So, you’re having a baby!
Congrats! This will be the most exciting and possibly terrifying time for a man. Having your first child moves you into the next phase of life and gives you an opportunity to share the culmination of all life’s lessons with your little one. But before he’s old enough to understand how to throw a baseball or say “Dada”, there are a few months of tension-filled learning you will have to survive to ensure your bundle of joy is on the right track to becoming a happy, healthy little kid. Not sure what to expect? I’ll break it down for you into ten simple, but important concepts:
Step one: make sure you know how to install the car seat properly! Most hospitals won’t allow you to take the baby home without it. After the stress of labor, delivery and some time in the hospital, the last thing you want to do is delay your trip home because your car seat isn’t installed correctly. To prepare for a successful homecoming, you’ve got to make sure the baby will have their own space during the night and day, which means you need the right equipment. A crib or bassinet, a high chair, and something to plop them down in while you handle your day to day responsibilities is crucial. You’ll need enough clothes for at least a week, plenty of diapers, ointment for the diaper, wet wipes, bottles, and formula (unless mom is breast feeding).
As for their clothes, you need at least a weeks worth, but be prepared to change them several times per day due to accidents brought on by piss, poop and puke. So really plan for three or four outfits per day. Also account for the fact that babies grow fast, so the clothes that fit in month one likely won’t fit in month two. As seasons and temperatures change, make sure you have appropriate clothes to keep the baby cool or warm.
For the more safety-conscious (or paranoid) parent, having a video monitor over their crib is also a good idea so you can keep tabs on them while they sleep. I do recommend this as it’ll bring you peace of mind.
Chances are, you won’t get as much as you’re used to. Every once in awhile, babies come home from the hospital and sleep straight through the night. My first child was this way, and not much changed. We put her to bed by 7:30pm and she slept until 7:30am. It was awesome. Everyone would comment about how lucky and spoiled we were, but having nothing to compare to we just brushed these comments off as nonsense. We felt everyone was exaggerating or being dramatic.
Almost two years later, my son was born. It was at that moment we realized the sobering reality of what everyone had been referencing. This little guy woke up every 45 to 90 minutes for the first three months of his life! 99% of the time my wife got out of bed to care for him, but it still woke me up, causing me to get very little sleep. This impacts energy levels, memory, ability to work out, and performance at work. You will need caffeine to get through your days. It is just brutal. The cries are skull piercing as they progressively get louder and more desperate. You feel helpless because there isn’t much you can do to help. It’s just a seemingly endless cycle of not sleeping and being tired. Be forewarned.
Changing diapers. Giving baths. Feeding. Getting them dressed. Making sure they eat enough. Burping them. All of these things must be done correctly and safely, so get familiar in advance by reading up on them. There are plenty of videos and tutorials on the correct way to do things, so spend some time preparing so you don’t get overwhelmed with new procedures once you take your baby home. Unless you cared for younger siblings or cousins in other parts of your life, chances are this is all foreign to you. You’re clueless about how to do many of these things, as I was. Spend some time getting familiar with the concepts so you can hit the ground running once you bring your baby home.
Thinking and planning ahead:
My wife jokes that it takes an hour just to get out of the house, but she isn’t exaggerating . Everything you do will require more time. You are responsible for the health and safety of a little life, and with that comes additional tasks. When you take them out of the house, you need a fully stocked diaper bag that should include diapers, wet wipes, ointment, a burp cloth, a binky, a bottle with some additional milk/formula and a change of clothes for the little one. These are the bare necessities. Don’t expect your baby to cooperate, either. They’re going to cry, thrash, and resist many of the things you’re attempting to get them to do, so bake in more time for things you think won’t take long.
If you and mom both plan to go back to work, you will also need childcare. This isn’t a decision you want to make in a pinch when the pressure is on. Figure this out in advance. Will your parents be helping to shoulder the load? Are you planning to hire a sitter? Is there a day care nearby? Make sure these options are reliable, affordable, and safe. The last thing you need is to be worrying about who’s watching your baby while you earn a living.
Days go by fast, and there will be times you and your wife will forget to eat. Food delivery service is great in a pinch, but man does that get pricey. On top of that, it’s extremely difficult to guarantee you’re eating healthy if every meal is ordered from a restaurant, so to avoid packing on the pounds you must take more control over your personal nutrition. You’ll recognize the need to plan your meals ahead, which means grocery shopping and meal prep will start to become part of your weekly routines. Starting to feel like your parents yet?
Babies are expensive:
So you have a laundry list of stuff to buy, and a whole bunch of new expenses. Don’t get financially crushed by this. Plan in advance. Understand how much diapers, wipes, supplies, food, doctors visits and childcare cost. Budget for these. Include a category for miscellaneous or unforeseen expenses so that when things happen you aren’t pinching pennies or tapping into your savings.
Pro tip: before having your first child, set up a baby registry on Amazon with your wife. Family, friends and co-workers will absolutely chip in and buy a number of these things for you. Don’t feel weird about it; it’s totally common these days. In fact, people expect to send you a baby gift. Might as well be something you need!
Routines and rituals:
Start thinking about the repeatable routines you’ll use to get your baby comfortable with everything that needs to be done in a day. Their wake-up, feeding, bath, nap and nighttime sleep routines are essential to getting them used to life outside the womb. Plan a bedtime routine to help them relax, increasing your odds of them sleeping well. If you simply wing this without any structure, the chaos will eventually overwhelm you as your child will become unpredictable and undisciplined.
Babies are fragile. Lots of things can harm them. Since they can’t speak, communication is challenging, so paying close attention to their vital signs and variations of cry is key. What’s also essential is understanding how to act in the event of an emergency. If the kid is choking, not breathing, coughing, has a high fever, isn’t pooping/peeing, breaks out in a rash, what do you do? Have you studied up on these emergency situations? Like any health concern, time is of the essence and if you are relying on a Google search to tell you how to tend to a choking baby, you are setting yourself up for failure and potential heartbreak. Study it beforehand so you can act quickly and decisively. I know deep down you would do anything for your baby, so take the time to prepare now.
Get ready to be exposed to some gross stuff. Piss, shit, puke, boogers and spit to be exact. Weird smells. Ruined clothes. Lots of dirty diapers. At some point, the baby is going to soil you with any and all of these bodily fluids. The first time it happens will likely startle you and gross you out. Just know that it will not stop for a long time, and after the first few incidents you’ll get used to it.
Pro tip: when traveling, bring an extra shirt and pants for yourself in case your baby’s diaper has technical difficulties and soils you. Wear older clothes around the house, understanding that there is a good chance you’ll be spit up on every day. White t shirts handle those stains best.
She’s a Mom First:
You won’t be bouncing around town to restaurants, bars, parties, or events anytime soon. And the sex will either stop or seriously slow down. Oh, and if you emotionally rely on lots of attention from her, this will also come to a screeching halt. You are no longer the top priority to her, which is painful to accept, but sobering to realize. However, all is not lost. This experience does bring you closer together. You’ve created a human being, and you’re raising them under your roof and under your joint rules. You’re king and queen of the castle, and your children follow your lead. Going through this together is truly something special, and it creates a true lifetime bond.
There will be frustrating moments where you’ll be at each other’s throats, maybe saying things you don’t mean out of anger and exhaustion brought on by lack of sleep. This is normal. Just remember, your wife sacrificed everything to carry this baby for nearly ten months, subjecting her body to all sorts of traumatic things. If you watched the live birth or c-section, you know what I mean. I personally am glad I’m not a woman, because I’d never want to go through the pregnancy and childbirth process. Massive respect for the millions of women who do it every year. The human race wouldn’t continue without you!
You will notice your mindset will begin to evolve. Things that used to be important won’t be as important. Pressing issues involving the health and happiness of your baby and wife will take priority over some of the things you used to value. This is okay, and very normal. Your mind and soul are adapting to your new way of living, and to successfully get through each day new things need to get done. It may mean skipping that baseball game, sitting out this season of men’s league hockey, making those work meetings virtual in the short term, or DVRing your favorite show instead of watching it live. Change is difficult most of the time, and letting go of who you were is essential for becoming the man you are meant to be.
Being a father is the greatest experience for any man. It’s why you started experiencing sexual urges at age 11 and why you spent time trying to look your best in your twenties. It’s the reason you put in the effort to get to know the mother of your children. These physical urges that drive us and really pushing us to reproduce, continuing our genetic lineage and giving us the opportunity to become the greatest version of ourselves. Fatherhood offers us a chance at true mastery; one only becomes a master when they’re able to teach their craft to someone else.
As George Herbert said, “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.”
⁃ Your Big Bro