I have been a ‘New Dad’ for just over 9 months now and to call it a learning experience is something of an understatement. I wasn’t exactly well read up on the subject beforehand, but the few books I did browse through certainly left out a few key points. I’m starting to suspect this was intentional. The covers of baby books always depict happy refreshed parents and cheery babies, so based on this alone they should be filed under the Fantasy section at the bookstore.
Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on those very hectic first few months of being a parent I’ve realized there are some gaps in the traditional literature. If you’ve found yourself with your very own bundle of joy to look after, here are my Top 5 New Dad Tips that you won’t find in any baby book:
TIP 1: SHIT HAPPENS
Babies poop, this much should not come as a surprise (and if it does it may be time to read a few more baby books!) There were however a couple of things that caught me off guard in this department.
Firstly, babies have an innate sense of comic timing. Just changed their nappy/diaper? Watch as they do the worlds biggest dump not 5 seconds later. Having a nice relaxing cuddle? Prepare for it to be interrupted with the sounds of a minute long poo explosion. Worried that you won’t know when they are pooping? Trust me, you’ll know – it sounds like two warthogs on date night. I’m just glad that adults don’t make those kinds of grunting sounds when they drop a number 2. Public bathrooms would be terrifying!
A quick word of warning for all you new Dads, a newborns poop is essentially liquid. This allows it to be propelled at a velocity somewhat akin to the speed of light. Think of your babies bottom as a highly primed Supersoaker, the kind that’s been pumped by a hyperactive kid with a nervous twitch. No matter how fast you learn to change a nappy, there will always be that brief window when there is nothing between you and the barrel of the gun. It is scary how often this is the moment your baby will choose to really let one fly. You will swear they are doing it on purpose. We have affectionately termed this the ‘poo-cano’.
The first time a poo-cano happened I did the opposite of a secret service agent and tried to save myself, diving away from the line of fire. Unfortunately this only ensured that the poop not only coated me but the entirety of the nursery wall behind me. Being liquid it rapidly ran down said wall and into the carpet, where it immediately made itself at home. Meanwhile I was busy trying to rip off my t-shirt before anything could soak in. The baby watched me dance around with a huge grin on her face, presumably thinking this was a new type of game, one she was keen to play again at every opportunity.
You might wish away this liquid stage and look forward to the chunkier stuff. You’re probably thinking that will be easier to deal with. Trust me, it’s not.
TIP 2: KISS GOODBYE TO HYGIENE
There really is no sense in fighting this one, you may hold out longer than I did but it is as inevitable as death & taxes. The first time pee or poop splashes upon your pristine outfit you will likely freak out about it and run off to change immediately. Other parents will point and laugh at you, but not for the reasons you think.
Think you can avoid this outcome? Think again. Getting within ten feet of a baby is close enough to be in real danger, and it’s pretty hard to feed or look after them from ten feet away. The diagram below is an approximate guideline to what you can expect to be under fire from, but what your baby had for lunch can have a considerable impact on their effective range. Basically, if you are in the same room as the baby your outfit is not safe.
You promise yourself you won’t let your standards slip, that you’ll always look ready for the catwalk. This enthusiasm will last about a week. You simply cannot defeat this foe, no washing machine can run fast enough to keep up with a babies ability to puke, poop and pee on everything. There will come a point when you’ve already changed your outfit three times in the last hour when the inevitable happens and you will ask yourself, do I really need to change again? Eventually the answer will be nope.
You’ll justify the start of this decline with something along the lines of “We aren’t going anywhere.” or, “You can hardly see it.” This will soon escalate to, “Meh, we are only going to Walmart.” or, “It totally blends in with my sweater.” Eventually you won’t even notice the regurgitated breast milk stains that just won’t come out of your favourite jeans, and the faint waft of diaper cream on your hands that won’t go away. You’ll be too tired to care. Just accept your fate and the transition will go a lot more smoothly.
TIP 3: THE JOY TO TERROR RATIO
When you watch movies or read magazines the word used most often to describe parenting is joy. You should be overjoyed (not just normal joyed, overjoyed) to be a parent. You will therefore feel like a terrible human being if you aren’t overwhelmed with happiness when you first hold your baby. If you are anything like me the strongest feeling you will have at that exact moment is one of abject terror. There is a tiny person that you have created, and you are now responsible for them for the rest of your life. This miniature human being is as fragile as a house of cards in tornado alley and it is up to you to protect them from everything this world has to throw at them. Unfortunately they have the survival instincts of a depressed lemming.
The first night is by far the worst. Every single noise they make will terrify you. Was that cough a sign of choking? That snort a cry for help? Is that fart their last? If they breath too loud you will worry, and if you can’t hear them breathing you will worry even more. Prepare to check on them every 4-5 minutes for the entire night, or at least until exhaustion catches up with you. Note that this is totally normal and it gets much better, mostly because you’ll be too tired to keep it up. Night 1 had a ratio of 99.9% terror and 0.1% joy. Just over a week in that ratio should be more like 90/10. Now that we are 9 months in it’s pretty much inverted, hours of joy with only occasional terror when Nugget tries to eat an entire fist full of Cheerios all at once.
No-one ever talks about this and if anyone asks you will find yourself lying about what a relaxed and easy going parent you are, because who is going to admit they’ve been to the ER 3 times this month because little Jimmy got a splinter, ate a spider and sneezed three times in a row. Trust me, everyone else is freaking out all the time too. Beer helps.
TIP 4: SLEEP DEPRIVATION
If you are in need of a boost to your brownie points I have good news for you! With a newborn in the house there is now something more valuable than platinum or diamonds. I am of course referring to sleep. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that your sleep will be reduced with a baby around. I got a Fitbit a week before the baby arrived and just for fun I tracked my sleep with it in those early weeks.
What may come as a surprise is that I was getting almost as many hours of sleep after the baby arrived, but the quality of each sleep had dropped dramatically. Heres a comparison of two Sunday nights, one pre baby and the other post:
The clusters of pink activity are around the babies feeding times. My wife and I tried several different approaches to try to find the one that worked the best for both of us. Initially we both got up, I did the nappy change and she got everything ready for the feed. That was efficient but ultimately meant we were both awake several times a night, making it difficult to get more than 2 consecutive hours of shut eye. Then we tried taking it in turns, which helped us both take the edge off, but still left us shuffling around in a daze during the waking hours. Be prepared to be operating at a less that optimal capacity for the first few months.
Want to go for maximum brownie points? Stockpile frozen breast milk or formula and utter the phrase “Don’t worry darling, I’ve got tonight, you get some sleep…” Congratulations, you just became a brownie points millionaire! Unfortunately you won’t have any time to spend them for the next couple of decades.
TIP 5: DO WHATEVER WORKS!
You may be going into fatherhood full of knowledge, or you may be walking in completely oblivious. Either way, be prepared to throw everything you think you know right out the window. There is no ‘right’ way to raise a child, or at least, no way that works for every child.
You’ll be amazed how many people want to give you parenting advice (I appreciate the irony of this statement at the end of a blog post doing exactly that). Suddenly everyone you know is a closet expert in child rearing. About five seconds after you mention your new pride and joy to the mailman he’ll be telling you every single thing not to do. Don’t let strangers hold your baby, make absolutely sure only strangers hold your baby, don’t pick them up when they are crying, cuddle them for days at the slightest hint of a sniffle. You’ll quickly go mad with contradictory advice.
The only thing worse is when the ‘experts’ finally all agree on something, but apparently no-one’s told your baby. Here’s a real life example. Everyone who is everyone says that babies have to sleep on their backs. They will throw out terrifying statistics, like if your baby is face down it will increase their odds of dying in their sleep by 500%. The first night we put Nugget to sleep in her own room we stared anxiously at the video monitor, and low and behold after five minutes she rolled face down. I raced into her room and rolled her onto her back. I was barely back in bed before she rolled face down again. Back and forth I went like I was doing the beep test. After about the 37th time I decided to wait and see if she righted herself. Of course I fell asleep. I woke up in the morning and checked the monitor to find her still lying face down. I have never ran so fast in all my life, but she was absolutely fine. She’s slept face down every single night since, that’s just how she likes to sleep.
Try not to get too worked up if things aren’t going exactly like you’d imagined. Find whatever works for you and your new family and then roll with it. Just be prepared to change it all five days later, because whatever was a surefire thing on Monday will likely cause nothing but tantrums by Friday.
So there you have it – now you know the truth, that all baby books are full of crap and all parents are just making this stuff up as they go along. Now hold on tight and get ready to enjoy the ride!