How to care for your new baby - for dads and partners
The first few minutes after birth
The midwife will check your baby straight after the birth. You might like to watch them do this, if you can. You can then share the details with your partner later on.
The midwife will then usually place the baby on your partner’s chest for their first cuddle and feed. You might want to take some pictures to help you all remember this moment.
Your baby’s appearance
When you see your baby for the first time, they may look a little different from what you expected. Straight after the birth, your baby may have:
- an unusually-shaped head – this will change as they grow
- a plastic clip to clamp the umbilical cord close to the belly button
- some blood on their skin, which the midwife will clean off with a towel
- a sticky white substance called vernix on their skin - this protected their skin in the womb and will absorb naturally into the skin
- a skin rash or tiny white spots – these will usually clear up on their own but tell the midwife if you’re worried
- swollen nipples or genitals – the swelling will calm down in a few weeks.
Cuddling your newborn
You will be able to cuddle your baby soon after they’re born. Wearing a shirt with buttons will mean you can have skin-to-skin contact with your baby. This will keep your baby warm and help you bond.
You may feel nervous about holding your baby at first but you will soon get used to it. Remember to support their head and neck as their neck muscles are not strong enough to support their head yet. If you’re not sure, ask the midwife to show you.
Read more about your baby in the first few weeks of life.
Getting to know your newborn
Now that your baby has arrived, you can get to know them and build a strong relationship.
Top tips for new dads and partners
- Have lots of cuddles and skin-to-skin contact with your baby – this helps to calm them and builds a close bond between you.
- Try not to feel left out – if your baby is breast/chestfeeding, they may be more interested in your partner to start with. But you can also help with feeding or you can look after them in other ways, like changing their nappy.
- You may want to take the lead on one or more tasks – for example, you might be in charge of bathing your baby.
- Talk and sing to your baby – when they’re a few months old, they will start to smile and respond to you.
- Look out for when your baby is ready to play – their eyes may be wide, their face bright and they may not move around much. Wait to see if they make eye contact with you and give them plenty of time to respond.
- You’ll know when your baby needs a break from chatting or playing because they will look away or start to fuss.
Spending time with your baby can be rewarding. It also helps your baby develop. It’s the start of a strong relationship between you, which will help them as they grow up.
Many partners say it took time for them to bond with their baby. Don’t worry if you do not feel a bond straight away. Caring for them and playing with them will help you feel more confident and positive as time goes on.
Soothing your baby
There will be times when your baby won’t settle, even when you’ve fed and changed them. Over time, you’ll learn how your baby likes to be comforted. Here are some things you could try:
- walking around with them in your arms
- rocking them in their pram
- using a baby carrier to keep them close to you
- softly singing to them
- cuddling them.
Caring for your baby
Caring for a newborn can be a steep learning curve. You and your partner are also likely to be feeling tired. Here are some practical ways you can share the load.
How to get involved in caring for your baby
- Take turns doing night feeds.
- Spend time alone with your baby while your partner rests.
- Pack the nappy bag ready for leaving the house.
- Change your baby’s nappies and wash or bin them.
- Bath your baby.
- Look out for any changes in your baby’s appearance or health – speak to the GP or health visitor if you’re worried.
It can take time for your partner and baby to get the hang of breast/chestfeeding. Your support is important in helping them breast/chestfeed successfully.
If your partner is trying to breast/chestfeed, ask them how they would like you to support them. For example, you could help them get comfortable or settle the baby afterwards. By reassuring them that they’re doing well, you can help to build their confidence.
If your partner is nervous about breast/chestfeeding in public, your support can help give them the confidence to start. Remember that they have the right to breast/chestfeed in any public space.
Find out how to get started with breast/chestfeeding and how to deal with common problems.
If your partner is not able to breast/chestfeed, or chooses not to, you can formula feed your baby. Some people combine formula and breast/chestfeeding. This is a good way for you to get involved with caring for your baby.
We have more information about feeding your baby with formula.
Your mental health
Looking after a new baby is exciting and challenging. It's important to look after your mental health after you have a baby.
More support and information
La Leche League has information about breast/chestfeeding for transgender and non-binary parents.
NCT has information about breastfeeding for dads and partners and family and friends.
NHS. Your newborn baby. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/after-the-birth/getting-to-know-your-newborn/ (Page last reviewed: 15 March 2021. Next review due: 15 March 2021)
NHS. What happens straight after the birth? https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/after-the-birth/what-happens-straight-after/ (Page last reviewed: 7 January 2019. Next review due: 7 January 2022)
Fatherhood Institute, Mental Health Foundation (2021) Becoming Dad: A guide for new fathers. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/Becoming%20Dad%20-%20A%20guide%20for%20new%20fathers_0.pdf
Howl J (2019) Engaging Fathers in the Perinatal Period to Support Breastfeeding http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/2021/the-perinatal-dad-engaging-fathers-in-the-perinatal-period-to-support-breastfeeding/
Baldwin S et al (2018). Mental health and wellbeing during the transition to fatherhood: a systematic review of first time fathers’ experiences. JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports 2018; 16(11): 2118-2191.
Royal College of Midwives (2019) Parental Emotional Wellbeing and Infant Development. https://www.rcm.org.uk/media/4645/parental-emotional-wellbeing-guide.pdf
NICE (2021). Postnatal care: NICE guideline 194. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng194
Ogbo FA et al. On Behalf Of The Global Maternal And Child Health Research Collaboration GloMACH (2020) Breastfeeding in the Community-How Can Partners/Fathers Help? A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jan 8; 17(2): 413.