If preparing for fatherhood feels like an overwhelming task, you’re not alone. No matter how many baby-book checklists you check your way through, how much advice you earnestly absorb from your friends with kids, or how many perfect new parent gifts you receive, it’s impossible to cover it all. One way to prepare for the arrival of a child is to work your way through all the contingencies with your partner. It’s also essential to keep in mind that these contingencies are not just related to the kid, but are also connected to parental time management, potential friend visits, parenting style habits, as well as self- and relationship care.
The fact is that not all of the prep work is self-evident. And much of it isn’t even covered in the baby books. Even our well-researched book Fatherhood is only able to cover some of the most pressing topics. What follows are 15 “must-dos” before the baby arrives — a checklist of survival tips for new dads that will make the first few weeks back home more about gently coming to terms with a new reality than a chamber of stress and terror.
1. Build All Baby Furniture
This seems obvious, but some parents procrastinate on putting together that changing table. Or they might think since they plan on co-sleeping, that the crib can come later. But the last thing any parent wants to be doing is building baby furniture while sleep-deprived. The task is brutal enough stone-cold sober on nine hours of blissful rest. It’s pure torture on three hours of sleep after a night of baby crying.
2. Buy an Infant Car Seat (and Know How to Use It)
Again, this might seem self-evident, but it’s important parents have an infant car seat at the hospital. The child will not be sent home unless parents can show nurses that they can put a child in an appropriate car seat. So, it’s not enough to just buy the infant car seat. Parents should also practice strapping in a baby doll or stuffed animal and putting them into the car. That will make the first step of coming home that much less stressful.
3. Agree on Where the Baby Will be Sleeping
While preparing for fatherhood, it’s important to have a discussion on where the baby will sleep as it is also basically a discussion about future sleep training. This is where parents can research and discuss how they’d like to go about making sure their baby is sleeping safely and eventually snoozing through the night.
Parents keeping the kid in their own room (as is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics) will want to make sure there is space for the crib. Co-sleepers will want to make sure they have a bedside co-sleeping cot. And parents who plan on having the kid in another room will want to make sure that they have the nursery prepared.
These are not decisions and considerations to make after the kid arrives. Parents who aren’t aligned on where and how their baby will sleep will run into trouble.
For parents who have the luxury of extra room, preparing the nursery will probably be part of the nesting process. That said, it should take place well before the baby arrives. Parents who give themselves enough time can use nursery preparation as a time to relax and daydream about the coming life change. But allowing for more time also means that a baby won’t be sleeping in a room filled with paint fumes and chemical off-gassing from new foam mattresses, window dressings, or wall decals.
4. Keep Online Developmental Milestone Guides Handy
Babies change a lot and at a rapid pace. It can be a challenge to keep up with what is within the range of typical development, what to worry about, and what to patiently wait out. Thanks to the internet, you don’t have to haul a giant reference book around all of the time to stay on top of things. But thanks to the internet, parents can come across information that isn’t vetted and scientifically sound. Bookmarking a well-researched online guide to baby milestones as well as the CDC’s free developmental milestone hub will provide quality answers to whatever developmental questions arise.
5. Agree on Division of Labor
Resentment is how happy family time turns into a disaster — and that frequently does happen in the wake of a birth. Unfortunately, those first few weeks can be a breeding ground for resentment, particularly when tasks aren’t appropriately delegated. Thus, one of the most critical tasks in preparing for fatherhood is to discuss who is going to do what when the baby arrives.
For instance, parents should agree on who is changing diapers when. Who is getting up in the night for feedings (if using a bottle), and who will be tackling laundry and dishes. It’s fine to split these duties 50/50, but some couples prefer to get creative, with dad doing all weekend wakings and diaper changes, or taking on night duty.
The point is to divide work between parents so that both get plenty of baby time, as much sleep as possible and don’t find themselves crying into the dirty dishwater because they’re feeling used. There will be plenty of time for that when the child gets into their teen years.
6. Buy Onesies, Socks, Hats and Seasonally Appropriate Clothes
There are plenty of things that parents think they need (and will have likely received at a baby shower), but the first few weeks of parenthood will not benefit from toys, or mobiles, or other cute baby accessories.
What a parent will need more than anything else is a robust supply of onesies. That’s because their life is soon to be flooded in baby shit and spit-up. How many onesies can a person change in a day? Upwards of half a dozen.
Another common clothing casualty is the baby sock. Not only do they get dirty, but they are also often inexplicably lost. Not, like, in the dryer. But out in the world during everyday life.
Finally, consider the season your baby is being born into and stock up on clothes that are appropriate. It’s great to receive gear at baby showers, but gift-givers often lean towards cute factor rather than function. Sure, your baby will look adorable, but if they are cold or overheated, adorable is worthless.
7. Decide on a Diaper System and Stock Up
Parents won’t want to switch between disposable or cloth diapers mid-stream (so to speak). It’s much better to lock into a system at the beginning rather than trying to learn something new during a time of crankiness and sleep deprivation.
It’s also much easier for parents to do a cost/benefit analysis of which diaper system will work best when they are clear-headed and full of energy. Researching what a kid will be pooping into while a kid is pooping is nobody’s idea of a good time. And once the decision is made, it’s best to have enough supplies on hand to handle two weeks’ worth of changes. It’s unlikely anyone will have the desire to make a run to the store anytime before that.
8. Buy a Month’s Worth of Baby-Care Essentials
The last thing a parent will want to do is run out to the closest drug store for wipes, diaper rash cream, onesies, burpees, formula, laundry detergent, dish soap, or lotion. That means that the supply cabinet should have more than enough good to make it through a month. It will take some pressure off and give everyone more time to relax and bond.
9. Cook Two Weeks Worth of Freezer Meals
Premade frozen casseroles and casserole related dishes are a lifesaver for new parents. At some point, the meal train from the church and friends will end and parents will be left to their own devices. Nobody in the house is going to want to cook.
Take the weeks before the kid’s delivery to double up on meals. Eat half and freeze the rest. Then, when it comes time to make a bone-weary post-baby meal, it’s just a matter of preheating the oven and setting the timer or popping some Tupperware in the microwave.
10. Do Some Low-Level Baby-Proofing
There are absolutely zero reasons for a parent to kill themselves baby-proofing every room before a kid arrives. Frankly, much of the most important stuff can be taken care of a couple of months into parenthood. After all, the kid isn’t even mobile for the first 6 months or so.
However, there’s no reason not to take care of the lowest hanging baby-proofing fruit. For instance, parents can install some electrical cord management and plug covers, just to get it out of the way and lower the burden of baby proofing later on.
11. Deep Clean Everything One Last Time
As little as parents will want to shop and cook in the first few weeks, they’ll be even less inclined to clean. So about a week or two before the due date, parents should take time to do one final deep clean of the house.
Clean the carpets, move the furniture, dust the light fixtures and fans, bleach the bathrooms, and organize the cabinets. It’s like spring cleaning, just not in the spring. This way when the ubiquitous visitors do stop by parents need only shove the detritus of a new baby living into a storage bin and feel confident the place doesn’t feel like a barnyard.
12. Bring All Accounts Current
If bills aren’t on automatic payment, parents should take time to bring all accounts current regardless of when the bills are due. Worrying about what utilities and bills have been paid is additional stress that new parents don’t need. Not to mention, there’s nothing worse than getting dinged for a late payment while doing something as noble as making sure a brand new human is thriving.
13. Make Out and Be Physical as Often as Possible
There will be precious little time for sexy times after the baby arrives, so new dads to be should take the relative quiet before the kid arrives to be physically present with their partners. Whether it’s making out or making love, physical contact will help bond couples and reduce the inevitable stress of waiting for the baby to arrive.
To better achieve this goal, some parents may opt for a babymoon, a restful excursion of some stripe. That’s great for people who have the funds and the wherewithal, but the same thing can be accomplished closer to home with some thoughtful planning, an in-home massage, some candles, and a bottle of non-alcoholic sparkling juice.
14. Connect With Friends While You Can
Parents will want to take time to bond with each other before the baby arrives. That said, they’ll also likely want to take some time with friends before they are sucked into the black hole of new parenthood. Because as much as parents like to believe nothing will change with their friends, it’s likely everything will change with their friends — particularly those who are single and childless.
So it’s important to take some pre-baby time to reinforce friendships. And as much as parents will want to talk about the impending birth, they should make sure to ask about the friend’s life, too. The idea is to let friends know that while things are going to change, they are still important. Because parents are going to eventually need them in their life again.
15. Lay Down the Law With Potential Visitors
This one’s more important and, in many ways, more complex than ever. Baby announcements are always great, but now they’re an indispensable way to introduce your friends and extended family to a new little person whom they might not get to meet in person for a while yet. Arranging for Zoom introductions can be a great way to bring friends into your new baby-centric world, without having to set the same hard limits for in-person visits during the first few months. It’s not ideal, but it does help new parents avoid the stress and guilt of opening a home to friends who want to see, and linger with, the new kid. There will still be plenty of time for eager friends and other family members to babysit when date night once again becomes an out-of-the-house objective.
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