The birth class Heidi helps teach has a class session where the moms and dads split up and they get a chance to ask all those first time parent questions they may otherwise be embarassed to ask in front of their significant others. The usual fellow who helps teach the dad half of the class was out of town on business, so Heidi asked me to sit in and be the experienced father. This is a summary of what we discussed.
Rub the bum with olive oil
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Put olive oil on your newborn’s bottom. It’ll make the meconium come off so much easier. You and your baby will thank me.
Meconium is really sticky stuff. It sticks to your the wipe, the diaper, your hands, your baby’s bottom. The olive oil helps keep it off the bum and onto the diaper.
Speaking of diapers
If you don’t want the burden of cleaning out meconium from cloth diapers, go ahead and use the newborn diapers for a little while. Nobody will judge you. But those newborn diapers fit terribly. Your baby just doesn’t have much of a bum at this point. There will be leaks. Accept this.
And if you have a little boy, and he gets an erection while you’re changing him, cover him up quickly unless you want to get peed on. I’ve only been peed on once. It was my baby girl. Baby girls provide no such warning.
Birth is tough. Recovery takes a while.
Various births with descending recovery times:
C-sections are the hardest to recover from. Two weeks, easy, before she’s going to feel like getting up and about. Maybe longer. Try not to make her laugh. She’s just had major abdominal surgery, for pete’s sake!
Vaginal birth with episiotomy. She’s had her perineum cut and stitched back together. This is going to be very uncomfortable for quite a little while.
Vagina birth with a tear. This happens more often than you might think. It sounds scary and terrible, but a tear is an easier recovery than an episiotomy*. There are still stiches, but the natural tear down the muscles will knit back together more easily than the cut of an episiotomy. Still uncomfortable, though. (*Heidi insert – most of the time a tear is minor, some don’t even need stitches, but sometimes there are bad ones that need a lot more healing time.)
Vaginal birth. Everything went swimmingly, but there’s still recovery involved. Your midwife will probably tell you to have her stay off her feet for two days. Believe her! After the first day, your wife may feel full of pep and vigor, but do try to keep her off her feet. Two days or 48 hours. Whichever comes first.
Show off your daddy lion skills
You get to be daddy lion, protecting your little pride. These first two days are a great time for your wife to bond. You run interference. Screen calls, guard the front door with a pump-bottle of hand sanitizer at the ready, help with meals, or better yet organize meals from friends or a church group.
Thing is, there are serious ramifications with the reality of visitors. Newborns, even breastfed ones, are more susceptible to illness than you or your visitors. We had a giant pump bottle of hand sanitizer at the door that all of our visitors had to use before they entered the house, and one of our little ones still managed to contract RSV while they were an infant. (RSV means a bad cold for you. In a baby, it can be a killer.)
I’m not saying that your child will get deathly ill if you allow visitors. I am saying that you need to be aware of the potential consequences.
Before the blessed day, take the time to talk to relatives and friends about the rules you decide for visitors. Don’t be afraid to lay down the law. You may have a well-intentioned relative or friend who rub your wife the wrong way on the best of days. Your responsibility isn’t whether you offend them or not; your responsibility is to your wife and new child. Set a time in the future when you’ll accept visitors, and let your potential visitors know ahead of time. You don’t need to be hammering out these details on the day after the birth of your child. Go ahead. You have my permission.
Can’t stress this enough. Sleep is precious. Your new baby’s stomach is about the size of a marble. It doesn’t take much to fill up, and it doesn’t take long to empty. Expect lots of diapers, and little consecutive sleep.
Sleep when you can. If you have the choice between a nap and catching your favorite show on TV, tivo it. Go to bed.
That said, you may get lucky and have a child who manages sleeping four hours in a stretch. Go with it, and godspeed. You just won the lottery!
Find other ways to show her you love her
Some people compare giving birth to running a marathon. They’re wrong. It’s more like a triathalon. Your wife is going to be tired. It’s your job to give her support postpartum. Here are some handy ways to demonstrate your love and devotion while she recovers from her experience:
Keep her fed and hydrated. Nursing burns 500 extra calories or so a day. Do you have any idea how long you’d have to run to burn off 500 calories? Me neither, but I bet it’s a lot.
Stockpile her favorite snacks. Keep her water cup filled up. Keeping her fed and hydrated will keep her energy up as well as her spirits. And you, Dad, score extra devotion points.
The first time after the baby
When you finally get back into the swing of things in the bedroom, you’re likely to receive one specific surprise: the let-down response.
Perhaps by now you’ve already experienced the lactation let-down? Perhaps when she heard someone’s baby crying in the supermarket, her body started producing milk spontaneously? Or perhaps there was no trigger at all? Just one minute everything is fine and dandy, and the next minute, she’s looking for a jacket because her shirt is soaked down the front.
This can also happen after an orgasm.
Don’t laugh. Unless she does first. This will likely be as much a surprise to her as it is to you. Take it in stride.
(Heidi insert – if this makes either of you uncomfortable then investing in a cute/sexy nursing bra and some good nursing pads can help.)
When to ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Some examples.
Nursing is a wonderful experience for mother and baby. Health benefits, psychological benefits, it’s just a hugely beneficial thing for your wife to do for your baby. It can be sensitive to start. But should it hurt? Not terribly. If there’s pain, don’t wait until your wife is in tears, frustrated and ready to give up. Call your doula, your midwife, heck, call La Leche League. Get help.
Your house is a mess. You haven’t slept in days. Your wife is just as tired as you are. But your paternity leave is up, and you have to go back to work. Call a friend. Call a mom. Get help.
You’ve heard of the baby blues, but your wife is acting more than just down. She’s unusually tired. She doesn’t want to leave the house. She may even start crying spontaneously and saying things like she doesn’t want to be a mom. This may be the start of post-partum depression, not just the normal hormone fluctuations that come with motherhood. Call your midwife. Call your OB. Call in her girlfriends. Get help.
These are simply examples. Really, get help whenever you think you need it. If you have a question that you’re having trouble answering, need help with meals, or just need to talk to a friend, you likely have no shortage of people who would love to get closer to you and your new baby. These people love you and want to help you. Use them. (Heidi insert – make sure they use hand sanitizer before you let them get closer. )
Down the line
The newborn months will pass, and your baby will start eating more, staying awake longer, and generally interacting more with you and your wife. These are great times. You’re going to be growing into your role as Dad more every day. This is a wonderful transformation.
You’re going to be getting all sorts of advice on all fronts: from parents, friends, doctors. If you hear something that sounds off to you, go ahead and investigate that feeling. Our pediatrician’s nurse told us that our baby should be drinking juice and starting table foods at five months old. This didn’t sound right to us. (Heidi insert – we informed the pediatrician of this little tidbit of advice and she said she would further train the new nurse.) We knew our daughter wasn’t ready for food yet. In fact, she told us when she was ready a number of months later when she started grabbing food from our plates!
You and your wife are the experts on your child. Trust your feelings. If you feel like co-sleeping, that’s okay. If you want to delay table foods, that’s okay. You’re the dad. You get to make decisions that affect your child. It’s your right and responsibility. Nobody else, not even your pediatrician, knows your child as well as you do.
Go with it. You’re the dad.
Be the dad.