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First, a warning..."Nobody will ever tell you this," a new-dad friend whispered to me, shortly before the birth of my first child. "But just remember, the first few weeks are ABSOLUTE HELL. Prepare yourself for total madness and it won’t seem so bad."
It was the best advice any dad-to-be could have. The truth is that those first few weeks and months are hell. Your life will become complete chaos and your home will look like a bomb has hit it. It's enough to make you worry that the rest of your life will be like this.
You may wonder if you’ll ever get another decent night’s sleep, or have sex with your partner again. Or whether you’ll get to read a book that isn’t made of cloth, let alone actually leave the house.
It does get better, honestly. Within a few months you'll have some semblance of your life back. But first there are some things you need to know about…
Sleep deprivationA newborn baby will leave you with a level of sleep deprivation like no other. It’s different from getting up early to do a paper-round when you were a teenager, or dealing with jet lag, or even coping with the odd hangover. You may feel disorientated by it, which can leave you feeling nauseous, irritable and fuzzy-headed.
Any dreams you have ever had about sex, money, or sporting glory are quickly replaced by endless fantasies about sleep. You think about it all day long. You would happily sacrifice your life's ambition just to snuggle into fresh bed linen and get a decent night’s kip.
The reality is, you should expect to be woken every couple of hours during the night. Your baby’s screams will be earsplitting. Their volume can reach an incredible 97 decibels, which is roughly as loud as a pneumatic drill. And that is LOUD. The fact is that babies have small stomachs, so they get hungry quickly.
Worse still, nobody seems to understand. Friends, if they don’t have children, will be dismissive. Meanwhile, friends with older children will have blanked this terrible period from their memory. Work colleagues will think you’re just a lazy slacker.
For this reason alone, it’s worth booking as much time off work as possible during the early days and weeks. Take the maximum parental leave you can. If necessary, take some time off as holiday, or if you can afford it, a week of unpaid leave, too. During this time, sleep whenever your baby sleeps. You’ll be glad you did when it’s time to go back to work.
What can I do?There are plenty of things all dads can do that are of huge help to a shattered partner and a helpless baby.
In terms of basic things to do with your newborn, these could include:
- Rocking your baby to sleep. This could be a key role for you. Unlike your breastfeeding partner, you won’t smell of milk, so you won’t have a fully fed baby demanding more.
- Talking to your baby. You won’t get much of a response, but it’s a start in getting your little one familiar with speech sounds and patterns.
- Burping your baby. It’s easy, and it can be the start of an important bonding session for the two of you.
- Reading stories. Your baby won’t understand a thing, but it’s good to get into the habit early.
- Keeping your baby occupied through play. You’re the FUN parent, remember!
- Changing nappies.
If you need a break from baby duty, the following easy tasks could provide some light relief:
- Loading up the washing machine and hanging the clean clothes out to dry.
- Cooking food for your partner and, later on when you’re weaning, for your baby.
- Doing the washing-up.
- Doing the shopping.
- Tidying the house.
- Waiting on your partner hand-and-foot.
NappiesYou can’t give birth and you can’t breastfeed. There, you’ve lost the two key trump cards in any argument with your partner already. You can, however, change nappies. This is truly a man’s realm.
For the first few weeks, nappy-changing is a momentous task, something that requires almost as much equipment as brain surgery.
You’ll need a changing mat, a clean nappy and generous amounts of cotton wool. You’ll also need a bowl of tepid water and another bowl to dispose of the dirty cotton wool. And a muslin cloth to pat your baby’s bottom dry, and maybe some barrier cream to prevent nappy rash.
Don’t forget a nappy sack to dispose of the nappy if it’s particularly smelly, which you can bet it will be. Then you’ll need some kitchen roll to mop up the mess. And you’ll probably need a rattle to keep baby amused because the whole process will have taken the best part of a day. The entire kit will fit neatly into a medium-sized truck.
Thankfully, you’ll get quicker at this as time goes on. Some research even shows that the more nappies a dad changes, the better relationship he’ll have with his child in the future. If a few nappies means you end up with a slightly less stroppy teenager in a few years’ time, then it’s got to be worth it.
SexBe prepared for sex not to be in as plentiful a supply as it was before your baby arrived. Both of you will be so exhausted and sleep-deprived that it will be low on your list of priorities. There’s also the guaranteed passion-killer of those 97-decibel screams coming from your newborn.
In any case, it’s recommended you wait six weeks before you first try to rekindle your sex life. In the first days and weeks after the birth your partner probably won't be in the best shape. Stitches will be in place, tears and cuts will be healing, and some kind of stretching will have taken place.
Don’t put sex on the back burner forever, though. It’s a key part of your relationship. You still need to be a couple, not just Mummy and Daddy.
Shower your partner with compliments so she can start to feel like a sexy woman again, rather than just a baby machine. She’s just been through one of the most traumatic times of her life and she needs your reassurance. Especially as she’s probably also lacking confidence in her post-baby body.
Try to put at least a few hours by one night a week to spend quality-time together. A nice takeaway, a glass of wine and a DVD is a good start. Actually having a decent conversation with each other every day, without lapsing into "baby talk", is also crucial in getting your relationship back on track. And, if all else fails, cuddling is an easy way to start being physical with each other again.
Everything takes longerOnce your baby arrives, you're always on the go. You’ll be racing around changing nappies, sterilising bottles, waiting on your partner, cooking, cleaning, washing and, just occasionally, getting a chance to bond with your baby. It may feel as if someone is secretly speeding up the clocks.
You’ll wake up with grand plans. "We're going to take baby for an early-morning swim," you declare. "We can grab some lunch in that nice cafe around the corner from the swimming pool. Then we'll walk through the park, visit a friend for tea, drive to the supermarket, and have supper at my mum’s house."
The reality? The morning and afternoon will whizz by before you've even left the house. Finally, at 3pm, you’ll manage to put your socks on, an achievement that almost has you leaping around the house with joy. The secret is not to over-plan your day. Keep it simple or you'll end up feeling frustrated and stressed.
Last reviewed: February 2014