Preparing for Fatherhood
It seems when a woman starts trying to conceive, she has at her fingertips an abundance of materials to help her through the process. From books like What to Expect When You’re Expecting to support groups and forums and ob/gyns, information about pregnancy and childbirth lead even the most confused of hopeful mothers in the general direction of mommyhood.
While support for dads have evolved since the days of Ward Cleaver, who likely never changed a diaper or stood in the hospital room holding June’s hand during her labor pains, the pregnancy and newborn experience for men can still be quite sheltered. As a new dad (or dad-to-be) you may find, however, that unsolicited advice is offered as freely as rainwater in monsoon season.
At least, that has been the experience for Doug, a 46-year-old daddy-to-be for the first time. “I do have some advice,” he says. “You’ll get so much advice (mostly with good intent; mostly unsolicited) … don’t give really any of it any importance.”
Yet fears abound before the birth of the first child (and the second, and the third, and the remaining), so what’s a scared daddy-to-be to do when he questions how to change a diaper or if his baby girl is getting enough nutrition?
We’ve addressed four fears dads-to-be express, so you can survive those first few months of fatherhood – and the nine months leading up to it!
Fear #1 – This Stage Will Never End!
Pregnancy can be a hellatious (and hilarious!) journey, even for the best of patients. Your wife may cripple up like a pretzel in the dead of night, thanks to the charley horse in her leg; and you will have no idea why she’s screaming or how to get her to stop. (Tip: Tell her to flex her toes!) Birth may require hours of pacing the hospital floor while listening to nurses call out stats about dilation and contractions and other potentially unfamiliar words. (Tip: Take a prenatal class with your wife, and read as much as you can beforehand, even if it means perusing your wife’s prenatal books!) And during the birth, you won’t know whether to look at your wife’s eyes or, well, at what’s happening down below. (Tip: Either place is fine, depending on your potential for fainting!)
Says Neil McNerney, LPC, counselor, speaker, and author, “The biggest advice I would give new dads is to remember that nothing is permanent. Every situation with babies and kids is based on a stage in life,” and he says (and I must agree, as with the horrific colic episode we endured) it won’t go on forever.
Fear #2 – I Have No Idea How to Help!
Some new dads worry about how they might help, fearing doing something “wrong” in the process. Relax. There is no wrong way to change a diaper, burp a baby, or get her to sleep. Still nervous? Dr. David L. Hill, pediatrician and author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro, writes, “There’s not a whole lot to know about changing diapers, but if you’re smart you’ll put the fresh diaper under your baby before you whisk the old one away,” just in case of an unexpected surprise mid-change. Additionally, says Hill, wipe front to back with a girl to keep nasty bacteria away from the bladder, and, “There’s no shame in simulating crowd-cheering noises if you score a 3-pointer in the trash can.”
Also keep this in mind, new dads and dads-to-be: Whatever help you offer, your wife will appreciate. Wash the dishes, care for the baby so your wife can sleep in a few times each week, wake with the baby at times so she can sleep an entire night through, wash the bottles, bathe your newborn, grocery shop, massage your wife’s shoulders, make dinner, and remember to ask what you can do to make things go more smoothly.
Fear #3 – My Baby Isn’t Getting Enough to Eat!
Most parents have the same few fears when their baby is first born, and they revolve around the basics of life: eating, going to the bathroom, and sleeping. Luckily, what goes in must come out, so if you keep track of Number One and Number Two (literally), you’ll be able to tell if he’s getting enough nutrition.
If your baby is bottle fed, you can keep fairly accurate numbers on what’s going in by tracking ounces taken at each feeding and recording them on paper; nursing babies might be more difficult to track since you can’t “see” the amount the baby drinks per session. So do what every parent must get used to doing – scope out the stool.
Dr. Hill says in the first one to two days of life, your baby should have one to two black, tarry-looking stools each day; days three and four, stools should turn greenish to yellow and increase to two stools per day. “By day 5 to 7, expect to see 3 or 4 yellow, loose, seedy stools a day.”
In terms of wet diapers, your newborn should pee once in the first 24 hours of life and more each day until, Hill says, she’s making at least six wet diapers a day around the first week of life. His tip to dads with nursing wives: “If you want to be a hero, bring mom a glass of cold water whenever she starts nursing.” The hormones released during breastfeeding will make mom thirsty, and she’ll appreciate the gesture.
Fear #4 – What if I Don’t Bond with the Baby?
Some new dads worry about bonding with baby; but in most instances that worry will evaporate the moment your newborn arrives. Says Dr. Hill, “Your dad instincts will kick in, and you’ll want to hold her close to your chest, put her cheek up against yours, and use your deep voice to soothe her to sleep.”
He adds that newborns need a lot of skin-to-skin contact, and, “This ‘kangaroo care’ helps newborns regulate their breathing, heart rate, and temperature.” Place baby on your bare chest and hold her as often as you can.
While diaper duty may not sound glamorous, it offers a perfect time to bond. At two months, you’ll notice he smiles at you when you smile at him; by four months, you can probably make your baby laugh. Don’t forget about bath time, too. Says Dr. Hill, “Baths allow face-to-face contact and even some gentle massaging. It’s a perfect time, too, to let your infant hear your voice; there’s no better way to pass the time than by singing to him.” Best of all? Mom will appreciate the help!
If you’re still fearful, heed the words of Doug, our soon-to-be first-time dad. “Take it all in. Having the first baby will never come again; and remembering as much of this experience as possible, I believe, will be something I’ll treasure for a very long time.”