Having a child for the first time can be a nervous time for beginner dads. And the anxiety does not have to stop with the first child. If there is a long enough break between kids, it can feel like starting all over again when child #2 arrives. That is what happened to me. After having a little boy 4 and a half years ago, my wife and I recently welcomed a baby girl into the home. I have never been a "baby person." I certainly do not dislike babies, but I have never been completely comfortable with them either. I made my way through the first year with my son, but having the newborn has made me learn the tricks of the trade all over again.
So if you are a new dad--or you soon will be--take heart. It doesn't have to be too difficult. Here are some tips I had to learn in order to get by those early days when the world starts to move much more rapidly than you ever imagined.
Learn How to Change a Diaper
This is the biggie. Why? It should be obvious. Babies, like everyone else, go to the bathroom. A lot. And at the most inopportune times. Changing a diaper isn't hard, and at the beginning, it isn't even all that gross. Especially compared to toddler diapers.
Don't leave the diaper changing to the wife either. Besides that just being wrong, if you wait around for someone else to change a diaper then you will eventually find yourself breathing through your mouth for an hour trying to ignore the smell before you finally just get up and do it yourself.
Once you change a few diapers you become something like a pit crew member. Lay the baby down, get the old one off, get the new one on and go one with your life. Simple.
Learn How to Pack a Diaper Bag
Oh yes. The diaper bag. Your baby's ever-present travelling suitcase. In it are all the essentials of parenthood on the go. Diapers, wipes, extra clothes, pacifiers, toys, your keys, etc. But what happens if your wife really needs you to pack the bag and you forget to add extra wipes? Terror, that's what happens. Don't forget the wipes. Or anything else for that matter.
Learn How to Swaddle a Baby
The concept of swaddling is that babies like the close quarters of the womb, so if you wrap them tightly in a cloth they will be more comforted out of the womb (at least that's what I was told). My son didn't care for swaddling at all, but my daughter loves it. If you have never swaddled a baby, then it can be difficult and frustrating. If you do not wrap the baby tight enough then before long arms and legs break out, the baby wakes up, and the baby starts crying. You then start crying. Not a pretty scene.
You will know you have become a master swaddler when you can wake up at 3 am, unwrap the baby, lay out the cloth again, and re-swaddle the baby. All in the dark and with your eyes half-clothed.
Learn How to Function on Little Sleep
Speaking of being half-awake at 3 am, just get used to it. In fact, get used to being half-awake at just about any hour of the day. It can be rough, but the good news is that it will not last forever. Try your best to go to bed early and sneak in a nap if you can.
Learn How to Install a Car Seat
Gone are the days of standing in the cab of a pickup or laying in the back dashboard. Today there are few social stigmas as bad as not having your child properly buckled in his or her car seat. Installing an infant car seat isn't too terribly difficult, but it can be exhausting getting it just right, especially if it is the middle of the summer. By the time you level out the base and tighten the belts, you can work up a good sweat.
Once the base is in, make sure you know how to get the carrier in and out. You don't want to be making your initial attempt in the driveway of the hospital with the nurse standing there. It's very simple to lock and unlock the carrier--once you know how to do it.
Learn How to Burp a Baby
Whenever an infant eats, he or she gulps down a lot of air along with the milk. This leads to the baby needing to burp. There are several different methods to burping a baby so it is good to know which way works best for your baby. If you don't help the baby get the burp out then you'll get a surprise when the baby finally works the air up himself--and the surprise will not be a floating air bubble. The surprise will be a nice bit of milk all over your home.
Learn How to Bounce a Baby
I don't mean bounce a baby like a basketball. I mean bounce your arms while you are holding the baby. Some babies like to be gently bounced in your arms when they are irritated or sleepy. Some babies like small gentle rocks while others like you to almost swing them in your arms (note: don't actually swing a baby in your arms). It takes some trial and error to find out what works, and who knows, your baby might not like it at all. But if you can find the right groove, getting a baby to sleep in your arms becomes a whole lot easier.
Learn How to Talk to a Baby
Talking to a baby doesn't come naturally to a lot of people, especially me. But if you start talking to a baby, you'll find that it's a lot of fun. I'm not into "baby talk" where you just make a bunch of crazy noises in weird voices, but it is fun to talk to a baby in a soft voice, particularly when the baby starts smiling. Obviously the baby has no idea what you're saying, they just enjoy being talked to. If you're like me, and your vocal chords seem to freeze when a baby is staring at you in the face, just start saying anything, and eventually you will get the hang of it.
Learn How to Bathe a Baby
Bathing a baby seems like it wouldn't be all that difficult. However, when you begin your career as a baby bather you realize that things like getting the water temperature just right and keeping water out of the baby's eyes can be tricky. Not all baby's like to be bathed, but it still has to be done! And that's why it is important to learn how to give your infant a bath.
Learn Which Outfits Go Together
Your baby will most likely have a ton of clothes to wear when he or she is born. Getting the clothes as gifts is the easy part. The hard part is remembering which parts of the outfit go together. There are only so many shades of blue and pink to go around, it can be easy to get things mixed up. Maybe you think I'm just not very smart, and maybe I'm not. But beware. All it takes is one shirt going with the wrong pair of shorts before everyone starts laughing at you, not with you. Learn your baby's closet.
You Will Never Stop Learning
This isn't an exhaustive list of skills you will need to navigate your way through fatherhood, and maybe I'm the only idiot that had trouble with some of these. But my guess is that I'm not alone. The most important thing to learn is that being a new beginner dad is one of the most trying, yet rewarding, events of your life.