Yep, you’re pregnant. And while your wife or significant other is doing all the heavy lifting, you’ve got to step up in a big way — and not just while she’s carrying several pounds in her belly. You’re in this for the long and sleepless haul, post-delivery and once the little one comes home with you to stay… for life. From experience, I can tell you that virtually none of what needs to be done by the first-time dad is remotely intuitive. In fact, just about nothing you’ve done prior to this helps prep you for what will come. And you’ve still got a grand performance to make: you’re not the sitter, the nanny or this kid’s friend, you’re the father, and that means something.
Thankfully, there are those who have traveled this road known as fatherhood before you, and we’ve learned. The journey’s not over for us, but we do have some early fatherhood tips for you to help you not just survive, but thrive. Consider what we have to share with you as sage wisdom gained from our time in the trenches.
1Know it’s not about you. Before my first child was born, my older brother (who has two older children) called me to offer a bit of advice. “I’d like to think I’m a good father, and I know you’ll be a good father,” he said. “Just remember this, on your best day as a dad — when you’ve changed every diaper, stayed up all night when your baby is sick, when you’ve cooked and cleaned like an antiseptic dynamo, on top of doing your day job — you can’t hold a candle to your wife. You didn’t carry that baby for nine months, get sick to your stomach almost every day, get bloated, and you most certainly, most definitely didn’t breast feed. Remember this. It’s not about you. Don’t try to get credit. Just be a good dad and a good husband.”
With your wife’s physiological changes come radical mood swings, especially during the first and third trimesters. It’s the result of fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels, extreme fatigue, metabolic changes and all the other drastic changes that come with carrying a baby inside you for three quarters of a year (don’t comfort her by informing her that elephants are pregnant for 640 days). Hormone levels affect your wife’s mood and can cause big swings. Be the big man and comfort her without trying to solve things (you can’t, trust me). Do what needs to be done without being asked, and by all means don’t blame her for the mood swings.
If she craves something in the middle of the night, wipe the sleep off your face and get out there. Don’t tell her ice cream will make her fat, ask her what flavor she wants. If the smell of something you’re eating makes her want to vomit, go eat in the other room. If she needs a foot and leg massage because she’s hurting, do it right and do with a smile. If she yells at you because her whole body feels like it’s on fire, just be gentle and comfort her when she’s ready to be comforted.
2Read up and be prepared. Start doing your homework early. Participate in the baby process by studying up and arm yourself with knowledge enough to make you proactive, not dumb and helpless. Good reads for the journey include Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads ($11), The New Dad’s Survival Guide: Man-to-Man Advice for First-Time Fathers ($11), and The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be ($14).
And know that there’s the temptation to go hog wild when it comes to baby gear. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to acquire everything that’s marketed to parents. Do the research and get good essentials. They don’t have to be the most expensive, but they do need to be safe. Here’s some good starting points (on the Dad end of the spectrum). 1. Will Leather Goods Utility Tote ($175) is the perfect diaper bag for dudes who don’t want to carry an actual diaper bag. Plenty of space to carry diapers, wipes and gear without looking like an executive member at Buy Buy Baby. 2. Your phone will be your lifeline. Photos, important calls, emails and entertainment for those long nights. Keep it water resistant and drop resistant, and make sure you get extra battery life. The Lifeproof FRE Power Case for iPhone 6 ($117) will serve you well. 3. Baby Jogger City Mini GT Stroller ($350) has an adjustable handle, a hand-operated parking brake, all-terrain wheels, and it comes in black. Done. 4. No, you won’t need a dive watch for diving, but the Seiko SKX007 Automatic Dive Watch ($160) never needs a battery and has great lume for those late-night feedings. Plus, it can take punishment, and if your kid spits up on it, it washes right off. 5. The dad on the move doesn’t always want the restrictions strollers present. You and your kid will love the Baby Bjorn Original Carrier ($54) because it brings the little one close, and she/he can face in or out to see your loving face or the world wide around you both.
3Stay in shape. Looking like you haven’t slept in weeks and you’ve been binge eating Pizza Hut isn’t a good look, nor is it a good feeling. The new dad regime exacerbates the challenges of staying fit, and it’s a slippery slope once you start letting yourself go.
Before your child arrives, take a look at your physical condition. You may have trained for marathons and/or triathlons in the past, but this is the longest, toughest haul you’ll make. Getting in shape or staying in shape is both a gift to your wife and your child. The lack of sleep, poor eating, reduction in regular workouts — all of it will take a toll. The better shape you’re in before your baby comes will pay dividends when you can’t be as dedicated or vigilant. Give yourself to your family, just don’t give up on yourself.
4Help deliver the goods. When the water breaks, make sure you’re at least logistically prepared, if not mentally. Keep a bag of yours and your wife’s gear at the ready, and make sure you know how to install the car seat properly. Emphasis on that last one. Don’t just read the manual or think you can figure it out on your own when the time comes. Get it done beforehand and make sure the car has enough gas to get to the hospital (and back). Be ready to go at any time and know exactly where your keys are. When she’s ready to go, you should be ready to go. She’s thinking of her baby. You have to handle everything else.
At the hospital, let the doctors and nurses do what they do best, but if you see that your wife isn’t getting something she really needs, speak up. Humbly help out where you can. And, once the baby comes, be responsible for managing visitors. As good as it is to see those you love, they can overstay their welcome. Don’t leave it up to your wife to tell them she’s tired. Be straight but pleasant. Keep visits short and don’t feel bad politely asking visitors to come again at another time.
5Embrace change. You’re life is now up-ended like never before. Six or seven straight hours of sleep will seem like a far-off country. Even though this isn’t always possible and you’ll never truly “catch up” on lost sleep, catch some much-needed Zs when the tyke is napping. Even if it’s half an hour, that will be the deepest, most golden half hour of your day. And know that since your wife is doing the heavy lifting, you’re taking care of the details. Make sure your kid is always stocked with the goods and don’t shrug because you stupidly ran out of diapers in a crisis moment. Get it all: diapers, wipes, burp cloths, toys, etc.
Of course, you would lay down your life for your child, but he or she will also drain you of every last bit of energy you have, and it’s the dads who don’t change their expectations who fare the worst. For some reason, they go into it thinking things will change just a little bit. They have no clue that the change is monumental. Getting together with the guys or getting drinks after work is most likely not going to happen, at least not for a while. Lower those expectations, and embrace your role as a new father. That child is half of you and half of your wife, flesh and blood. This is your opportunity to be real with and great to your child. Take on the challenge seriously, and enjoy every minute of it.