If you’ve just become or are about to be a father, first off – CONGRATULATIONS!!! This is the start of a new chapter in your life, one that comes with all kinds of milestones and other exciting experiences.
It’s more than normal to be concerned about impending fatherhood, especially the first few months. That’s why I’ve made this New Dad Survival Guide, which will help you through some of the biggest challenges and concerns when raising a newborn.
Getting Enough Sleep
Having a baby means accepting a lack of sleep, at least for a few months. Newborns spend much of their time asleep, but they can wake up in the middle of the night, needing to be cared for, especially for feedings. If you’re friends with other parents, you’ve probably heard all kinds of stories about how sleep-deprived they were.
While you won’t get a perfect night’s sleep initially, you also shouldn’t sacrifice your health and sanity. Set yourself up for success by unwinding as best you can before bedtime. Relax with a cup of tea and a book. Make sure your bedroom and your baby’s room (if sleeping in separate rooms) are clean and relaxing. Ambient sounds, such as from a white noise machine, could help your baby feel a lot more relaxed and sleep longer.
Keep their cribs uncluttered and make sure their sleepwear fits well and is comfy. Avoid doing anything too stimulating with them as the day winds down. This can help them better understand that nighttime is meant for relaxation.
It’s also better to have one rested parent than two sleep-deprived ones. Take turns with your partner, letting them snooze while you handle the unexpected wake-up calls. If they’re the one who gave birth, letting them chill is the least you can do. This can also be a great way to bond one-on-one with your baby.
Sleep deprivation is typical with a newborn, but it’s not something to take lightly. Don’t use over-the-counter medications and caffeine as a substitute for actual sleep. Get rest when you can, such as taking a nap during the day while your partner takes care of the baby. Continue eating well and keep up with healthy, fulfilling activities like reading and exercising.
The first few nights are difficult, but it gets easier with time. Eventually, you can just wake up to the sound of your baby crying like it’s an alarm clock. After about four months, you can start sleep training, teaching your baby how to fall asleep on their own. When they start sleeping through the night or at least for longer stretches, you can brim with pride and sigh with relief at the sleep you’ll catch up on.
If your baby isn’t sleeping, they’re pooping. Sometimes, they’re doing both. Like with sleep, they make this hardest on you at first. They’ll typically need changes every couple of hours, and the output can be overwhelming. However, the more you do it, the less it will faze you. Remember: it takes a real parent to change a diaper.
The first week of poop may take you by surprise. A newborn’s initial stools are meconium. These are black and resemble tar. Over time, they’ll develop more normal bowel movements. Keep in mind that the texture should be quite soft. It’s also worth knowing that babies can go days without pooping. This isn’t a big deal, necessarily. Talk to your pediatrician if their poop is bloody or an unfamiliar color, such as white or black (post-meconium).
Depending on how you’re feeding your baby, they should be having bowel movements at certain frequencies. This is at least every three days for breast-fed babies and at least every five days for formula-fed babies. Ask sooner than that if you feel the urge. It’s better to be reassured than to be left panicking in uncertainty.
You don’t have to rush to change your baby’s diaper as soon as it’s wet or dirty. To be on the safe side, you should wait a few minutes, just to make sure they’ve gotten everything out. This lets you avoid having to change them right after getting them in a clean diaper.
A used diaper is uncomfortable for a baby. Make the changing process comfortable for them by giving them a soft changing pad and handling them gently. Hold up their legs carefully as you remove their old diaper.
Wipe them gently but thoroughly and place the wipes into the diaper before taping it up and disposing of it. Apply cream after you’ve positioned them into their new diaper. Once they’re all changed, wash up and get the station set up for their next diaper change.
When changing a diaper, it’s not uncommon to be sprayed with a sudden shower. To protect you and the room, try using their old diaper as a shield. Accidents are bound to happen, though, and it’s nothing to sweat. Also, know that some messes are more than wipes can handle. Put your baby in a bath if you’re dealing with an especially tough situation.
Diaper changes are necessary and another way to bond with your baby. Talk them through the process. Even if they can’t understand what you’re saying, they should still enjoy hearing your voice. You can also just sing gently to them to help create a more relaxing environment. It’s not exactly the most fun part of being a dad, but it can still be a rewarding experience. Before you know it, you’ll have changed thousands of diapers, and they’ll be potty-trained.
Dealing with Crying
Imagine if you knew nothing but comfort. Then, you’re suddenly thrust into a world of noise, strange sights, and giant monsters. You don’t have any way to express yourself verbally. The best you can do is a high-pitched wail.
Suffice to say, when a newborn cries, there’s a reason for it. As a new dad, deciphering the cry and figuring out how to calm your baby is tough. It can feel a little like someone throwing a Rubik’s Cube and telling you to solve it with a blindfold on.
Some solutions are easy. You check their diaper, feed them, or burp them, and it’s all taken care of. Other times, they might just be fussy and need to be rocked gently. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t figure it out right away.
Don’t worry if you can’t figure it out at all. Focus on helping your baby feel better. Give them a pacifier if that works for them, though be aware of the risks. Bring them closer to you and talk or sing to them in a soothing manner.
Movement can also help calm your baby down. A motorized swing or cradle can keep them calm while giving you a break. Be careful about not letting them fall asleep inside these devices, however. This can lead to them needing movement to fall asleep. Taking them for a car ride can also work wonders. This also helps you get out of the confines of your home.
A crying newborn longs for the comfort and familiarity of the womb. You can replicate this by playing white noise sounds, including running the vacuum cleaner. Some bassinets replicate the feeling of being safe inside the womb. Over time, with your love and patience, they can see that the real world isn’t all that scary, especially not with you around.
When someone asks you about fatherhood, you might respond with something like, “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” However, the feelings can be complicated. Even if you’re beaming with joy at your creation and spending time with them, it’s very easy to feel stressed. You’ll be juggling multiple balls at once between taking care of your baby, going to work, and maintaining your relationship with your partner.
Stress doesn’t go away by ignoring it or covering it up with unhealthy activities, like drinking. If you need some time to yourself, don’t keep it to yourself. Talk to your partner about it and find ways to address it while also being there for your baby. Just because you’re stressed, it doesn’t mean you can shirk your parental responsibilities.
Having a baby can teach you to rethink your priorities. You can only focus on so many things in one day. Given the choice, why would you doom-scroll through social media when you could concentrate on getting to know your adorable baby better? By letting go of stressors, you can reduce their influence over you.
Sometimes, it’s a lot more complicated than just needing to reduce distractions. Postpartum depression can affect fathers as well as mothers. Be sure to share any prolonged negative feelings you’ve been experiencing. As a father, you need to be there for your child. For that to be possible, you also need to be there for yourself.
Every moment you have with your baby is a time to bond. Embrace this, and things can be a lot more special. You can also help them to develop a stronger trust in you. Whenever you can, find ways to extend your bond with your baby.
Talk to them often and mix it up. Tell them about your day in a silly voice. This can also help you shake off some of the chaos of the day. Plus, you’ll help them to form their language skills.
Physical contact is another important form of bonding. Skin-to-skin touching is important for fathers as well as mothers. It can help relegate your baby’s heartbeat and help them sleep better.
It can also make you a lot more relaxed, able to attend to your baby more easily. Have your baby lay on your chest in just a diaper with your shirt off. Feel the rise and fall of your stomach as you breathe in and out. Notice how your baby responds and see how good it feels for you.
Don’t despair if you don’t feel a connection right away. Some new dads feel instantly attached to their little ones, but others need more time. You’re getting to know your baby, but they’re getting to know the world as well as you. Together, you can learn how to make it through this crazy but rewarding new experience.
Being a new dad teaches you a lot about yourself in a fairly short timespan. There will be hiccups and other slip-ups, but these are easy to recover from. Focus on keeping your baby safe and attended-to.
Remember that through it all, you’re watching them grow up and helping them along the way. Savor these moments and the different milestones they meet. They really do grow up so fast, and the best way to slow it down is by being an active presence in their lives from the very start.