Non-birthing parents: your role
In the first few weeks and months after birth, you can start building a loving, stable and responsive relationship with your baby. Your relationship with your baby shapes your baby’s development, learning and wellbeing, now and in the future.
For example, through their relationship with you, your baby learns vital information about their world. Your baby learns that the world is safe and secure, that they’re loved, that you respond when they cry or laugh, and much more.
Your baby also learns a lot about the world by seeing your relationships and behaviour with other people, especially your relationship with your partner, if you have one.
Here are tips for building your relationship with your baby and nurturing your relationship with your partner in the early days of parenthood.
Non-birthing parents: tips for getting started
1. Get hands on from the beginning
Get involved in the daily care of your baby – dressing, settling, playing, bathing and nappy changing. This is the best way to build your skills and confidence. These everyday activities also create a lot of one-on-one time with your baby, which is the building block of a positive relationship. When you get hands on, it can also give your partner a break.
2. Learn your baby’s cues
Babies give ‘cues’ to what they need through their behaviour and body language. By paying attention to your baby’s cues, over time you’ll learn how to work out what your baby needs.
3. Connect through touch
Physical touch makes your baby feel good, safe and secure. It also builds trust and connection with you. This kind of bonding with your newborn stimulates your baby’s brain development.
Babies love skin-to-skin contact, so hold your baby with their skin against yours whenever you can. And if you can’t hold your baby against your skin, just carry and hold them as often as you can. If you hold your baby against your chest, your baby can hear your heartbeat and will often settle well there.
4. Talk to your baby as often as you can
Talk while you’re carrying or changing your baby. For example, ‘Let’s get this nappy changed. That feels better, doesn’t it? Here’s a nice clean nappy. Don’t cry – we’ll be finished soon’. Every word baby hears helps to develop their language and learning and strengthens your relationship with them. Telling stories, reading books or singing songs has the same effect.
5. Help with feeding
Your support for breastfeeding can be vital while your partner is learning. You could give practical support – a glass of water, another pillow or whatever your partner needs. Or if your partner is having trouble, you can offer encouragement and look for breastfeeding support.
If you and your partner are bottle-feeding with breastmilk or infant formula, you can both be involved in giving baby the bottle and cleaning and sterilising equipment.
6. Have some one-on-one time
This kind of time is about tuning in to your baby. It gives you the chance to bond with your baby. It can be simple things like playing peek-a-boo or making faces while you dress your baby.
7. Get the information that you need
Whether it’s your first or fifth baby, there are always new things to learn. You can find information by searching this website, talking with other parents, attending parenting groups or asking professionals like your child and family health nurse. And one of the best ways to learn is by doing – spending plenty of time caring for your baby.
8. Accept or ask for help
If someone says, ‘Is there anything I can do?’, it’s OK to say ‘Yes!’ Talk with your partner about when you’ll accept help from family, friends, colleagues or neighbours. It might be as simple as asking someone to buy milk for you when they come over to visit or having someone to listen to your concerns.
9. Look after your relationship
Having a new baby can put extra strain on your relationship with your partner. Try to stay positive and support each other as you learn how to parent together. When you ask your partner how they’re going, you let your partner know you care. Negotiating and sharing expectations is good practice for later parenting. This can be about everything from deciding on paid work arrangements and parental leave to responsibility for cooking dinner or doing the washing.
10. Look after yourself
If you’re well, you’ll be better able to look after your baby and support your partner. You can keep your energy up with healthy lifestyle choices and as much sleep and rest as you can – even if it’s not at night. Even short amounts of time to yourself, like 20 minutes to unwind or read the news, can mean the difference between being stressed and feeling OK.
If you or your partner is having trouble coping with your baby or either of you is feeling low, get help from a health professional. See your GP or ring Lifeline on 131 114, MensLine on 1300 789 978, QLife (LGBTQ+ peer support) on 1800 184 527 or PANDA on 1300 726 306, or use their webchat services. You can also read more about postnatal depression in birthing mothers and postnatal depression in non-birthing parents.