From bonding with your new baby to helping your partner recover after childbirth, we go through the best ways to spend your paternity leave.
Becoming a parent is a life-changing event, particularly if it’s your first baby. Taking paternity leave in the early weeks is a really good way to spend some time at home and get your new family life off to the best start.
Taking paternity leave
If you’re a new father, or your partner has just had a baby, you’re usually entitled to two weeks’ paid paternity leave from work after the baby’s birth.
After the birth
You can start your paternity leave as soon as your baby’s born. It’s in these very early days and weeks that your partner is likely to need the most support from you as she’s recovering physically and emotionally.
Many women and babies have to stay one night or more in the hospital postnatal ward after the birth. If you’re the birth partner, you’re often able to stay with them in the hospital, which can be a great help as you can look after the baby when your partner goes to the toilet, showers or rests.
You can check the hospital policy and provision for partners staying overnight, as well as the visiting hours, by searching for the maternity unit where your partner will give birth.
Bringing your baby home
Taking your baby home from the hospital or birth centre is a milestone event, and if you’re driving you may be more than a little nervous as you put your precious bundle of joy in the back seat for the first time.
To make the trip run as smoothly as possible, make sure you have the baby car seat picked out and fitted well in advance.
If your baby has a long stay in hospital
If your baby is born prematurely or has other problems at birth, they may be admitted to the hospital special care unit. Depending on how long they have to stay in, most or all of your paternity leave could be used up before you even get home with your baby.
This is a very difficult situation for everyone involved, especially if your baby has ongoing medical needs after coming home.
Unfortunately, there’s not currently any special rights in place to support parents to have longer paternity leave with their babies under these circumstances. However, you can always talk to your employer about extending your time off work, for example by using:
- annual leave
- special leave with or without pay
- unpaid parental leave
- sick leave
- flexible working.
Your employer doesn’t have to agree to you having more time off, but many employers are sympathetic to new parents with premature or ill babies so it’s definitely something you should explore.
‘I’d imagined my two weeks of paternity leave would be spent at home, maybe in the garden. Instead, the first week went on the hospital stay and the second week was really difficult because my wife was still feeling so unwell after the birth.’ Read Trevor’s story
Helping your partner to recover
Pregnancy, labour and birth place a lot of strain on a woman’s body, so regardless of whether she’s recovering from a vaginal birth or has just had a c-section, the new mum needs as much rest as possible in the early days.
If she’s starting to breastfeed, she also needs to spend a lot of time frequently feeding the baby to get her milk supply established.
Taking care of everything practical around the home is often one of the best ways you can make sure that your partner gets the time and rest that she needs.
- Take care of all household chores and cook meals.
- Bring her drinks and snacks while she’s feeding, and consider setting up a breastfeeding corner in the home.
- If your baby’s formula fed, help make up the bottles when your baby’s hungry and sterilise the bottles and equipment between feeds.
- Be the gatekeeper for visitors: make sure they only come when the mother is feeling up to it, and aren’t overstaying their welcome or hogging the baby when it’s feeding time.
- Be present at postnatal appointments with the midwife, and help to remember any questions your partner’s been having about her recovery, emotional health or the baby.
- If you have other children, take them out to play or keep them entertained indoors during feeds so your partner can focus on the baby.
- Do the school runs for older kids and consider taking them out for other activities too, to give mum and baby space.
- Most importantly, ask your partner what she needs and wants often.
Bonding with your new baby
There are many great ways to bond with your newborn baby. Here are a few tips on how to get the best possible connection with your little one, right from the start.
- Have skin-to-skin cuddles between feeds, to promote natural bonding hormones.
- Sing and talk to your baby, they will recognise your voice from their time in the womb and will find it comforting.
- Wear your baby in a sling or carrier. As well as keeping them close, this is a really useful way to get other jobs done while bonding with your newborn.
- Be in charge of changing nappies, getting them dressed and giving them baths, to maximise quality time together.
Going back to work
You’ll probably find that two weeks of paternity leave flies by and it’s soon time for you to return to work. It’s completely normal for both you and your partner to feel a bit unsettled at this point.
Your partner may feel scared at the prospect of being alone with the baby for a full working day for the first time. Of course, you will also miss your new baby and may find it difficult to make the mental shift from being a parent around-the-clock to being back at work and away from them both.
There are things you can do to make the transition easier for all the family, for example:
- Keep in touch during the day. Especially in the early days, planning to catch up over the phone a couple of times during your work day can help reassure you both. Your partner can also send you lots of baby photos that a new parent can never get enough of.
- Plan after-work events and hobbies. Some things inevitably change when you have a baby, and having less time to yourself after work is one of those. Having a chat with your partner about how often is reasonable for you to stay out after work, and when and how she would like to go out too, can avoid a lot of friction in the long run.
- Take the night shift. Making sure both you and your partner get enough rest can be hard once you go back to work, but figuring out a schedule of who gets up in the night and who gets a lie-in on your days off can help keep the balance through the tough early months when your baby’s sleep pattern is erratic.
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