Tips for new dads

This great advice was sent to me by my old friend Lorenzo when my son William arrived three months after his first son.

Must-haves

Things to get right away if you haven’t already:

  • A copy of Breast Feeding without Tears by Clare Byam-Cook, which contains really excellent advice, including the fact that all you need to do to wind a baby is hold its back and head in a straight line – no rubbing or patting required.
  • Lots and lots of plain muslin squares for mopping up. We had 10 to start with and that’s nowhere near enough. We ended up with about 40. It’s really convenient to be able always to pick up a clean one rather than trying to reuse one that’s damp (for whatever reason).
  • Three or four Miracle Blankets for swaddling. Alexander loved being swaddled at night – it was a good cue for differentiating bed time from nap time. Swaddling with a rectangular sheet is easy enough, but it’s much easier with these shaped sheets, and it’s also more comfortable for the baby because you get a secure swaddle without having to make it super-tight. Also available in Mothercare and lots of other places.
  • The BT Digital Baby Monitor Plus, which has two very good features – the ability to display the temperature in the baby’s room and the ability for you to talk back to it (useful for “ssshhhhhh” sounds).
  • An electric breast pump like this one, for expressing. Very important! Do not slum it with a manual one.

Feeding

Everyone has views about breast feeding. My 2¢ is that you should do it exclusively if possible. It’s surely better for the baby and much less hassle because you’re not worried about carrying around paraphernalia for feeding. This makes you more mobile as a family in the first few months. Some people say they’ll do a mixture of bottle and breast but that seems always to converge on bottle-only because the mother’s milk production is not adequately stimulated. Also, some people talk about using bottles so that the father can take part – but my experience is that there’s nothing lost by cuddling up to mum and baby during feeds. It’s amazing, and you’re as much a part of things doing that as you would be by holding a bottle.

The obvious downside of breast-only is that it’s hard for mum to spend time away from the baby. IMO, that’s a limitation worth accepting for the benefits it brings.

Another tip from the Clare Byam-Cook DVD: “feeding on demand” does mean feeding the baby when he’s hungry, but at each feed making sure he’s full. If you allow him to feed a bit, fall asleep, then feed a bit more he’ll do that all the time. You must make sure he’s properly full – which may mean waking him up – so that he then has his proper four hours or so of sleep. In Alexander’s case, if he drops off the first trick is to stroke his cheek towards the nipple. If that doesn’t get him going, stroking his ear usually does. If that doesn’t work, the last resort is gently taking the nipple away. If that doesn’t work, he’s full.

Nappy changing

You’ll have a changing mat. Get a bunch of small towels and put one down on the changing mat each time you change. It’s more comfortable for the baby and keeps the changing mat cleaner so it doesn’t stain. It’s easy to chuck a towel in the wash.

For changing at night, I prefer to keep the lights very low and not speak to the baby. This keeps up the differentiation of night time vs. day time and wakes him up as little as possible. The downside to the dim lighting is that it’s hard to see what you’re doing, which is a problem when there’s a lot of poo. I recommend a small light – I use an Osram Dot-it that I place so it’s shining horizontally and illuminating the baby’s bottom. Easy to see the poo; doesn’t shine in the baby’s face so keeps things quiet.

I just use warm water and cotton wool, not wipes (unless we’re out). Boy babies a prone to peeing when you take their nappies off, so hold a tissue strategically to limit the damage.

Washing

You’ll find your washing machine suddenly going all the time. Babies generate a lot of washing. The trick to getting poo off clothes (when a nappy has leaked, for example) is to wash them right away.

Bed time

We’ve started using grobags, and they’re great. I would use them from birth in future – or certainly when we stop swaddling. I see they have a specialist swaddling product something like the Miracle Blanket, but I haven’t tried it.

Get a couple of LED torches so you can each have on your side of the bed. For the first few weeks you’re bound to find yourself wanting to check the baby during the night, and it’s really handy to have a torch. I use LED Magliites, which stand on their ends so can conveniently act like a candle to provide dim room light at night without turning on the main lights or lamps.

Toys

Alexander responded to things from very early on. He responded to the black and white books and shapes from http://www.socialbaby.com/babyshapes.asp. He also got a lot out his Fisher Price play mat (this sort of thing, although they don’t make ours any more it seems), which had things on it that would play a tune if you hit them. Emma was surprised that he was enjoying this even at three weeks: she says she wouldn’t have bought it that early, but we had one because we’d bought it to entertain her baby niece, so she put Alexander on it anyway.

Bath time

We used a baby bath to start with: I would hold Alexander in the bath and Emma would wash him. After a while we tried one of us (usually me) getting in the big bath with him, which was a revelation. I wouldn’t bother with a baby bath ever again. It’s much more fun in the big bath, and it also felt safer. In the baby bath I was pretty much supporting Alexander. In the big bath, the water takes most of his weight and its much easier to hold his head safely. Also, pretty soon he discovered the joys of serious splashing.

Crying

We’re very lucky that Alexander doesn’t cry all that much. When he does, however, so far it’s been easy to work through the potential problems systematically: is his nappy dirty? Does he have wind? Is he hungry? Is he tired? Basically it’s always one of those, and all of them are pretty straightforward to deal with (in the case of the last, it’s a matter of being calming). If we put him down in the evening and have ruled out the first three but he’s still crying we let him get on with it for a little while; in almost all cases he goes off to sleep (so it was being tired), and when he doesn’t it turns out he did have wind or a dirty nappy or was hungry and we just didn’t spot it.

Car seat

If you haven’t already got a car seat, consider the Aprica car seat. It’s expensive but is adaptable so should last until the baby is at least 3 years old. The big plus is that it goes completely flat for new babies, which is much more comfortable for them when they can’t hold their heads up and is safe to use for longer journeys. In a normal seat, even one that reclines, you mustn’t go for more than an hour and a half without a decent break.

Books (for you)

It seems that mums are the ones who read the books; I certainly haven’t read any, although I’ve had plenty of advice from them via Emma J

A non-baby book I recommend is On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins. It’s the most cogent and elegant theory for how the brain works I’ve seen. It’s concise and readable, and you’ll find yourself constantly reflecting on its implications when interacting with your baby.