Wow! You’re having a baby! Congrats, Dad. You’ve just received all those thoughtful expectant dad gifts at your baby shower, but now what? Everyone talks so much about how a woman’s life changes when she becomes a mother, but a dad’s life changes, too. While it would be wonderful if an instruction guide came along with your newborn, sadly, one doesn’t. That means that it’s ride or die time for you and your partner as you navigate unfamiliar and confusing territory together, while learning to understand “newborn speak.”
The good news is that as time goes by, you do, in fact, learn. Every parent has natural instincts that kick in, and as the days unfold with your new little one, those instincts, along with each new experience of trial and error, will help you build a database of knowledge about your child that will guide you as he grows. Fathering is a tough job, which is why we’ve created this list of tips for first time dads to help you out. Keep reading for some of our best advice to help you when your baby is born.
First, Don’t Panic
Many dads have all kinds of worst-case scenarios running through their minds. It’s full-on panic mode as you worry about how small the baby looks, how tiny his fingers and toes are, and oh boy, what if you accidentally kill him somehow? Relax, Dad. Your newborn baby isn’t nearly as fragile as he looks.
They’re quite sturdy and if you watch how the nurses handle a newborn, you’ll realize that pretty quickly. Scratch that, perhaps don’t watch. Nurses fling babies around like it’s their job (because it kind of is) and if you’ve never seen them in action before, it can be a little terrifying. So, observe at your own risk! Either way, your baby won’t break if you hold him, we promise.
Second, Bond with Your Baby
You’ll hear a lot about baby bonding all throughout your partner’s pregnancy, but the concept may seem foreign to you. After all, the baby isn’t even real until he emerges from the womb. How does a guy bond with that? While it’s tough for dads to bond closely with a baby while in utero, that doesn’t mean you can’t start bonding with your bundle of joy as soon as he’s born. Many moms and dads engage in a little skin-to-skin cuddle time to help the bonding process. You can also do other things to help bond with your newborn once he’s home. You can:
- Carry him in a front baby carrier during activities and walks
- Talk to him frequently, sing to him, make eye contact
- Read to him while you cuddle him, so he learns your voice
- Play with him, mimic his vocalizations and movements
- Talk to him frequently as you go about the day
Third, Swaddle Like a Boss
Or a burrito, take your pick. Newborn babies love to feel safe and secure. One way to help them feel that way is to swaddle them tightly in a receiving blanket. It helps limit their involuntary movements that might cause them harm and keeps pressure on their bodies in a way that reminds them of being tucked safely in mommy’s womb. Your baby might look like a burrito with two eyes and a mouth, but he will love it.
Fourth, Eat, Sleep, Poop, Repeat
No doubt, you’ll quickly learn that newborn life is fairly predictable. During the newborn stage, babies essentially eat, sleep, and poop with very little variation. Watch your baby’s rhythms carefully, and you can quickly establish a routine around them. Routines are important and it’s a lot easier to establish a routine around your little guy’s natural rhythms than to try to force a routine that makes life harder than it needs to be.
However, if your newborn somehow gets his days and nights confused, which can happen on occasion if a routine isn’t established quickly enough, then it’s up to you to get creative on ways you can keep the little nugget awake during the day so he experiences less sleepless nights. Keep your days active and the light bright, and make sure nights are quiet, staid, and boring. Also, make sure they’re dark. Is this process challenging? Yes. Is it worthwhile? Indubitably.
Fifth, Speaking of Sleep…
Sleep is a hot commodity in a household with a newborn, both for you and your spouse. Once you’ve got that beautiful routine established, you can start grabbing naps when and where you can find them. Take shifts with your little one if need be, but you and your partner should both try to sleep when your baby sleeps as much as possible.
Sleep deprivation is a thing and it’s felled even the most stalwart of dads who don’t make time to get enough of it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can sit up to the wee hours playing Xbox, feed and change the baby in between, and still get up the next day to meet your obligations.
It might work for a brief period of time, but lack of sleep inevitably catches up to you. Sleep deprivation is dangerous for everyone, including your baby. You need your full wits about you to parent successfully and getting at least an adequate amount of sleep each night is one way to help you do that.
Sixth, Feeding Your Baby
No newborn baby guide for dads would be complete without mentioning baby feedings. Remember, we said eat, sleep, poop, repeat? Eating is your baby’s favorite thing to do, second only to sleep. However, feeding your newborn is not a mommy only endeavor. Whether your baby mama chooses to breastfeed or formula feed, you can still be a part of the process. Breastfeeding will require her to pump breast milk for storage, so that you can feed your little one with a bottle.
Feeding your baby is not only essential, but it’s also a great way to bond with your little bundle of joy. You get to spend time holding and cuddling him while providing what he needs. It’s also a great way to take those sleep shifts with mom that are so vital, especially at night. You can let her sleep while you take on a feeding round, and vice versa. Just remember that if you’re doing a night feeding, keep the room dark and quiet. Nighttime feedings are not playtime. Also, don’t forget to burp him when you’re done. Otherwise you might regret that midnight feeding.
Seventh, Crying is Normal
Some dads go into panic mode when their baby cries, especially if the crying seems excessive. It’s important to keep calm and remember that babies aren’t crying to make you crazy, they are crying to vocalize a need. Babies cry for many different reasons and as you continue to parent your baby, you’ll learn to recognize the differences between a cry when he’s hungry and a cry when he’s wet.
You will also learn through trial and error different ways to soothe your little guy, whether it’s walking and patting his behind, or jiggling him on your lap. If you’ve met all of your baby’s basic needs and he still keeps crying, he could be feeling a tummy upset. There’s always a reason your baby cries, it’s up to you and your partner to be sleuths and determine what that reason is.
Eighth, You Won’t Die by Diaper Change
Diaper changing is sometimes a new father’s nemesis. It’s hard to wrap that bit of diaper around a baby’s tiny bottom and make sure it stays there. Don’t fret, though; practice makes perfect. Also, baby stools are very different from an adult’s and the number of times they go can be downright disturbing. They can be so colorful! Not to mention how disturbing it is the first time your little one poops or pees on you. Just remember, the first time is always the worst. Soon you’ll be changing diapers like a pro and wondering how you ever thought it was hard. And don’t forget to pack a portable diaper changing pad when you’re on the go (you’ll thank us later)!
Ninth, Babies are Learning Sponges
Even though you might think this newborn stage isn’t all that exciting, there’s a lot happening under the hood, so to speak. Babies' brains are constantly learning, growing, and adapting. They are soaking in every sight, sound, smell, and feeling around them. You can help your baby learn and grow by talking to him all the time, playing with him, using different voices and emotions when you’re in his face, and simply interacting with him. He’s cataloging and learning from all of it, and it’s laying the foundation for a lifetime of learning. If you can’t think of things to say, read him a book or quote lines from your favorite movie. He will absorb all of it!
Remember dads, you’re not alone. There are millions of first-time fathers all over the world, bumbling through the day trying to figure out how this parenting thing works. While there’s a lot of newborn advice for dads out there, nothing beats hands-on experience. Add this advice to your dad checklist and you’ll be ready to go. And once your baby is born, just dive in and don’t look back!