You leave the hospital after 9 months of preparations, hormones, long nights of crib construction/nursery preparedness, breast pump assembly, car seat checks, YouTube parenting video watching, and – oh – watching childbirth (bonus points if you’re in the O.R. for a C-Section – I’ve got 2 of those badges, thank you very much), and you’re smiling ear-to-ear because that baby is finally in your arms. But let’s get real… You’ve got no clue what you’re doing. But don’t worry – I got you. This is the New Dad Survival Guide they didn’t give you at the hospital – that you so desperately need.
Do you remember that time you were watching that movie with the Navy Seals and you were thinking, “Man these guys are tough. They never lose, they’re all rock solid, and they always kill the bad guy. I mean, I know it’s the movies but still… probably true, right? These guys are always on the go or in a fight and yet, somehow, they find a way to function at optimal performance constantly and never seem to sleep. How do they do it?”
Well, my friend, you’re about to find out. Here’s what you need to know about being the Navy Seal of new dads.
Spoiler: it’s what you need to know but can’t possibly prepare for.
First – some of our personal background… for perspective
Monica (my wife) and I have been at this parenting task for about 4 years now and by no means do we consider ourselves experts. We’re incredibly blessed to have 2 beautiful little girls (who keep us firmly on our toes).
The points below are a compilation of our and some of our friends’ experiences when a little human enters the world… And more importantly – your lives
Also understand that becoming a new dad doesn’t begin at birth – if you haven’t figured this one out yet, it’ll hit you sooner rather than later – no, there are many changes in the 9 months leading up to that… For us, Monica ended up losing about 20 pounds in the first 17-ish weeks of both pregnancies. She didn’t even have to taste the food, the mere smell was enough to induce vomiting.
This wasn’t the only change, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The points below attempt to A) educate, B) semi-prepare, and C) humor you if in fact your wife is expecting. Becoming a father has been the most amazing experience in my life, and I hope the same will be true for you too. It’s not all roses and sugarplums though, so let’s dive in.
Here’s the New Dad Survival Guide they should’ve given you at the hospital
1- The Sleep Myth
Everyone always tells you:
“Better sleep now before the baby comes. Once the kid gets here you won’t be able to sleep.” And you think to yourself, “That’s bull, how hard could it be? I mean the kid has to sleep at some point right? Or maybe my wife will just handle that part of it. Yea, I’ll find time to sleep.”
If you’re like the rest of us in the majority, you won’t sleep a full night for quite some time. Wife needs this, baby needs that, you’re too tired to sleep (yea, it’s a thing)… You most likely won’t be able to sleep and if you do, it won’t be good sleep. That’s not the myth, it’s completely true. No, the myth is thinking you’ll actually need it. What’s remarkable about this whole parenting process is you’ll push your body in ways you never imagined (or did in an athletic arena during some practice or conditioning session – oh the memories). You’ll come to realize that you can function at a reasonable level for periods of time with just a few hours of sleep. This will sustain you for the first few weeks and months.
The key to handling the sleep myth without burning out though – is your wife. Having a solid partner there is the way it worked for me and hopefully the way it works for you. Eventually, you’ll need to go for a run (or a walk if you’re a mortal) to get out and clear your head. Put the diapers and bottles down and just get away for a minute. How does this work? Solid wife. Or grandparents. Always key to call on the grandparents. Just remember that your lady expects the same treatment when her meltdown is knocking on the door. After all, she has the excuse of childbirth and raging hormones to throw at you. Don’t let her windup. Call the balk, let her take her walk, and survive to fight another day.
2- This too shall pass
It doesn’t matter how sick your baby is, how depressed your wife seems, or how pissed off you are about something you won’t remember in a month. Most often this phase – whatever it is – will pass. Your baby will get healthy, your wife will eventually have a better day tomorrow, and you’ll forget what’s got you so riled up. Yes, you will. Just take a deep breath and realize this microcosm of your life will be a distant memory in a few days/weeks.
This may be the most important point to remember during the early days, and it can be applied to most of what’s below.
3- Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder
Whether the heart grows fonder or not, this is a hypothesis you’ll get to test out. I don’t deal in hypotheticals and maybes with this one. We’re talking about science and facts. Also – we can’t blame the ladies for this at all… This childbirth process is a bear, just be glad you’re the coach and not the player.
There will come a time in your lady’s pregnancy where she gets so uncomfortable that she can’t sit, sleep, stand, or lie in bed – let alone perform any other ‘bedroom activity.’ She may look at you but it won’t be lustfully.
After the baby (I’m going to refer to baby as she from here on out – you know… biases and whatnot) is born you have the whole childbirth issue to deal with. She may come out the old fashioned way or through the lovely C-section (as was our experience – talk about an eye-opener), but either way she’s coming out. That fact puts the romance on hold for minimum 6-8 weeks depending on the doctor, your wife, your baby, and hormones. We’ll get back to the hormones in a bit.
Lack of sleep, responsibility to the baby, and taking care of your wife are also factors to consider here. This is all part of the shift that realigns your team’s priorities in the early days. You can start thinking in terms of, 1) baby, 2) wife, 3) food, 4) diapers, 5) sleep,…, 927 you (hey! there you are). This is an over exaggeration but you get the idea.
Understanding and patience here fellas. Remember, this too shall pass…
4- Beware of flying chocolate
I don’t normally do this, but I will admit blame up front. My bad. Things we weren’t prepared for included but were not limited to, 24 hours of labor followed by an emergency C-section, the fact that a C-section keeps you at the hospital longer than a ‘natural’ birth, and did I mention 24 hours of labor??
Monica was up at 3 AM when contractions started. She acted saintly in letting me sleep until about 6. We got to the hospital and, yadda yadda, Clara was born about 3 AM the following day. There was pushing, resting, epidural, fetching of ice chips, and other things I can’t mention or remember – but there wasn’t sleep. Add a couple hours after birth for the bonding and sewing up of loose ends and uteri, and our family was in a hospital room around 7.
We were all exhausted, as you may imagine. Clara was just asleep and Monica started shutting her eyes. This is where I made my fatal flaw. I found a flat piece on the window ledge and shut my eyes… Yeah, I fell asleep and I’m not ashamed to say it.
Apparently, there was a stir of activity after I entered dreamland. Clara started wailing and Monica (with her maternal instincts already fully developed) woke up immediately. It didn’t phase me – I was out. Immediately following major surgery, Monica was immobilized and couldn’t help Clara. She did what any mother would do. She found a water bottle and threw it at me. Miss. What else? Food from her ‘lunch.’ Partial hit but definitely not effective. She’s getting desperate now when she spots a bag of Hershey Kisses. These were a gift from one of the parents and suffice it to say my lady loves her chocolates. “Heck with it,” she must of thought as she tossed the bag. Direct hit! In the face! I’m up, tending to Clara, and getting read the riot act. I didn’t have all of my whits with me when the words left my mouth, “why didn’t you just call the nurse?” Bad… So bad.
Rule #1 – Accept blame regardless of action, reaction, or consequence. It was your fault and no one else’s. This can adjust in time but take it from me – for now, it’s on you.
5- Babies excrete fluids, solids, and some weird combination of the two
One thing you need to know up front is that babies love to spit-up, throw-up, at times projectile vomit, pee, and poop. They don’t seem to care whether it’s in a diaper, on the carpet, in your hair, or … in your mouth (yea, I went there – story to follow). Because all of these things can happen frequently there are a few points to cover.
6- Let a nurse walk you through changing a diaper
These individuals were amazing – in our experience – and a treasure of knowledge for new parents and babies. We want to make sure we utilize that to the best of our ability…
I went with something like, “I don’t know exactly how to do this. I don’t want to mess up early and hurt the baby or who knows what else? I want to make sure I get it right so that when we get home I’ll know what to do.” Something like that and a smile toward one of those amazing nurses and you’ll accomplish a few things: 1) You will learn the proper method for changing a diaper, and more importantly 2) that puts off you needing to change said diaper for at least one more time. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your requests and make sure to ask different nurses, and this method could sustain you throughout your time in the hospital – that’s a win.
7- Do not be afraid of taking a few classes
If you’re lucky (depending on your perspective), your wife will want to take you to some class before the little one arrives. This could be something like Infant Care or Birthing. If you’re anything like me, these classes can be highly valuable. I had zero baby experience before Clara. So little in fact, that I went out of my way to avoid holding, ‘talking’ to, and interacting with the little humans.
Naturally, then these classes were key. We learned a ton of what to do and what not to do with one of the major topics being how to properly change a diaper. This was awesome intel, but after Clara was born I realized that the real deal and the plastic mannequin (we called him Jose) had little in common. Let’s compare:
Clara (I am sometimes smiling) M.
Jose (I am always smiling) M.
I have life!
I do not…
I will cry and tug at your heart-strings from time to time
I’ll never cry and you will always be happy when changing my diaper
I like to squirm, generally move about, and explore this new world
I enjoy chilling exactly where you put me
My clothes don’t seem to fit exactly right
Clothes? Who needs clothes?
Your timing and efficiency are vital when dealing with me
Dude, take your time – I literally have about 300 years here. Spoiler – I don’t have to pee
Changing a diaper correctly is the perfect combination of speed, coverage, hazmat spill clean-up ability, and luck. In the beginning, everything may seem to go wrong but no worries – you will get plenty of practice and eventually perfect the art.
The point here is you can get great stuff out of these classes, but take the content with a grain of salt.
8- The muddy river
A friend of mine once told me a story. I’ll paraphrase. We’ll call him Jack and his baby Susan. Susan hated the bath, despised it in fact. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, though, it’s that there comes a time when a baby needs cleaned off. Jack and his wife Jill (see what I did there?) were at a loss and sleep deprived when they came up with an amazing idea. Maybe she’ll tolerate the shower?
Susan was in her glory! She loved watching the water bounce off her dad’s chest and loved getting rinsed off herself. She was happy and clean. Jack and Jill were so proud of themselves so they’d make a fun time out of it. Jack and Susan would be in the shower while Jill ran assistance from outside. This was a well-oiled machine who’s level of enjoyment rivaled that of a day at the water park… Until…
Jill heard a groan and perhaps a bit of cursing as she was sitting on the ground one afternoon during shower time. Jack told her he felt this warm sensation running down his side, to his hip, down his thigh, and finally to his foot… That was a slow-moving river. Much too slow for him to be lucky enough to have just been peed on.
Jack and Jill realized their shower decision was better than initially expected. If you’re going to get pooped on, I’d say the best place for that to happen is in the shower – just wash, rinse, and go on about your day.
9- Poop in the tub is a thing
Babies get constipated at times and we’ve seen that bath time could help relieve that. Clara, unlike Susan, loves everything about the bath.
You new dads may be thinking, “Where’s the teachable moment here, Mike?” No worries, I got you.
You want to watch out for the face. Parents, you know what I’m talking about. For the rest of you, perhaps, just know that there is a distinctive face your child will make when she is attempting to relieve the bowels. When you see this face I advise you to do one thing, and only one thing, as fast as humanly possible. It becomes a mad dash not to get her out of the tub – this is going to happen and there’s not much you can do to protect the tub. No, first you need to get the toys out of the blast radius. You do this for the following reasons: 1) now you don’t have to clean the toys in addition to the tub, your baby, and (at times) the shower curtain, and 2) some of those toys have holes in them where water loves to seep its way in and explore. If poop finds its way in that toy it’s toast. And if there’s one thing you don’t want to do, it’s go to (insert favorite store for baby toys here) every day to buy new rubber duckies. That’s neither fun nor good for the budget. Take it from me – save the toys.
After the ducks are clear you’re going to want to tend to the obvious next – the children.
10- Boys are not the only ones with the ability to acquire a target from distance
Explosive diarrhea is a thing, and it affects baby girls just the same. If you don’t believe me ask Clara’s former babysitter, my sister-in-law.
A couple of rapid-fire points to consider for the new dads among us. I feel like these don’t need context:
Better on you than on furniture or carpet. You can always wash. Do your best Secret Service Agent and take one for the team.
Either designate 1) a separate budget line to cover the cost, or 2) a place to wash out poopy clothes in your house.
11- Someone else’s vomit in your mouth = not as terrible as it sounds
Being a new dad is a ton of fun, especially when you’re first starting out. It’s a ton of fun to play with the baby and teach her to do new things. One of the most fun games Clara loved playing was the airplane game. You know, you’re laying on your back and holding her up in the air above your body. Maybe you give her a little push up into the air so gravity can catch her and send her back your way.
Point number 1, and definitely the most obvious, is to catch the baby. Don’t drop her and she’ll love it… The second point is to be cautious of timing on this one. I can attest to this personally.
Much like swimming, it’s not the best idea to feed baby the bottle then play airplane. You’re excited, she’s excited, her mouth is open, and she’s laughing. You see that and how can you not smile yourself? This is amazing. Pure bliss. You have an ear-to-ear grin and things are going so well until all of a sudden breakfast transfers from her stomach to her mouth… To your mouth…
Wait an hour after eating to play airplane, it’s better for both of you.
12- The fourth trimester
The first few months after your baby is born are often referred to by this moniker – and for good reason. Positives during this time included: Monica wasn’t vomiting anymore, we got to meet our beautiful daughter, and… you know I can’t remember too many details but things were looking up. There were a few things to keep an eye out for though…
13- I hate you means I love you?
Postpartum is legit. So legit, in fact, that postpartum depression is shown to severely affect 1 in 7 women in the subsequent months after birth (1). Take ‘severely’ out of the equation and the majority of new moms have experienced some type of the ‘baby blues.’ It makes logical sense too. I mean, making a baby is hard work – the body has to divert resources, raise certain hormone levels, and physically nurture another human for 9 months. After the baby is born though, things don’t just snap back into place. It takes a minute (can be a few months) for hormone levels to even out and for the mother to get used to supporting only her own development for a bit (there is a great quote on hormone levels in the movie Knocked Up – worth the watch). That can be a tough transition for some.
It doesn’t have to be depression either. There are various ways the postpartum period can influence new moms and, indirectly, new dads alike. This isn’t a blog on the physiology or psychology of childbirth so we’ll leave it at this – it could be worth it to read about the typical changes during the postpartum period. Mood swings and possibly swings of a right hook could be headed your way – why not be prepared?
14- Your plan is the best plan for you
What’s your birth plan? I can’t remember who it was (apologies if it was you – but thanks for the story) but I’ll never forget when that person (let’s go with Sam) asked Monica what her birth plan was. Now, I have a great deal of respect for my wife. So much that I wasn’t sure there could be a greater amount of respect earned. Then she answered this question.
“Do whatever the doctor tells me. That’s their job, they do this every day.” Sam was taken aback, to say the least. My jaw dropped. I was proud.
This approach may be one extreme, while some other women may want every detail planned town to a T. I’m not saying there is only 1 right answer here but that’s the plan that worked best for us. Monica was in labor for 24 hours and about 7 epidural doses before the doctor came in and said, “We’re going to do the (C-)section.” We looked at the doctor, looked at each other, and then nodded our heads as if to say – ‘let’s do it.’ We were in the O.R. 20 minutes later.
Don’t feel like you need to put yourself in a box here, your wife’s plan is the best one, regardless of how brash it may or may not seem. Just know you may need to facilitate some flexibility at some point.
15- Just because you’re not feeding her doesn’t mean you’re sleeping
You know what breeds contempt and anger quicker than most things in a household with two adults and at least one child? Let me paint a quick picture. It’s 3 am, your baby starts crying, and you wake up. You lie there motionless hoping, no, praying your wife hops out of bed like she’s had a full week of solid sleeping nights. You don’t breath or blink for fear she may know you’re awake. And you just wait. You’re thinking, “it’s not like I can actually feed her anything, why do I need to be awake? One of us should get a full nights sleep so that the team can function better as a whole in the morning. Yeah! Go, team!”
She’s on the other side of the bed most likely doing the same and thinking, “Damnit, I need to start pumping so that he can pull some weight around here. Maybe he’ll at least bring her to me. That’s not too much to ask, right?”
As the 3 seconds of playing dead pass by in a seeming era, the conversation plays out in your head of what will be said to you if you don’t volunteer some help. That doesn’t seem like it will play out well for you. After all, she did take the last 2 shifts solo…
Soon you come to realize that not only does the wife deserve some help, she needs it. Let’s chip in. We talked this one out and came up with the following:
We bypassed this rage-inducing scenario with 2 methods: pre-pumping and post-pumping. Pre: I would get up, get Clara, and hand her to Monica. Feeding ensues and concludes. I then would take Clara, change the diaper and lie her back down. I’m not saying this was the best plan. Neither one of us slept particularly well but this did lead to the next phase.
Post-pumping: Simple, we alternated. Milk came prepackaged from the milk factory in these handy bags. Get Clara, make a bottle, feed, diaper, sleep. This plan was much more effective. We were able to get 4-6 hour chunks of sleep and it was this point in time where we began to slightly feel like humans again.
Moral: be a pal and help out. Even when you don’t want to.
16- You may be forced to take up Coffee or another caffeine addiction
For the entirety of my adult life, I despised pop (soda for you southerners), coffee, or basically any beverage other than water – ok, unless that beverage was mixed with some spirit of my choosing… Let’s stay focused. For coffee specifically, I hated the taste and viewed it as a habit I didn’t want to waste mental energy on breaking.
There were periods of time I worked 90 hour weeks, completed crazy physical challenges, or trudged through graduate school. I didn’t need caffeine. I even studied in Costa Rica for a few months, arguably one of the best coffee producers in the world, under a Costa Rican professor who threatened to disown me if I didn’t take up the habit – still didn’t touch the stuff…
I was 29 when Clara was born. My coffee holdout lasted about 2 months after that. Sure, I cited the articles indicating drinking a daily cup of coffee can boost brain function, your ability to focus, or even reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. You know why I really did it? I needed to… All those ‘facts’ that may or may not be one day disproven by science were just a fringe benefit. I loved the pick-me-up, and by the sheer fact that it helped keep me awake – it helped make me a better new dad. Now I love the taste and look forward to my morning cup. Go Team Coffee!!
17- Nap when they nap. MYTH
You know what you finally get to do when they take a nap? Get your life together. Eat something, take a shower, …, clean a bathroom? Ok, that’s too far but still. The only way I was napping is if I fell over due to exhaustion.
18- Your immune system is in for a reboot
We were warned about this one by all our friends. “Sickest I’ve ever been.” “Most bedridden period in my life.” Nice, there’s something to look forward to.
“You know, you can just wash your hands more often… That’ll fix it.” – Anonymous.
I hardly ever got sick and if it did it didn’t last too long or hit me too hard. I credited my immune system to leading a healthy lifestyle and genetics. However, we soon came to realize that there will come a day. A day when your child has to go to daycare, a sitter’s, a friend’s house for a ‘play date’ (I have some thoughts about these), or, if you’ve successfully constructed a bubble around the little one, kindergarten. One way or another and at some point that day is coming, and when it does she will invariably bring back sickness that makes us thank God for modern medicine.
The first couple of days are tough. She can’t tell you what hurts or what’s bothering her (because she’s a few months old), but you know it’s no good. This is where the comforting, walking, feeding, and any other method you devise come into play. It breaks your heart but you’re doing all you can. You know it’s not life-threatening but still, tough to watch. You pray that she gets better soon – or that you would take her pain. Then, around day 3 your prayers are answered – at least that was my experience.
Muscle aches, stomach pain, nausea, fever – I was like a damn Pepto Bismol commercial. I hadn’t been in that kind of shape since I was a kid. Also, this wasn’t an isolated incident. They told me it was a right of passage into fatherhood.
Hopefully, you can bypass this one but hey, you do what you gotta do.
Rapid-fire points not needing context:
I haven’t watched a full un-interrupted football game in over a year… This was a tough one at first.
At no time after the second trimester are you a drinker. You’re on call for DD, permanently. Well, at least until the baby is born
Beware of letting your kids sleep in your bed. The climb back up this mountain will take you no less than a month. Good luck… Sacrifice in the short term for the benefit of your future-self
Could be a rough first few months. No sleep, hormones, adding 50% of the individuals to your family… I mean, adjustments take time.
19- All these things are insignificant when she sees you and smiles
Becoming a new father and parent has been the most amazing experience of my life. Monica and I have learned a ton and still have a long way to go (heads-up for the parenting a toddler posts in the future) but we’ve loved every minute. The sleepless nights, fits of screaming, and the litany of other tough moments strangely mix with all of the joyous times to form cherished memories. Memories we wouldn’t trade for anything. I hope the same is/was/will be true for you too.
Full disclosure – it’s been a few years since I’ve written the first version this post and it’s kind of comical to read back through my thought-processes then. The one thing I’ll say is that the points I’ve kept in this post hold up.
What do you think? Anything I’ve missed that our first-timers should know about? Let us know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!
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