The due date is fast approaching and you’re about to become a father for the first time. Scary? For some, perhaps. “I’ll be fine”, you think. You’ve read the books (or at least skimmed through the articles your partner keeps sending you), you’ve listened intently to all the (unsolicited) advice from friends and family, you’ve set up the nursery, and you’ve spent an absolute fortune on toiletries, nappies and clothes that would barely fit on a doll (why don’t the prices just reflect the amount of fabric used?)
Take it from someone who is slightly further along on this journey though: you are not even close to being prepared. Here are 5 things I wish I knew before becoming a father.
1. Sleep. Seriously, you can't get enough
We’ve all heard the horror stories: newborns screaming like banshees for hours on end, zombified parents making a nice hot cup of formula in place of the tea they thought they were making (tastes better than you think). While the reality is rarely as bad as this, sleep is still very much at a premium, especially in the first few days and weeks. A new baby, especially your first, is such a shock to the system that whatever sleep you actually manage to get during this time won’t be worth much in terms of how you feel. So go into the experience as well-rested as possible: take some time in the days and weeks before birth to just rest and sleep where you can. You might think that this time would be better used doing some of your favourite hobbies or activities, but trust me, you’ll be glad you took the time to rest.
2. You will feel all the emotions
While the strong, silent male archetype might not apply so much these days, guys are still generally quite reserved when it comes to showing or embracing emotions. If this relates to you, be prepared to experience an avalanche of emotions come the birth of your child. There really are no words to describe the experience of seeing your baby for the first time: the emotions are overwhelming and sometimes even contradictory. Fierce love and protectiveness mixed with absolute joy and excitement, topped off with fear and worry about their wellbeing. This is all perfectly normal and should be embraced, but is something that is very rarely if ever talked about with fathers-to-be.
3. Just go with it
You can read all the books and speak to all the experienced parents and doctors you like, but the reality is that no one knows how to care for your baby. It will be up to you and your partner, through trial and error, to find what works (and what doesn’t). That might sound daunting, but it really isn’t. Embrace the uncertainty and chaos. Flexibility is key here: every resource under the sun might tell you that your newborn will eat every 2-3 hours, but you might find that he or she cluster feeds on the hour, every hour, for 6 or so hours. If you are not prepared to adjust your approach and expectations, you might find yourself having a hard time.
4. Everything will change (but that is OK)
This will probably be pretty obvious to most, but a new baby means that life as you know it will be significantly altered. You likely won’t have the time to enjoy the same things you did when you were baby-free. That might mean no more uninterrupted movies or sports, no more weekend sleep-ins, no more lazy (possibly slightly hungover) Sundays. However, you will be surprised at how quickly you develop a new rhythm, and you might find that you don’t even miss doing the things you used to do. Personal time for hobbies and interests is still important, but you will likely find the time you spend with your baby, difficult as it may be at times, more rewarding and entertaining. Personally, I can’t think of anything better than watching my two-month-old son, butt propped in the air, giggle to himself in his sleep as he passes wind with the force of a low-grade hurricane.
5. Time management, and divide to conquer
Again this might seem obvious, but it is worth mentioning the importance of managing your time efficiently when you have a newborn. As I said above, flexibility is crucial with a newborn, so you don’t need a step-by-step itinerary for every day, but it does help to have a fairly accurate idea of when your baby is due his or her feeds, when it is bath night, or when you are due to go to the doctors for a check-up. Knowing what you need to do in advance will save you a lot of time and bother. The first time we had to bring our son back to the hospital for a check-up, two weeks after birth, we foolishly thought that we could approach it as we usually would and get ready an hour or so before the appointment. We actually allowed ourselves another hour, just in case. Fast forward two hours and we are late for our appointment at a hospital that is literally 15 minutes away.
Similarly, working as a team can help to alleviate a lot of the stress. If you take it in turns to handle the heavy stuff—for instance my wife does the night feeds during the week when I’m working, and I handle the weekends—you will likely have a much easier time of it, relatively speaking. Communication is important here; if you or your partner are feeling particularly exhausted, just talk to each other. That way you will be able to find a way that works for you both.
Enjoy every moment with your new baby, they grow up so fast. There is honestly nothing better.