Are you ready for a tiny, squirming human to rock your world? A complete stranger is about to howl, spit-up, and poop on you and will expect you to come back for more, which you will. Some days will feel like you’re swimming in open ocean through a hurricane and telling your partner (who’s exhausted and crying too) that everything is fine.
Despite those feelings, fatherhood is amazing. It’s also real and full of challenges that will be harder than anything you ever expected. But you can begin preparing for fatherhood as soon as that pregnancy test comes back positive. Here are a few (real) tips to help new dads through one of the noisiest, smelliest, and most rewarding journeys of their lives.
1. Go Over the Post-Baby Budget
Life gets busy and exhausting once a baby enters the picture. You don’t need the headache of money problems at the same time, so make a financial plan. Review your company’s parental leave plan. If you get paid parental leave days, know how many. You may need to coordinate or alternate days with your partner to optimize both of your schedules and time with the baby while saving on childcare costs.
If you’re transitioning from two incomes to one or even one and a half, plan on how and where you’ll make budget cuts. It’ll be easier to make the change if you already have a plan in place rather than leaving it until after the baby arrives.
2. Install the Car Seat
Car seats are easy, right? Wrong. Okay, some car seats aren’t hard to install, but others require some serious spatial reasoning skills. You may (or may not) have the patience and know-how when you’re functioning on two hours of sleep.
Get to know that car seat inside and out. If it has a base, install it, but practice taking the actual seat in and out with and without the base.
3. Pack Your Bag
Everyone remembers to pack mom’s bag, but they might forget dad’s. Take everything you need for a night or two—razor, soap, shampoo, and a change of clothes. Take a few comfort items, too, like a neck pillow (who knows what kind of accommodations hospital has), blanket, and towel.
4. Bring (Real Food) Snacks
Pack your favorite non-perishable snacks—granola, crackers, maybe even some sweets. Who knows if you’ll have a chance to run to the cafeteria or not. Your partner will get hospital food, but you’ll be on your own. Labour can be a scary thing, and she may not want you to leave her.
5. Read a Baby Book
No, your baby did not ingest tar in the womb. That black sticky stuff they poop out in the first few days is normal—gross, but completely normal.
Preparing for fatherhood doesn’t necessarily require you to read every baby book on the market. However, reading through one or two will give you a head’s up on baby’s first bowel movement and other surprises you will find along the way.
If you don’t want to read through a full book, our “How To Dad” book will also give you a huge headstart.
6. Learn to Cook a Few Simple Meals (and Other Partner Support)
Learn to cook a few simple meals so that you can quickly put something together when you’re both tired. Eating out doesn’t go so well with a baby. They’re like ticking time bombs that can explode at any minute. Take out gets expensive, fast.
Practice before the baby comes. Freeze a few meals for even faster meal prep.
7. Mentally Prepare Yourself for Less Sleep
You can’t physically prepare for the effects of sleep deprivation. However, it’s coming. Accept it. Expect it. It’s normal. Be patient and forgiving of yourself and your partner because you could say or do things you regret when the days blur together.
8. Learn to Manage Your Time and Be Flexible
Babies don’t know or care about plans and schedules. Leave extra time to get out the door when you’re going anywhere. Anywhere. Babies take a lot of gear—extra clothes, diapers, bottles, and toys. Even if everything goes as planned, gathering all the stuff can take a long time.
Then, as soon as you’re ready to walk out the door, a smell will waft to your nostrils, and you’ll discover that poop has flowed like lava all the way up the baby’s back. Factor in a few exploding diapers and minutes searching for a full pack of baby wipes into every appointment, trip, or drive to the grocery store.
9. Have a Plan for When You Feel Overwhelmed
Preparing for fatherhood requires you to know yourself and your limits. At times, the crying and sleep deprivation will feel like too much. That little person you love so much will push you to the very edge. When you feel frustration turning to anger, it’s time to hand the baby to your partner and know how to calm yourself.
You’ll need to step away at times. It could be a trip to the store, a walk around the block, or a trip to the gym that gets you back in a healthy headspace.
10. Spend Time with Actual Babies
Spend some time with actual babies. Dolls or stuffed animals are nothing compared to the real thing. Babies wiggle and squirm more than a fish pulled fresh from the water. If you’ve got friends or family with a baby, offer to hold the baby or change a nappy or two. A little confidence in your abilities can go a long way.
11. Talk and Sing to Your Future Baby
Many studies show that a baby can hear and process sounds while in the womb. Talk to your baby even though he can’t respond. Let him hear and get to know your voice. Sing, tell jokes, read the newspaper—it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re engaged. You will be surprised how comforted the baby is to that same song or voice later down the line.
Babyhood is short, and the newborn phase is even shorter. Slow down, breathe in that new baby, and the rest of fatherhood will fall in place.