Congrats: you are about to become a new dad! You should be proud of yourself for trading in an idle life of low-stakes fun for a stressful, high-pressure, but ultimately rewarding life of meaning and little miracles. New fatherhood is harried and filled with last-minute, on-the-spot problem solving — like figuring out what that particular shriek means. But don’t worry: you’ve got this.
I didn’t know what the hell I was doing when my daughter was born and now my daughter is nine years old. She’s not addicted to anything yet (except the App Store), so I guess I didn’t totally mess her up. And with tiny babies, there are only a few main problems to deal with:
I don’t know what the hell I am doing.
Right now you probably feel like one of those big, dumb sitcom dads who doesn’t know what on earth is happening — minus the laugh track. Before I was a father, I didn’t feel ready. It’s natural to be worried about messing up your kid or not being suited suited to raising a human life form. And it doesn’t help that it feels like everyone is watching you, making you nervous that you will drop the baby. (That hardly ever happens!)
Get advice from seasoned pros, and until you get the hang of it, fake it. Eventually, you will gain confidence, and you can facilitate that by spending as much time with the baby as possible: take over one of the feedings, take the baby out for a solo diaper mission to give Mom a break, hold the baby, feed the baby, you get the idea. Really get your hands dirty. Speaking of...
I am worried about poo.
Your baby is going to poop. A lot. At first, that writhing, screaming child with a dirty diaper will make life a whole lot messier and a whole lot tenser. (If they would just stay still a second, they wouldn’t be smearing their poo all over the place!) Relax — diaper-changing technique can be mastered easily, and you will soon come to an understanding with the kid — a poo détente, if you will. Here’s a good diagram of how to change a diaper. Practice these steps and soon you’ll be a battle-tested veteran, steely-eyed in the face of even the worst Number Two.
You will also need diapers, wipes and some kind of poo trashcan, which all cost money. Do some research online and see where you can get the cheapest diapers delivered to you in bulk — because you will need a lot of diapers. Diaper pails come with their own proprietary formats that lock you into some kind of special trash bags for several years, so shop around. Check out this good book for ideas on how to save money on baby gear.
For diaper-changing on the go, you’ll want to have a changing mat to put your baby on. When a changing table isn’t available and you’re under a lot of pressure to clean your baby up, the ground and a changing mat will work. The good thing about the ground is that no one ever fell of the ground, and you really don’t want your baby to fall. Benches also work if you’re careful, as does your lap, or the backseat of your car when you’re really stressing. Feel no shame about doing this wherever the hell you want; no one confronts a dude with a dirty diaper in hand.
Will my baby cry all the time?
Yes. Generic Baby Cry is already bad, and Mother Nature has amped that up a level just for you: you are hardwired to react even more to your own baby’s cry. Crying babies are usually hungry, tired, or gassy. Or they have a dirty diaper. Or they’re bored. Or they’re over-stimulated. Or they’re scared. Who knows! You just want them to stop! Okay, okay. Calm down. First, go through your checklist of likely problems like some kind of robot: check their diaper, feed them, try to get them to sleep, check their diaper. Talk to them, rock them. Burp them. Cycle their legs like they are riding a bike. If you’re lucky, one of these things will work.
If not, it’s time to get all Baby Whisperer on them. Switch it up! Go for a walk, try a bouncy seat, let them suck on your pinkie, make a crazy face, play some music, make things very quiet, shush them, rock them. Babies aren’t rational, so you may have to tune into their “vibe.”
I am worried about never getting any sleep & I like sleep.
Your baby has a crazy notion of sleep that’s incompatible with adult humans and stress reduction. Sleep deprivation is no joke: that’s why it’s a favorite tool of torturers the world round. And between your feelings of inadequacy, the poo, and the crying, you really need to get as much sleep as you can so you don’t explode. What can you do about this? Big surprise: sleep.
Sleep when your baby sleeps, and switch off with your partner, so you don’t end up constantly yelling at each other out of anxiety and exhaustion. When your baby naps, resist the urge to multitask and generally screw yourself out of precious sleep. Nap nap nap. One day, you will be able to get your baby to nap, sleep through the night, and feed on a schedule. But that will take a few months, so just get used to being a little grumpy and tense. Fun for the whole family!
And for the most stressful moments, let Gillette Clear Gel keep you dry. #NoSweat
Illustration by Rob Dobi.