The fear of the unexpected is one of the hardest things about being a new parent. There are books, videos, classes, and fads for every single stage of parenthood, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It seems as though there is an infinite amount of knowledge on how to raise your baby right and a very finite amount of time to absorb it all.
But take it from me, a pretty experienced first time dad, there is no secret solution. You, your kids, and your ecosystem should dictate the best approach to parenting, not some book or method. Most sources attempt to provide a single golden formula or focus on the minutia, ignoring the simple yet practical advice new parents so desperately need. So sit back, relax, and enjoy learning the four things I wish I knew before becoming a father.
Losing Sleep Before the Baby
When most people find out that they are expecting a baby, they realize their days of sleeping in are over. Few realize that the lack of sleep can happen before the baby actually arrives! That’s right fellas, nausea, munchies, and frequent restroom trips come at you way before gestation is over and can easily take you by surprise. So remember to be supportive when you are losing sleep and the baby is still seven months away. There is a multitude of reasons why your partner can struggle to stay asleep, and let’s just say misery loves company.
As part of pre-delivery preparations, my wife and I decided to take a series of classes at our local hospital. What we did not learn in that course was that breastfeeding is not as easy and natural as one would expect. One of the hardest things about having children was watching my wife struggle and not being able to do anything about it. The pressure to go the natural route and the stigma around formula feeding only added to the pressure of learning to breastfeed.
Besides the difficulties inherent in breastfeeding, there are dozens of reasons to transition to formula earlier than desired. For starters, you could have twins which means you would have to be a breastfeeding factory non-stop. You could always manage to get both twins latched on at the same time, but Moses had an easier time parting the Red Sea. Additionally, your kids could have physical limitations preventing them from latching, or you could require certain medications which prevent you from breastfeeding. Long story short, really wished more time was spent on discussing the essentials of keeping a baby alive versus mentioning for the fourteenth time that labor could go on for over twenty four hours.
Rest and Recovery
Another topic that received very little attention during the pregnancy classes was the postpartum recovery timeline. Which by the way is essentially the same for natural versus a c-section delivery. The magic number is six weeks, and during that time there is no heavy lifting or thrusting for that matter. For the mom, the first month and a half of your child’s life means that her uterus contracts continually as it shed its lining and regains its former size. This process involves cramps and lots of them, so be prepared to talk about her needs and whatever you do, do not mention that “it’s been weeks.”
Sometimes as parents we think we made a mistake, and if life were a video game we would be looking to re-start at the last saved checkpoint. The thought often occurs in the middle of the night at peak sleep deprivation and extreme parental desperation. The truth is that sleep training sucks, but there are some things that you can keep in mind that will to help the training be a little less miserable.
The most important thing to know is that your babies will have spent ten months in a dark, cramped, and loud environment. Because they spent most of their time in a light devoid cavity, they have no internal clock. The baby’s circadian rhythm will often be out of alignment and need some time to adjust. This can make your baby appear nocturnal, but in reality they’re just as confused and tired as you are. There are ways to deal with this, but that’s a whole different post. Just brace yourselves: insomnia is coming.
I hope these little nuggets of info help you and your partner to plan and prepare for the realities coming your way. If you think there are things I may have missed, shoot me a line, and I will address them in one of my future posts.