, not yet having the experience, would stare helplessly at the red, shouting babe, and conclude that he wasn’t good at this when all he needed to do was just reposition the baby. Let me say it again for the daddies in the back. If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something different. It may not come naturally but it’s easy to learn. Some dads feel nervous handling a tiny fresh newborn and that’s understandable. Big hands + miniature human = fumbling and uncertainty. The best way to counteract that is to hold the baby a LOT. The more you handle your babe, the more comfortable you will become handling your babe until you can hold her under your arm while doing dishes with one hand and talking on the phone to your wife who felt so assured of how you were handling the situation that she snuck away to Starbucks and thought to call home for your order too. That’s a win, win, win, WIN situation right there. (Wives, see what I did there?? *wink*)
Daddies, you’re important too. Everything is new and uncomfortable until it’s not. Jump in, grab that baby, do a little assertive swaddling and show that mini of yours that, although your nipples may not work the way momma’s do, they’re still fine nipples and are worthy of being respected (…too far? maybe I took it too far. In my defense, I’m a former maternity nurse and words like nipples were part of my working vocabulary). Your baby likes you, I promise. Or he will, when he’s no longer a primitive, milk-demanding bot. And that’s when it gets fun. Hang in there. Your wife thinks you’re a CHAMPION.
Before anyone thinks Bryan was the inspiration for this blog, his baby hasn’t even been born yet 😂 But I figured Bryan would *totally* enjoy the cheeky humor in this post and, plus, I needed an immediate reason to feature his and Michelle’s breathtaking Annapolis beach session. Enjoy!
Liz Viernes Photography is based near Annapolis, Maryland, and specializes in maternity, fresh 48, posed and lifestyle newborns and first year milestone portraits.