Four years ago the National Fatherhood Initiative surveyed more than 700 U.S. dads about their perspectives on fathering.
A scant 54 percent of the dads said they had felt adequately prepared for the role.
This one’s for you first time dads feeling less confident: 35 health tips for the first year of fatherhood. Brother, can you spare some butt paste?
Debrief the delivery. “We think we’re doing a good job in the labor-and-delivery room of explaining things, but we deliver hundreds of babies,” says Kaiser Permanente Colorado OB/Gyn Kim Warner, MD. “Our explanations may not sink in the first time.” Follow up on any and all lingering questions about the birth process.
Carry car seats close to your body. When lugging junior around in his baby seat, hold the seat as close to your torso as possible. This will engage your back muscles in addition to your arms, and you won’t tire as quickly.
Limit your child’s exposure to the sun. REALLY limit exposure until the infant is at least 6 months old. After 6 months, limit direct exposure to 20 minutes-and not without a hat, pants, long-sleeved shirt and sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher). Sunburn is not the only concern. Dehydration and heat exhaustion also are possible.
Don’t overthink Rover’s affection. “I’ve never really heard of a child getting sick from a dog licking them on the face,” says Kaiser Permanente Colorado pediatrician, Scott Zimbelman, MD. “It won’t cause any harm if it happens once in a while.” Also: that whole thing about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as a result of cats sleeping with babies? Old wives tale.
Fan the baby’s room. A 2008 Kaiser Permanente research study found infants sleeping in bedrooms with fans ventilating the air had a 72 percent lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome compared to infants sleeping in bedrooms without fans.
Go to the six-week OB/Gyn appointment. “There’s so much going on at that point, and it’s good validation that you’re doing a good job,” Dr. Warner says. “The can-we-have-sex-yet conversation is particularly valuable. Having both partners there makes for a better discussion.”
Beat barrier No. 1 to losing the sympathy weight: Ignoring the calorie count.
Hold the baby. The research on parent-baby bonding historically has focused on the mother-baby bond. The attachment between father and baby also takes nurturing. Be present. Change diapers. Talk to your child. “It’s good for the child, and it builds your confidence and competence as a parent,” says Joe Barfoot, licensed clinical social worker with Kaiser Permanente Colorado. “The only thing dads can’t do is breastfeed.”
Know the signs of post-partum depression. Mood swings, tears, feeling overwhelmed-expect she’ll experience all of it after welcoming your newborn into the world. This is the so-called (and common) baby blues. If the emotional bouts last beyond two weeks, and those feelings turn toward deep sadness, and trouble bonding with the baby, it could be post-partum depression.
Resist putting dropped pacifiers and utensils in your mouth. Doing so can increase your baby’s risk of infections and cavities. Clean dropped pacifiers and utensils with soap and water.
Lift with your legs. When moving the wife’s 200-pound heirloom dresser, you know to keep your back straight and bend your knees (rather than your back) to lift. Same rule applies when lifting and putting down your child. “Repetitive bending can lead to injury, muscle strain, or a disk herniation,” says Gregory Mills, PT, Kaiser Permanente Colorado’s clinical service director for rehabilitation services.
Get your child vaccinated. Studies from Kaiser Permanente’s Institute for Health Research have found clear links between illnesses (including whooping cough and chicken pox) and children whose parents refuse vaccinations. “Every one of these immunizations that we want to give your child I had no qualms about giving my kids,” Dr. Zimbelman says.
Use birth control for at least nine months. If you and your partner want more children, don’t rush right back into pregnancy. Her body isn’t ready. She needs time to rebuild vitamin and mineral stores, and resume a normal menstrual cycle. If she’s breastfeeding, it’s best that she continue as long as works for her and the baby. Her uterus also needs time to regain strength.
Beat barrier No. 2 to losing the sympathy weight: Taking seconds (and thirds).
Note: your child may have reactions from vaccinations. The four main side effects your child may experience: low-grade temperature (100 to 101 degrees), pain at the site of injection, tender red skin around the vaccination spot, and general fussiness.
Step into the car when installing car seats. Placing a baby seat in the car can be surprisingly awkward. You duck, twist, lift and lunge-all in one motion. That takes a toll on your back, neck and shoulders. Minimize strain by stepping one leg into the car and positioning the seat using a forward motion-rather than twisting from the side.
Ask stay-at-home moms, ‘How was your day?’ You’re back at work. If she’s not, that probably means her 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. arrangement has fundamentally changed. Yours hasn’t. Showing interest in how it’s going, at the very least, acknowledges the shift.
Avoid sling-style baby carriers. Look for carriers with dual strap systems instead of those that rest on one shoulder. Distributing the baby’s weight to both sides of your body will decrease the chance of a neck injury.
Keep a house calendar. “If you’re disorganized, you’ll be more frustrated, more stressed out,” Barfoot says. “When you’re more frustrated and stressed, it’s more likely to show up in your relationships. The more organized you are, the lower your stress level.”
Babyproof your living space a.s.a.p. This includes covering outlets, gating stairs, moving cleaning chemicals to higher shelves-addressing all possible hazards within reach (and mouth) of a curious toddler. Why a.s.a.p.? Between sleep deprivation and adjusting to new routines, the seven(ish) months between birth and crawling pass quickly.
Beat barrier No. 3 to losing the sympathy weight: Restaurant food.
Go easy on antibacterial soaps. These soaps are much harsher than their non-antibacterial brethren, and they tend to pull moisture from the skin. Baby soaps are much milder. And, the evidence suggests friction is what removes most bacteria when washing hands.
Enjoy the low dirt factor. Sponge bathe newborns until their umbilical cords fall off. After that, infants need only two or three baths per week. Enjoy the low frequency while it lasts. Because it won’t last.
Say, ‘I’m here. I want to be involved.’ “A lot of new dads feel like the mom knows everything, and they don’t have a place, so they back off,” Dr. Warner says. “What that feels like to the woman is the dad doesn’t want to be involved.” Note: your involvement may include doing laundry, washing dishes, or taking the 2 a.m. diaper shift.
Don’t make your own list. Related to Tip 24, when offering help, prioritize what she says she needs, not what you think she needs.
Make time for yourself. Same goes for your partner. (Not yet for the baby.)
Strengthen your core. Whether by way of pilates, yoga, or plain-old sit-ups and pushups, there’s no better preparation for carrying your child than improving your core stability.
Beat barrier No. 4 to losing the sympathy weight: Going easy on exercise.
Help moderate her drive to exercise. It’s good for your partner to start walking as soon as possible after giving birth, but play it smart. “If it hurts, don’t do it,” Dr. Warner says. “If it causes bleeding, don’t do it.” Usually it’s six weeks before she can resume full exercise. Gradually increase the walking distance, and no swimming for at least that first six weeks.
Reprioritize date night. Carve out at least one night per month to nurture the relationship with your partner. Start making time for each other while still staying at home. Look toward date night out once you have identified a babysitter you are both comfortable with.
Read up on the baby’s first year. Note the broad definitions of “normal” child development. “You’re preventing parenting anxiety by knowing some things to expect,” Barfoot says.
Communicate with the grandparents. If you’re thinking where are they? They may be thinking Where’s my invitation? If you’re thinking Can we get some space? They may be thinking I’m getting older… I need to spend time with my grandchild? “It’s all about communication,” Barfoot says.
Accept that babies sometimes cry for no reason. New babies may cry as many as 3 hours per day. Sometimes they’re too hot. Sometimes too cold. Maybe hungry or lying in a messy diaper. And sometimes it’s just unexplainable. Good news is it’s not because you’re doing a bad job.
Target seven hours of sleep per day. The rule of thumb is adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a day. You’ll probably come up short in the first few months of your child’s life. But long term, getting too little sleep will decrease your alertness, increase your risks of auto accidents and lead you to eat poorly. Consider this as justification for midday naps. This goes for mom, too.
Beat barrier No. 5 to losing the sympathy weight: No support system.