Surviving Your Baby’s First Year

Let’s face it – no one truly prepared us for being a dad.  It took me going to medical school and being a pediatric resident to figure out how to change a diaper and how NOT to hold a baby.  I remember Home Ec classes in Junior High, but I am pretty sure those plastic babies slept way more than a normal one does.   

After seeing at least a thousand kids in the office and having two of my own, I am pretty sure I got this first-year thing down.  At least, I think so.  The problem is that every kid is different.  You can go out and read a million parenting books, join Mom groups online, invest in an awesome parenting coach, and most likely your kid will still find a way to outsmart them.  Luckily, we aren’t trying to know everything about our kid before it happens.  We just need to keep them alive and try our hardest to help them along the way.  

Below are my biggest parenting tips for dads for the first year of life.  These are based off my experiences with our kids as well as the multitude of other parents I have seen in the office on a day-to-day basis.  As the disclaimer on the site states, this is not medical advice, but strictly for your education and, hopefully, entertainment.

  1. Congratulations!  You are a new dad!  Hopefully everything with the delivery and pregnancy went just as you and your partner planned.  Because it always does, right?  Not really.  Things never go as we plan them out, so don’t be troubled when there is a bump in the road.  See it as a learning opportunity or a way to grow in parenthood.  Our first child came 5 weeks early unexpectedly.  Lesson?  If you are getting close to the due date, have an overnight bag packed for the hospital.  Your partner most likely won’t want to try to explain what underwear and pajamas to grab while recovering post-delivery.

2.  Eating.  It is kind of important.  Not just for you and mom, but the baby, too.  Most babies typically eat every 2-3 hours.  If you are utilizing breast feeding, it may be more frequent based on the nutrient make-up of the breast milk.  Don’t be surprised if the second night turns into Happy Hour, every hour.  It will probably take about 2 weeks to get a good routine down.  Your job during all this?  Be supportive as hell.  Breast feeding is not as simple as every makes it sound.  40% of moms struggle with this.  Using formula?  Get comfortable with mixing it, washing the bottles, and taking turns with the feedings as well.  You both need to support each other when caring for your child, and feedings take up a huge portion of that time. 

3.  Sleep.  Yes, babies sleep a lot early on.  You and mom should try to as well.  I usually recommend trying to nap when the baby naps.  Don’t expect a normal sleep cycle for yourself for quite a while.  Lack of sleep can lead to major issues like post-partum depression for mom AS WELL AS dads.  People don’t discuss that as much, but it can happen to us dads.  If at any time you or mom are feeling like you are becoming a worse version of yourself, see if you can figure out the cause and if not talk to your primary care provider.  As for your baby, know that as they get older the sleep patterns will shift.  Sometimes they will start to sleep really well, and other times you may see regression.  This is all normal, so don’t panic.  There are a lot of resources out there to help with things like sleep training once your child is old enough.  If you aren’t sure if they are ready for this yet, make sure to talk to your child’s medical provider. 

4.  Routines.  All of our life is centered around routines.  When do you normally take a shower?  How do you get ready for the day?  What is your workout schedule (or TV, reading, etc) like?  I bet it is the same most days, and that is because our brains are trained to establish routines.  If you don’t believe me, spend 7 days in a row recording exactly what you do during the day.  It is tedious, but I bet it will be pretty similar across the board.  I bring this up because babies get used to routines as well.  Want to help your baby learn to sleep through the night sooner?  Establish a bed time routine early on; maybe pick 3 things you do every night right before bedtime.  You won’t notice much the first few months but if you continue this it will make sleeping much more manageable.  Just try not to let feedings be the last thing before your baby goes to sleep.  If so, they will later rely on these night time feedings to console themselves.  These daily routines will become programmed into your child’s mind to help with daily activities, feeding, social development, motor development, and later on, potty training! (Luckily, we aren’t discussing that today).

5.  Toys.  Growing up I always wanted a remote-control car.  I asked for it for Christmas every year but never got one.    I think I am still bitter about this.  Oh, sorry, where was I?  Yes, toys.  In the first year of life your child is going to go through major developmental milestones.  Sometimes utilizing objects like toys can help this progress. However, try to skip the flashing lights and noise making devices.  In today’s world everything uses a battery.  The problem is that it then does all the work for us.  An infant can’t explore their environment if the world around them is already entertaining them.  Want your child to learn to roll?  Place an object they like to their side during tummy time and see if they will move to it.  Same with crawling.  Our brains were designed to learn from our surroundings by experience and investigation.  If we fill their curiosity with flashing movement and singing tablets there is little room for their attention to wander into growth. 

6.  Speech.   Talk to your kids.  A LOT.  It is estimated that a child needs to hear about 1000 words an hour to help with speech development.  But just like tip 5, do NOT rely on videos, TV, or other electronic devices.  It has been shown that kids under the age of 2 get little to no benefit in the form of speech development from screens or other devices, despite what some of the commercials out there may tell you.  Talk to your kid.  Sing songs.  Read books.  Let them get used to the normal patterns of speech.  I usually recommend having 1 or 2 Go-To books that you read daily.  Start with something small early on and as they get a little older it can be a little more involved.  The repetition (routines!) allows for the brain to pick up on the way words are structured and pronounced to allow their expressive speech to develop on time.  

7.  Advice.  I just gave 6 steps of advice.  I am going to tell you not to completely rely on it.  That is the same with all the other advice you are going to get from your parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbors, friends, or the nice woman at the grocery store.  As I started out saying, every kid is different.  There is no one-size-fits-all training manual out there that’s going to give you all the answers.  Advice is great when it is needed, but don’t let it discourage you or change the way YOU want to be parents.  If you really want unbiased advice, make sure to contact your child’s primary care provider to get a straight answer.  

Just remember, being an imperfect parent never makes us a bad parent.  As your child is learning to develop and grow this first year of life you are also learning and developing as a parent.  Hopefully all that training will get you ready for the toddler years, if any of us are truly ready for that time period.

Imperfect Dad, MD

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