I’ll never forget going from the emotional high of holding my baby in my arms for the first time to plunging back down to earth, as one of the midwives politely asked if I was ready to dress my baby boy. At this point he was less than ten minutes old.
To say I was terrified is putting it mildly.
The practical side of parenting begins immediately after the birth. This might sound obvious, but when you have just watched your partner give birth, you’ll be unprepared for the prospect of threading two tiny brand-new arms through a babygrow. I still remember how shaky my hands were.
When it comes to parenting, you get no trial period, no training exercises – you’re now a daddy and you’re thrown in at the deep end. And, if you’re anything like me, you find the prospect daunting.
But there are things you can do to help make the experience a little less daunting. Here are my top ten tips for new dads.
Is your partner still in hospital?
If your partner is still in hospital (mine underwent an emergency C-section), you will only be allowed in to see her during visiting hours. This means you’ll probably have the bonus of a few full nights’ sleep before the baby comes home. My advice – enjoy them!
Go to sleep as early as possible. You do your family no favours by staying up late worrying. Instead, get plenty of rest so that you can spend visiting hours looking after the baby while your partner gets some sleep.
Take as much time off as possible
Typically, dads get the standard two weeks’ paternity leave and then it’s back to work. These two weeks will fly by, I promise you. I was still making endless cups of tea for visitors at the end of the second week and I could not have imagined going back to work the following Monday.
Individual circumstances will of course vary, but here are a few ideas:
- Save up your annual leave and take it as soon as your paternity leave finishes.
- Take unpaid leave (finances permitting).
- Consider taking Shared Parental Leave (SPL). Tip: both parents can take SPL at the same time, so you can both be off work with the baby (I ended up taking four months off). Note, though, that every week of SPL that dad takes removes one week from mum’s statutory maternity leave – not a problem if your partner isn’t returning to work.
- Explore options for working from home with your employer. You still have to work, but you can spend your commuting time and lunch breaks with your family rather than in a car, in the canteen or at your desk. Covid-19 taught me that.
Systemise your home
Make your life easier. Leave out tea and mugs so that visitors can help themselves; invest in a portable nappy caddy; set up the buggy bassinet downstairs so you’re not constantly relocating the Moses basket every time you need to put the baby down for a nap. Ask visitors to bring you food – I promise you that close friends and family will be extremely happy to support you. And if they kick-off, tell them they can’t hold the baby – they’ll soon have a change of heart.
Look out for the baby blues
At some point during the first week, many new mummies get the baby blues. Your partner might seem down and upset. This is not uncommon: it’s believed to be due to the sudden change in hormone levels in a woman’s body after childbirth.
Keep an eye out for this. You don’t need to keep asking her if she’s all right; just look out for signs. And if she does burst into tears seemingly for no reason, don’t ask her what’s the matter; just give her a big hug and tell her she’s doing an amazing job – which she no doubt is.
Get a healthy takeaway phone number on speed dial
Before I became a parent, I never used to believe other parents when they told me they didn’t have time to eat. Who doesn’t have time to eat? I thought. It’s crucial to our survival. But like I said, this was my view before I became a parent.
You don’t always get time to eat, especially at the start. But rather than head to McDonald’s every day, find a healthy takeaway in your area – and test it out a couple of times before the birth. That way, if you don’t have time to cook and you feel the need to reach for the Just Eat or Deliveroo apps, you can at least guarantee yourself a decent meal.
Believe in every single newborn-baby cliché going
‘It goes so fast’, ‘they grow so quickly’, ‘they change every day’, ‘everything is a phase’. You’ll be sick and tired of hearing these phrases. They are the common newborn-baby clichés.
But they are clichés for a reason: they are all true. You are ridiculously busy as a parent. And what happens when you’re busy? Time goes quickly.
Make a point of taking time out each day to be alone and present with your baby. Don’t worry about nappies, sterilising bottles, the washing or anything else. I was gutted how quickly my son grew out of wanting skin-to-skin cuddles. Believe me, it does go quickly, so cherish every precious moment and try and be present as much as possible.
Take photos and videos every day
Let me be clear: I’m not saying you have to flood every social media account with content, demanding validation from the internet of how cute your baby is. But do take a lot of photos and videos to at least keep privately. As already noted, babies do change every day and the only way to capture their development is to document it. For 2020, my partner has been using the 1 Second Everyday app and the results have made for a delightful family keepsake.
Learn how your baby equipment works, before you need to use it
I still mess up collapsing our buggy and I’ve been doing it for a year. Trust me, you don’t want to bring a hungry crying baby home and discover that you don’t know how to operate a bottle steriliser.
Learn the following before your partner goes into labour: how to install the car seat, how the nappy bag should be stocked and how to use all the equipment you need for bottle feeding – something that is worth having as backup even if your partner plans to breastfeed. Remember, things don’t always go according to plan – especially with babies.
We learnt this the hard way. Neither I nor my partner anticipated her having issues with breastfeeding and when she did, after we got home, we realised we had no formula. It was at that point that our baby started crying because – you guessed it – he was hungry. Unfortunately for him, he was vocalising his hunger to two clueless and unprepared parents.
Get a dads’ WhatsApp group
Having a group where you can just vent your parenthood frustrations is valuable. Whether that be your new dad-buddies that you’ve met through NCT (National Childbirth Trust) or older friends that have children as well – it’s useful.
No one understands the frustrations of being a new dad like another dad, particularly one who has a baby that’s of a similar age to your own.
Write to your child every day
When I wrote Dear Dory, I never intended to write a book. Dear Dory was born out of the scribbled notes that I wrote down every day in my journal to my unborn child while my partner was pregnant. It’s a practice I’ve kept up now that my little boy is here and it’s one I’ll be maintaining through his childhood.
I cannot emphasise enough how valuable this will be to you in the years to come when looking back on your life as a parent. Imagine being able to frame a few entries and give them to your kids as a gift. Or, imagine doing this and presenting it to them when they grow up and have children of their own. I can’t wait for my grandchildren to read the books I’ve written about my children. Being a daddy is special.
If you haven’t practised journaling before, don’t worry; it doesn’t have to be complicated or take up much time. Just ask yourself what happened today. And answer. It can be as simple as a few bullet points. I guarantee this is worth your time.
That’s it. If you’ve got to the end of this article in one sitting, you probably now have a few more baby chores to catch up on, so I’ll stop here and let you get on with your day – or night.
Article by Tom Kreffer, author of new book Dear Dory: Journal of a soon-to-be-First-time-Dad
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