Basic Baby Care from One Dad to Another

From nail clipping to anger management, Jason Greene offers up great infant parenting tips to new dads

Let’s face it – society doesn’t raise boys to be fathers. Whenever I take my children to a large store, I’m forced to split my time running back and forth between the “boy” toy section and the “girl” toy section. The boy section is filled with toys that wrestle, shoot, and get put together or blown up. The girl’s section, on the other hand, includes toys that require care, dress up, or beautification in some way. You’re not going to find a baby doll anywhere near the Nerf guns and WWE wrestling figures. I’m not condoning this stereotyping of “girl” and “boy” play, but it’s the reality we live in. This is one reason why guys are raised without any idea how to take care of a baby. Yes, there are guys who have known how to hold a baby since they were a baby and take great pleasure in doing so, but, for most guys, there is never an interest until that day happens.

If you are reading this, most likely that day has happened or is about to happen. When my first child was born, I had no idea how to take care of a child. To be honest, I’m three kids in and still learning as I go. I tried reading parenting books, but there was always a more interesting game on TV or paint that I needed to watch dry. Reading a parenting book did not sound like fun. I was too embarrassed to ask other parents how to do something because I was afraid of being judged as “that dad that doesn’t know anything,” even though I was that dad that doesn’t know anything. To help those dads who are in a similar situation, here are some of the basic things you are going to need to know.

Parenting is a messy business

You’re going to gain a lot of stories from your new role as a father, and many of those will revolve around your child’s bowel movements. Bowel movements have long been a favorite subject for males and that will only increase once your child is born. Changing a baby sounds easy enough. You put a piece of paper down, undo the diaper, wipe, and put a clean diaper on. If only it was all that simple. If you attend a Lamaze class or something similar, they might give you a doll to practice on. That isn’t a fair comparison. The baby will be squirming and chances are, especially with newborns, something else might fly out as you change them. Here are my suggestions to changing a diaper.

  • Get everything ready before you begin to change the diaper. Wipes, diaper, change pad, and cream if needed.
  • If you are using a changing table, keep one hand firmly on the child as much as possible. They can get a sudden urge to fling themselves to the floor. (A good way to do this is by grabbing both feet with one hand.)
  • Talk to the child while changing them. This is a great bonding experience for you and the baby. Sing, make faces, and talk in silly ways. This can help distract them as you expose them to the cool air.
  • Watch those hands. Their hands will often go right towards the wiping area. Once the hand reaches its destination, gross stuff can get spread to many other areas, including you.
  • If changing a boy, be careful of getting sprayed. I’ve been sprayed so many times it doesn’t even faze me anymore. I wear it like a badge of honor. Okay, that is gross I know. Either aim the boy’s body towards the wall or keep up a hand as a splash guard.
  • If you are changing a girl, remember to wipe from front to back to keep her from getting infections.

Holding a baby

Holding a baby sounds simple enough, but there are actually a lot of people that don’t know how. Many new dads stress about this and I can understand why. A new dad wants to shower his new baby with love, but it seems awkward when the baby is first handed over to them. I have seen this awkward interaction. It can be quite easy to get beyond that awkwardness. Here’s my handy-dandy bullet point tip list for holding a baby.

  • Get comfortable. If this is your first time holding a baby, make yourself comfortable. Remove your jacket or lumpy sweat shirt and stand in a comfortable way. Or better yet, sit down.
  • Always have a hand under the butt.
  • Think of every Virgin May statue or painting that you have ever seen where she is holding baby Jesus. She isn’t holding it out in front to get a full view. She’s holding it nice and tight close to her.
  • The head should be resting on your bicep slightly above the rest of the body. This will work wonders for your shoulders and neck muscles. (Not really)
  • Give a little movement. Bouncing smoothly or walking around helps you and the baby to relax a little.
  • You can also place the head by your shoulder or pectoral muscles with one hand on the baby’s back and the other under the butt.

Dear God make this baby fall asleep!

This is a prayer that even the strictest atheist will pray. Some of the most frustrating moments of my life have come when trying to help the baby fall asleep. Many books have been written about how to do this. None of which I have read but I’m sure they’re all good. This is what works for me.

  • Get a routine. Every night at roughly the same time, my wife and I go through a ritual before setting the baby down hoping he’ll sleep through the night. First we feed him, and then go through the stages of putting on a new diaper, fresh change of clothes, praying, and singing. As he gets older we’ll incorporate reading to him at this time.
  • Swaddling the baby is a HUGE help in keeping the baby down for several hours. To swaddle, set the blanket down in the shape of a diamond. For this purpose, think of a baseball diamond. Slightly fold the second base towards the pitcher’s mound and place the child on top of the blanket. The child’s head should rest where center field would be located. Grab the third base corner and fold it over to the first base corner across the baby’s arms. Bring the corner from home plate up until the blanket is snug around the feet towards the pitcher’s mound. Lastly, bring the first base corner across the baby’s body and gently tuck it underneath. Now the baby is nice and warm and feeling secure. Go Mets!
  • Some babies need some white noise. We have found that those baby aquariums work wonders.
  • How often do you set a sleeping baby in the crib only to have it wake up and scream? My trick is to gently place the swaddled baby into the crib with one hand on their back and the other on the chest. Keep some pressure on the hand that is on the chest and slowly slide the hand that is on the back out from under the baby. Leave your other hand on the chest for a few moments. When you’re ready, slowly release that hand. This will take some practice to perfect.

Bottle feeding

I’m not going to get into how to feed baby solids – you’ll probably have that figured out by the time you get there. Here are some tips for bottle feeding.

  • Sterilize everything that touches the baby’s mouth. The bottle, nipples, and the rings. Dishwashers were made for people with babies.
  • After putting the breast milk, regular milk, or formula in the bottle, I set the filled bottle inside a coffee mug full of hot water to warm up the bottle. Before giving the baby the bottle, make sure you test the milk on your hand to see if it is too hot.
  • Hold your baby (think Virgin Mary again) and keep the bottle up, so that the baby isn’t sucking down air, which could give them a stomach ache.
  • Always burp after feeding. The baby, not you.

Bath time

Much like changing a baby, bath time is a great opportunity to bond with the baby. It is also an opportunity for you to take a seat. After chasing the baby around the house all day, I cherish the opportunity to be able to stay in one place for a few minutes. Although this is a great moment for you and the baby, it is also one that requires great attention, for the obvious reasons.

  • Have the towel ready before you place the baby in the tub.
  • Never leave the baby alone. If the phone rings and you are in a different room, either let it go to voice mail or take the dripping baby with you. Horrible accidents can happen within seconds.
  • If you run out of shampoo or soap for a baby, don’t use your own. The baby might be too sensitive for adult soaps and it can cause quite the irritation in their eyes.
  • Don’t run the water while the baby is in the tub. If you have an old house like mine or a New York City apartment, you’ve probably already noticed that the temperature can be pretty fickle. It can go from warm, to cold, to scalding hot within seconds.
  • Check the water before you put the baby in the tub to make sure it is at the right temperature.
  • You’ll need to give your baby a sponge bath when you first bring the baby home. You can begin to bathe the baby in the tub once the umbilical cord area has been healed. The same goes if you had your child circumcised.
  • Check all the folds in the baby’s skin to make sure you get all the junk out.
  • Continue to be mindful of the neck if you’re bathing a newborn.
  • Most babies love the bath, so enjoy this moment with your child.

Clipping nails

I don’t even like to cut my own nails, so clipping my baby’s nails to this day causes me a great deal of stress. They squirm, cry, and do everything they can to get away from you. It isn’t a fun experience, but when unattended, those little nails are like tiny razors that leave their face and yours full of scratches. It isn’t that hard to do after you’ve done it a few times, but it always needs to be done with a bit of sensitivity.

  • Get a good hold on the baby. I like to place the baby on my lap and cross one leg over to my other knee, which locks my baby into a secure spot.
  • While clipping, talk or sing for distraction. Often times, I’m so focused on clipping the nails that I forget to interact, but the more I talk and sing in a soothing way, the better able the baby is to deal with the uncomfortableness of the situation.
  • Make sure you have a good set of clippers. They are usually not that expensive, so toss out ones that are getting dull.
  • Before you clip, spread out the baby’s hands on your hand.
  • Gently pull down the space between the baby’s nail and the finger.
  • Don’t clip too far in. You shouldn’t be able to see the pink part of the finger after you clip.
  • You are supposed to cut straight across, but I always slight round the nail slightly so we don’t get scratched later..

Dealing with anger and frustration

To the new dads that are reading this and to those that are expecting to be one soon, let me inform you about what lies ahead. For some reason that you will be unable to explain at a later time, you will get really mad. You’re not going to be mad at the baby, but you’ll be mad at the situation. Being deprived of sleep for a long period of time can wreak havoc on anybody. And so there will come a time when you are tired and in the middle of something and everything will go wrong. Maybe you grabbed that one diaper that has a rip in it, or the baby poops all over everything and you don’t have a change of clothes. Maybe you ran out of something. For some reason the baby just won’t go to sleep. The baby keeps crying and won’t stop and you can’t figure out how to help them. These are all things that have happened to me and will happen to you. Let me repeat that, “they will happen to you.” You will have no control over the situation and you will be angry about it.  Really angry about it.  But, you still have to be the adult. Don’t let your emotions control you.

I recently participated as a “veteran” dad at a Daddy Boot Camp run by the New York City Dad’s group. A large portion of the conversation addressed how we as dads handled stress during those beginning stages of fatherhood. In fact, the number one question I get from other dads is how I keep my temper in check. There really isn’t an easy answer for that question. The best advice I can come up with is that you must put the situation into perspective. When you feel that high level of frustration, step back and take a breath. Try to be calm. If you are all alone in your house, put the baby back in the crib and take a couple of minutes to yourself. The baby will continue to scream in the crib, but you’ll have a better chance of helping the baby if you give yourself a couple of cooling off minutes. Obviously, if you are out in public, you won’t be able to leave the situation and you’ll have to deal with it the best way you can.  Good luck.

You will be angry and you will become frustrated and that may make you want to do something irrational, maybe even something violent.  Stop yourself before you get there.  Controlling anger made it into my Basic Baby Care series because of the risk of Shaken Baby Syndrome. We’ve heard the story, the baby was crying and the parent could not find a way to stop them and so they shook the baby in frustration. And that one moment changed everything forever.  There is never an excuse for child abuse. Don’t let your emotions in any situation cause you to reach that point.

Here is the one thing that has helped me stay in control:  Remember in all your joys and frustrations with the little one, that it is only a short moment of your life. Those frustrating moments are a tiny part of the timeline in your life story together and they will pass. Those joyous moments will pass too, so cherish them.

—this post originally appeared at The Jason Greene

—Photo by Ashley Campbell Photography/Flickr

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About Jason Greene

8 years ago, my family made the choice that I would be the one to stay at home with the kids. 3 kids later we still believe it was the best choice. I now navigate my days helping with homework, running kids around, coaching sports, and doing chores. Read more at TheJasonGreene.com and follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonGreene.

Comments

  1. The more I read about having kids, the more I want the snip. Sounds scary!

    • Archy, no worries! Jason’s talking only about the work, and it is, like anything worthwhile. The rewards are innumerable.

    • Archy, Having kids isn’t for everyone, but I must say that being a daddy is an amazing and wonderful experience. There are tough moments, but the good moment outweigh the tough ones by tons.

      • Yeah I felt regret after getting a puppy that howled for 2-3 days before he got used to the new house, it kept me up, lack of sleep was evil. At this stage in life I am no where near ready mentally for a kid, but I guess it’d be diff when it’s your own kid but still scary as hell to be on call 24/7 and get no sleep!

  2. James Lewis says:

    I have to admit reading that other dads get frustrated is reassuring lol. I am a new father for 3 weeks now and lack of sleep is a under statement. But like you said the reward is good. When she looks at me with those big eyes after crying for an hour and is finally calm cause you did it definitely makes you feel good.

    • I’m sure, James and Archy, like any other expectant parent, you have received tons of unsolicited parenting advice. Let me offer a bit more, the one thing that has remained true and constant in my nearly seven years (counting the years bottoms me out) of parenting: it gets better every day. The sleeplessness is rough but you fit in what you need and by the time you’re used to it (or about to break) they’re on to the next phase. Then they’re driving.

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