The First Year of Fatherhood: 16 Pointers for Dads-To-Be
Gentlemen, welcome aboard Flight 232 to Dadtown. We’re expecting some turbulence, so please fasten your seatbelts and listen carefully to our pre-fatherhood announcements…
When a couple is expecting a baby, it’s ALL about the mom-to-be. People ask her how she’s feeling, what baby gear she needs, which names she’s considering, where she wants to have her baby shower, and the list goes on.
The dad-to-be might get the odd “congrats,” but nobody’s really concerned about him. So, it’s no wonder that the first year of fatherhood comes as a full-body shock to most men.
Guys, it doesn’t need to be that way. If you arm yourself with some advice and knowledge from the other side, you’ll be just fine. Here are 16 things you need to know…
Take as much time off as you can get
You love your job, are an essential member of your team, and can’t help but wonder how they’ll survive without you for three to five days when the baby comes. RED ALERT! Work will seem utterly insignificant once you’re holding a tiny human that looks exactly like you (but smells a lot better) in your arms. Take all the paternity leave, vacation and sick days you can muster. You only become a father once. Cuddle that kid and then cuddle it some more.
Your partner’s body will do all sorts of weird stuff
Milk will spontaneously leak from her boobs. She’ll wear diaper-sized pads for weeks, and will probably look like she still has a baby in her belly for a while. She won’t feel very attractive, and that could bring her down, or she might be too sleep-deprived to care. Either way, try to give the mother of your newborn as many hugs and compliments as you can because she needs them.
Her emotions will be wacky, too
Try not to panic if your partner starts to sob when her freshly buttered toast lands face-down on the floor. Don’t be surprised if she gives you a death stare when you wake up refreshed after seven solid hours of sleep. The woman is exhausted, hormonal and in a mild state of shock. Make her a cup of tea and a fresh piece of toast.
You won’t have much sex for a while (sorry)
Most doctors recommend that women wait at least six weeks after childbirth before having sex to give their bodies time to heal. But don’t be surprised if your partner isn’t raring to go the minute she gets home from her six-week postpartum check-up. Some parts of her body might still feel tender and sore, or she might not feel emotionally ready yet. Becoming a mom is a life-altering experience, and many women need time to adjust. Heck, you might not be at your randiest either. Be honest with each other about how you’re feeling, and opt for other forms of intimacy such as hugging and kissing until you’re both ready to get back in the game.
Your relationship will need more work than ever
Despite the fact that you’re too exhausted to read the takeout menu, you should still prioritize date nights (at home). Keep it simple – a nice bottle of wine and a movie, or a candlelit bubble bath. All that matters is that you spend quality time with your partner so you don’t wake up in a year wondering why there’s a wedge the size of the Grand Canyon between you.
Bonding with your kid might take a while
You’d always pictured bonding with your kid, but this milk-guzzling, sleep-hating little being can’t even hold its head up! Plus, it’s hard to figure out where you fit into the feed-change-play-sleep-repeat cycle, especially because the play part only lasts two minutes before the overtired protesting starts.
Try to find small moments to connect with your baby. Go for a stroller walk while mama naps, or play peek-a-boo while you change a dirty diaper. Don’t worry, Daddy-o, it’ll happen eventually and it’ll be awesome.
Learn how to feed your baby and deal with reflux
If your partner is breastfeeding, you may not be able to do much at first. But after a while, you may want to introduce some bottles of expressed breastmilk or formula so you can do some feeds and she can get a break.
Feeding a baby can seem daunting at first, but it’s a beautiful occasion to chill and connect with your little one. Hold your little one at a slightly reclined angle (but not lying down) and the bottle so the nipple stays full of milk without letting air bubbles in. If your baby stops drinking (or about halfway through the bottle), take a burp break by holding your child over your shoulder with a burp cloth and gently rubbing your baby’s back. You can offer the bottle again after burping.
It’s normal for your baby to spit up some milk, but if the entire bottle is coming up at every feed, you should talk to your doctor to see if it might be reflux. There are several tricks that may help ease reflux: trying a new formula, using anti-colic bottles, burping your baby during and after each feed, and keeping them upright for 30 minutes after feeding.
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty
Your life will be a maelstrom of poopy diapers, pee-soaked sheets, vomit-covered burp cloths and questionable stains on your clothes. You’ll have to get really comfortable with bodily fluids and nauseating smells. Oh, you’ll also need to learn how to install the car seat, fold the stroller, wrap the baby carrie, and work every other piece of baby equipment like a BOSS.
You might think you can do it all on your own, but you can’t. Accept all the help offered to you – even if it means putting up with your mother-in-law way more often than you’d like. If you can afford it, hire help. Think cleaning person, au pair, nanny, meal delivery service – every penny is worth it.
Never, ever say you’re tired
Because no matter how tired you are, your partner is 10,000,000 times more so. And she might punch you in your sleep if you mention that you’re a little worn out after your Netflix marathon last night.
White noise is a lifesaver
Want your partner to think you’re a hero? Buy a white noise machine or download a white noise app. The original white noise sound is similar to radio static, but you can also get a variety of other sounds such as rain falling or a fan blowing.
This continuous background noise soothes babies, helps them get to sleep and drowns out any other household noises while they snooze. It’s a lifesaver when you’re travelling, too, because it re-creates the familiar sounds of home.
Kiss your social life goodbye (for now)
Goodbye, poker night. See ya, running club. Even plans with other families constantly get cancelled. But after those first few months, you’ll be able to slowly get back into your hobbies and social activities, especially if you want to maintain a modicum of sanity. Give your partner opportunities to get out, too.
Explore online resources for dads
With your social life cut off and an intimidating new world at home, who can you turn to? There are so many great blogs, online groups and podcasts where dads can get useful info and connect with fellow dads.
Fatherly has some awesome advice and LOLs. City Dads Group has chapters across the country and brings dads together for social events, and the Dadcast- Misadventures in Parenting podcast will have you in stitches (and teach you some stuff, too).
You’ll live by two new mantras
The first is “This too shall pass.” Because everything feels sooo hard when you’ve slept three broken hours and you need a reminder that things will get easier. Also because newborns go through SO many phases so quickly. You’ll soon learn not to sweat the small stuff like diaper rashes and growth spurts, because they’ll be over before you know it.
The second is “Carpe diem.” You’ll start to live in the moment and appreciate small things, like the beauty of a leaf blowing in the wind because your little one thinks it’s the most amazing thing ever.
You’ll feel a love you’ve never known
If the 14 previous points terrified the living daylights out of you, I’m glad you stuck it out till the end. Because point 15 erases all the sleepless nights, the poonamis, the tears and the arguments.
The love you will feel for your child is like no other. It’s a soul-shaking, gut-wrenching, life-altering kind of love. You would throw yourself in front of a bus for this squishy little being you’ve known for 11 seconds.
This love is pure and unconditional. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever known before and it’s the glue that holds your family together.
Find support if you’re not coping
Becoming a dad isn’t all rainbows and butterflies and the pressures can take a toll on your well-being. Approximately 1 in 10 men experience postpartum depression, but many don’t seek help.
If you feel easily agitated or stressed, always tired, have difficulty concentrating, and have lost interest in the things you used to love, you may be suffering from postpartum paternal depression (PPPD). You can find resources at Postpartum.net or speak to your doctor about how you’ve been feeling.
You’ve got this, Papa.
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