Advice for NuevoDads

Before Birth

New parents sweat the birthing process so much, not realizing that labor and delivery lasts for a few hours, but having a kid lasts forever. So here are some tips for actually preparing for having a baby in the house.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSYPqGtFBYQ

 Doctors & Shots

Your pediatrician is more important than your obstetrician. I mean, of course mom and baby need to have a safe, healthy, and hopefully easy delivery. But you’re going to deal with your obstetrician for about 9 months. You deal with a pediatrician for about 18 years. So spend some time finding a good one that you like. Some key charachteristics:

  1. Do they have a separate entrance for healthy and sick babies
  2. Do they offer an on-call nurse to answer quick questions
  3. Who gives the shots?

You don’t want the doc giving the shots. You want a nurse. That way, your kid is scared of the person that gives him shots, rather than the person that has to examine him.

Many states regulate when the shots can be given based on date of birth. Don’t get screwed by this -- always shoot for your 3,6,9,12,15 month checkups and so forth to be *after* the actual date, so that immunizations can be given. If your kid’s birthday is July 3rd, and you show up to the 12 month checkup on July 2nd, the doctor may not be allowed to give your kid his 12 month immunizations. So it’s better to schedule that 12 month appointment for July 5th or something.

At the Hospital

When you get to the hospital, you’re likely to be given a shitstorm of contracts to sign, and asked for photo ID for you and the wife. Before you leave, make sure you have her ID, your ID, and whatever insurance cards you’re using easily accessible. While my wife was having second stage contractions, we were stopped and not let in to the L&D room until I clumsily fumbled through all our stuff to get to this stuff.

Ask for the legal documents they make you sign well in advance of labor. They’re actually not great, and you should probably read them. 

Dealing with Visitors

Your wife is going to be worn out no matter what birthing style she’s chosen, and people are going to be dying to see her and your new baby. But lots of visits will prevent much needed rest and even feeding. It’s better to have 5 visitors over the course of one hour than it is to have five visits lasting an hour each. Do this *before* you have the baby. 

Ask your friends to coordinate with one another, and come and visit in batches. We even used Google Calendar’s appointment feature with much success, allowing people to sign up for set time slots between feedings for a visit in batches. These set expectations also prevent lingerers from lingering too long. Remember, your first priority besides the health of the baby is making sure your wife can recover.

Remind them before they arrive that they’re not there to play with the baby, and that you probably won’t be able to offer them much in the way of your personal attention.

You’re going to get many offers for "help" from friends, relatives, and crazy stalking neighbors. This is normal. Here are some ways you can channel that energy into something other than awkward staring:

Pictures

Chances are, at some point you’re going to have a photographer come take pictures of your baby. And you’re also going to take a lot of pictures of your baby. Here’s the thing -- if you’re a two parent family and don’t have a live-in photographer, the likelihood of you having pictures of all *three* members of the family is pretty small because one of you needs to take the picture.

So if you get that photography done, focus on the photographs that have the whole family in them. The ones that make it look like mom and dad have jobs and are not homeless, and that they are competent. Because that’s the service a pro photographer is providing. You guys have cameras and will take thousands of pictures of your baby. Some of them are bound to turn out good.

Dealing with Fingernails

If clipping the nails of your babies makes you nervous, get buffed instead. That is, use a nail buff to sand them down instead of de-fingering them. The Sephora 4-Step nail buffer is a good one with multiple surfaces.

Another thing you can do is just bite them off -- while disgusting, your teeth are much more nimble and controlled than a nail clipper.

Sleep

Sleep whenever you can. It may be helpful to set up shifts to handle the baby, depending on your baby’s schedules. If your baby wants to be somewhat social at night and sleeps during the day, have one parent stay up and manage the baby away from the other so that you both can get some sleep. This can work even if your spouse is breastfeeding. If each parent takes a couple hours -- then everybody can get at least a minimal amount of sleep to be functional. 

Don’t get cocky. Everybody pays for this with sleepless nights one way or another, and you will too. You want to ensure that you’ll not sleep for a month? Brag to another father that your kid sleeps through the night.

Your baby starts off on a natural schedule. This is basically "I need to have food every 2 hours" in the beginning and for the first 4 months of development. After 4 months, you get to a point where you’re looking at feeding every 3 hours and getting a bit of a reprieve at night. Then at six months, you’re looking at trying to get your baby to sleep through the night. 

Getting your baby to sleep through the night is a dream. People will tell you that it varies from baby to baby. It doesn’t. It varies from parent to parent. If you want your baby to sleep through the night, what you can do is work with your baby to make that happen. If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, go into their room, give them a pat on the back, some soothing, but do not pick them up. Stay in there for one minute, and leave.

Your baby will cry. Wait five minutes. Go in again. Stay only for one minute. Then leave. 

Then up the out period to 10 minutes. 

I did this one night for 4 hours. According to some other folks who’ve done this, I got off lucky. It was awful -- one of the harder things I’ve ever done. But since then, the baby sleeps through the night.

Unfortunately this is not a permanent solution. It comes back. Just repeat.

Quantified Baby

You may become obsessed with measuring weights, feeding times, schedules, diaper changes, and other such things. There are a few apps for that (though none are particularly great):

Total Baby (iOS 6) -- generally the most popular/functional of the bunch. The sync doesn’t work great though (wifi only, has to be done manually)

BabyConnect (android, iOS, web) -- a bit more expensive, but multi-platform, auto syncs. If we hadn’t started with TotalBaby, we probably would have used this.

That said, before I was a dad I was far more obsessed with quantified baby stuff than I am now. Now I’m more obsessed with making sure everybody in the house gets enough food and sleep.

Resources

Happiest Baby on the Block (video rather than book, also note he *really* likes blue shirts). The five "esses" really do work to re-create the "fourth trimester" -- swaddle, stomach, swing, shush and suck.

Happiest Toddler on the Block (also just watch the video.) -- empathize with your kid first, before telling them what you want. Reflect to the toddler their emotions before moving them on to what you want them to do. 

The Happiest x on the Block videos are much better for the books, if anything, because they’re hilarious. The parenting tips are useful, but watching this serene guy make babies pass out, or act like a cave-man... well, look, it’s better than Iron Man 3.

Brain Rules for Baby - Great book on the neuroscience behind child development and some evidence based tips for good early child rearing.

Baby Monitors

There are two kinds of people in the world: those that prefer video baby monitors, and those that want just audio. Video is usually there for parental piece of mind, and truth be told, your parents didn’t have wireless camera video streaming in-house, and you survived. There’s no reason why your kid won’t either.

The Motorola MBP36 is a decent video based baby monitor, though it lacks a mute button. You may also want to get some black electrical tape and put it on the two green light noise buttons which are bright and stay consistently on. Otherwise, it gets good range and does its job.

The Angelcare Sound Monitor is a good audio based one. Audio based monitors sometimes make life easier in that you’re not constantly staring at your baby, and they help you deal with sleep-training a bit better. It’s easier to listen to your baby scream for five minutes when you don’t have to look at them staring, crying into a camera.

That said, my favorite baby monitor, though I’ve only used it twice, is the Baby Monitor & Alarm app for the iPhone. There is also an Android Version. You open this app, set a noise level, give it a phone number to call, and when that noise level is breached for more than 10 seconds, it will call the phone number you specified. Christmas Party 2012, our then 5 month old definitely passed out in a car seat and spent a few hours in a spare bathroom with this app next to him. Having a portable baby monitor like this is all kinds of handy, especially in those early stages when your kid sleeps often, and you still can socialize.

Strollers and Car Seats

Strollers and car seats are perhaps the most complicated product selections you’re going to have to deal with in the first 5 years of having a kid. Much of your product selection depends on your lifestyle and location. So don’t try and sort all this stuff out at once, these can get expensive, and the chances are reasonbly high that you’re going to make a better decision *after* you have a baby than before you have one.

There are essentially three classes of car seats: rear-facing infant car seats, forward facing toddler car seats, and older kid booster seats. The big difference between the three classes is between infant and toddler: infant car seats tend to be of the interchangeable variety: there’s a base that you install, and a seat that snaps into that base. This is great and convenient because you can keep a sleeping baby in a seat while converting the seat to a stroller. Or you can buy two bases and swap the seat in between two cars. 

Some car-seats are meant to be used forever -- they fit all three classes. In my opinion what you gain in cost savings, you tend to lose in convenience. Being able to get our kid in and out of the car and between cars without waking the kid for a year, especially when the kid is a baby, is easily worth an extra $100.

Here’s the car seat we used and the compatible "stroller" caddy in the first year. That will get you started -- a cheap way to have both a car seat and a stroller for essentially your first year. They have exceptionally high safety ratings, and they’re super convenient and easy to clean. 

Once your kid crosses about 22.5 lbs, the glory days are over. The toddler car seats are *not* interchangeable, they are one, big, heavy thing that are hassles to install and uninstall and haul around. The toddler car seats don’t swap into strollers, they’re meant to stay in your car as often as possible. If you have two cars, and you intend on using both to haul your kid around, you’re going to need *two* car seats. Ugh.

The good news is, if you’re tall a front facing seat means you get to move your seat back a bit.

When our son was about 11 months old, we switched to a First Years Ignite Stroller. It’s a little more rugged than a cheap umbrella stroller (which, in retrospect, we probably should have bought instead), and then we upgraded ourselves to the City Mini GT stroller, and the Britax Marathon car seat. 

We picked the City Mini GT because we go on long walks, and sometimes the sidewalks around us are pretty tough to deal with. The GT has great tires, real rubber ones, and offers a smooth ride. Because there’s a big height difference between my wife and I, having an adjustable handlebar is fantastic, and most importantly, it folds up quickly -- you just pull a handle in the seat and you’re done. It has a front-wheel lock, which means it can convert into a running stroller quite easily, and of its class, it has the narrowest wheel base, which means if you choose to use it to run, you’re less likely to run somebody else off the sidewalk as a result. 

I don’t believe there is a way to write positively about any toddler car seat. In the course of selecting one, I tried all I could get my hands on in a test drive at Babies-R-Us. Sometimes safety is a pain in the butt. But the Britax Marathon tends to yield the best ratio when it comes to weight, price, and safety. For $20 more, you can buy the Britax Boulevard, which has "true side impact protection" in the form of little wings that come out and protect your kid’s head, but from the reading I’ve done, those wings tend to be a bit superfluous, and keep your kid from looking out the window of the car (a helpful distraction sometimes).

Other Gear

About 30% of the time we use cold wipes on our baby, we end up getting something (usually us) covered in urine. This "wipe warmer" solved that problem and has the added bonus of not creating additional trash. We’ve just cut up some old towels into smaller cloths and they work great.

Babies love to sit in these little pods so they can see the action once they’re a bit older.  We used to put it on the dining room table.  This becomes impossible once they can roll over.

Cribs & Putting Your Kid to sleep

On a budget, a  baby can sleep every night on the mattress inside of his Graco Pack N’ Play. This is great because it has everything you need, and it’s rollable. There’s a changing table and everything attached to it. We never use the "newborn napper". A Pack N Play is useful for a variety of things, primarily for easy travel. Pick one up even if you don’t intend on using it as their primary sleep environment.

After your kid gets a bit older, it’ll be time for a real crib. Cribs are fucking awful. American Pediatrics is pretty clear: no crib padding, no nothing in that crib, forever, unless you want a suffocated baby. And once the baby can start to stand, it’s important to get the crib bed as low as possible inside the "cage," so your kid doesn’t climb over the side and jump out. 

This is problematic because it makes it really hard to put a sleeping baby in the crib -- you’ve got to reach over the gate then lean over and effectively drop the baby in there. Side loading cribs are now banned. It sucks. So a couple tips to get you through this. 

Don’t put your baby down on his back. When a baby descends on his back, you’re triggering the morrow-reflex. It’s causing the brain to go "oh shit, I’m falling" and it’ll wake up your baby. Aim for putting your baby down on his side. After your kid can roll over and is mobile it’s fine. Back is best until your kid has the roll-over thing down. Then it doesn’t matter anymore.

Fill up a soft glove with some kind of heavy-ish material, and indiana-jones style put that on baby’s back, swapping out your own hand for your fake one. When you’re putting the kid down, she may turn or move around a little bit. Just give your kid some pats on the back, and then swap in the fake hand and sneak out. 

High Chairs

Around 6 months you’ll want to have a high chair on hand, as your doc will instruct you that it’s time to start introducing some solid foods (this depends a bit on teeth). Traditional high chairs are big, ugly contraptions that take up a lot of space. If you have a table with regular square edges, consider this hang-on high chair instead.

 It’s great not only because it’s easy to clean, but because it puts your kid "at the table" rather than semi-detached. It’s also great because you can travel with it. High chairs in restaurants are usually broken, and if you have a squirmy kid, you can really get yourself into trouble. These chairs are a bit harder to jump out of.

Diapers

Changing diapers is a must learn skill. Changing diapers fast with no mess? That’s a challenge that will take a lifetime that few master.

The first trick with a diaper change is to put the clean diaper down, underneath your baby, and underneath the dirty diaper. This ensures a cleaner, faster change. Once that diaper is down, use the dirty diaper as an initial, first pass wipe, and then have your wipes handy for a second pass as you’ve got your baby up in the air by his or her feet. Then simply remove the dirty diaper and lower baby onto the clean one and wrap. 

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMsPZ1SPSyA

There are two things to be concerned about: putting the diaper on right, and having the right size diaper. If you’re having a lot of blow-outs, the diaper’s either not the right size, or isn’t on right. Make sure the diaper is getting up close to the belly button, and the bottom is fitting snugly around the legs.

We’ve had great success with the pampers swaddlers brand. We once used a huggies brand equivalent in an emergency, and it was a disaster -- Felix left some souveniers for the TSA on the security tables at DCA. The moral of the story:

1. Always have the right diaper

2. When diapers don’t work, don’t let them stick around. Throw them away. I know, I know, what a waste! Heck, give them to someone else -- the point is, you don’t want a stack of bad diapers somewhere when a crisis hits. Because that’ll just yield more crisis.

I know it sucks to throw away perfectly clean diapers, but you’ll find that if they creep into your system it means a lot of wrecked clothes.

As your kid gets older, he may fill up the diaper in the middle of the night. Or you may experience some overflow/leakage. Protip: "nighttime diapers" are just diapers a size up with an extra 15% surcharge for duping you. If that doesn’t work, ask your wife for some panty liners, stick one in the diaper for some extra absorbancy. Seriously.

Diaper Rash

Diaper rash can get severe and quite painful. We tried everything but found a home-brew concoction worked incredibly well. That recipe: 1/2 pepto, 1/2 liquid benadryl. Just mix up a cap full of both, then grab a piece of cotton, dip it in your solution and rub it on there. Clears it up a lot faster than anything else we tried. 

Diaper Pails

Newborn/milk only poo doesn’t really smell much, so you can toss those diapers safely in the trash without stinking up your house.  Once solid foods start, though, diapers begin to smell like... poo.

Consider getting a dedicated diaper pail, which are designed to contain the smells better than a standard garbage can (at correspondingly higher prices).  Diaper Genie and Diaper Dekor are a couple options to explore.

College Savings

You’re going to freak out at how much you need to save from day one to send your kid to college. It’s upwards of $800/mo. Talk to a financial advisor. To save specifically for college, you’ll want a 529 savings plan. Each state offers their own, but you don’t have to live in the state that you buy a plan from. 

Pros in investing in a 529 Plan:

+ Federal Tax Deduction

+ Some states offer a state tax deduction as well

Cons:

+ Usually high management fees

+ Not a lot of direct control over investment

+ Must be spent on college education or force a 10% penalty on value

Virginia seems to have the most options for 529 savings accounts, though primarily advantageous tax-wise obviously to virginia residents.

A Roth IRA or other savings vehicle through an organization like Vanguard may provide similar benefits, and the reduction of management fees in an index fund in an IRA may negate any state tax savings. If your kid receives a scholarship/starts the next facebook, you can also, at that point, use the money for retirement instead of schooling as well. 

Breastfeeding

You cannot breastfeed. Please do not attempt this, as it will yield terrible results for you and child. However, should your wife want to breastfeed, know that you’re not off the hook. Breastfeeding can hurt. It can be psychologically traumatic. It can be a nuisance. So take whatever kind of pressure you can off of Mom.

Proper form for males here is to take care of everything around breastfeeding so that your wife can get done what she needs to get done with minimal hassle. This includes:

1. Ensuring Proper breastmilk storage. Rule of 5s usually works: milk can be stored in the refrigerator for 5 days, in the freezer for 5 months.

2. Cleaning stuff: make sure to sterialize bottles & skin touching pump materials regularly by either using some sterilizing accessories or disassembling bottles every day or every other day depending on how diligent you want to be. Set up the breast pump so that it’s ready for mom in the middle of the night.

3. Washing stuff in warm soapy water.

4. Burping. 

Let the kid puke on you rather than worn out mom. All babies are different, but this method seems to be awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xcGbd8xWGI

5. Swaddling: babies can’t control their hands. Hand mom a swaddled baby when it’s meal time. Or stick around and see if there are hands to hold down.

If your wife does intend on breastfeeding, try and help her find and line up a good lactation consultant with some visits in the first week. She’ll need someone good that can provide tactical advice, not just tell your wife "Breast is best" over and over again.

Breastfeeding is, for many women, stressful and hard. Be compassionate, and make sure all the resources necessary are there should you choose to do this.

There is a magic nipple cream that pharmacies can compound for your wife. Nipples can become very sore and irritated when breastfeeding, making it almost impossible. If your wife is determined to breastfeed, this experience will be very traumatic. Ask a nurse on your floor about it and get a prescription before you leave the hospital.

That "Special Moment"

For a lot of dads I’ve talked to, that "special moment" that moms talk about having with their children doesn’t happen for dads when they’re born. Don’t beat yourself up about that -- a lot of it is hyped up nonsense from media. You’re not broken. It’ll probably happen when you can interact with your kid -- which will take a few months. 

For the first 4-7 months, there’s not a lot going on. In the first 4 months, your baby is basically a bag of jello that occasionally screams and pees on you. They’re not very interactive or playful. They won’t laugh at your jokes, and they don’t really move all that much. Mom may have some hormones going on that you just don’t. It’s OK if you kind of feel disconnected.

At 4 months, your doctor will tell you to stop swaddling your baby. Which, if you’ve read this far, you understand the power of the swaddle. So you’ll get a sinking feeling in your stomach because the swaddle tool is being taken out of your toolbelt. And the truth is, parenting is about to become a lot more challenging, but a lot more rewarding. Because at about this time, your baby really turns on and developing their personality. That’s when things are about to get exciting for you.

Every modern study in the world says that the best thing you can do at this point is talk to the baby. Say stuff. Really anything. Don’t be mean to them, but just talk to them like a normal human being. This can be challenging at first because it’s a lot like talking to a tree that occasionally screams and pees on you. But talking to them helps them acquire language skills early which helps them get smarter, faster. 

More importantly, this is when bonding between father and son can begin in earnest. It may be at 4 months, it may be at 10. But don’t worry, it’ll happen.

Child Proofing

At 6 months, right as your kid is starting to think about crawling, it’s time to start thinking about child-proofing your house. Depending on the size, shape, and how suceptible to fear you are, and how handy you are, this can be a large (around 5k) or small (around 50) expense. We hired a consultant to come in and do a childcare audit for about $100. They examined every room in the house, judged us, then sent us a report of every way we were attempting to murder our baby without knowing.

Some of the things that weren’t obvious to us that the consultant came up with that seemed like good ideas are:

  1. Don’t have the crib next to the walls of the room if they’ve got light sockets on them, because they can reach. Even if you think the light socket is down low, they can reach. Just let your crib sit out far from the wall. You can alternatively get an in-use socket cover
  2. If you’re on the second floor: Get a 2 rope ladder for windows in the event that there’s a fire, and keep one in your room and one in baby’s.

When your baby is just crawling around, it may be possible to just declare one room of your house’s main living area, "baby territory." You can also buy a little baby jail  or a couple of them to accomplish the same thing. Or you can buy a cheap gate, use soft furniture to block the entrances and exits to that room, and just focus on childproofing that room. Make that the central area for the baby to play in rather than childproofing every room in the house immediately.

In terms of what you actually need to do -- essentially worry about this:

  1. Making it really hard for your baby to electrocute herself
  2. Making it really hard for your baby to pick up and eat stuff he’s not supposed to
  3. Making it really hard for your baby to pull stuff on top of himself
  4. Making sure that in the event of an emergency you know what to do and how to handle it.

This kit is probably the thing you need to start out with. It’s got the basic essentials. Making it really hard for your baby to electricute herself is probably what everybody thinks of when they think of babyproofing. The kit has enough outlet covers to plug up most of the places you need -- especially if you follow the "baby territory" strategy mentioned above.

You’ll need to block off some cabinets, probably. But another workaround for this is to move your poisons and sharp stuff into cabinets that are up high, and put the safe heavy clunky that maybe you don’t use that often down low for the time being. It’s probably ergonomic. I bet you use the dishwashing detergent under your sink more than you use the cuisinart above it.

Once your kid starts to walk, all bets are off and you’re going to have to do a bit more childproofing. Fasten bookshelves to wall studs so when your baby inevitably tries to climb it, it doesn’t fall down on the baby. 

The important thing here is -- use your head and watch your kid. Vacuum.

Music

If you’re anything like me, about 2 days of nursery rhymes are all you need to make you start shopping for mental institutions. Here are some good artists of children-friendly music that’ll keep your kid entertained:

But seriously, there’s nothing special in the nursery rhyme stuff. Don’t drive yourself crazy with the Wheels on the bus.

But the trick with that nursery rhyme stuff? Usually they can have hand gestures along with them. This means more language and motor skill development. So don’t just learn the *words* to "Wheels on the Bus" -- learn the gestures that go along with it.

 Nannies, Nannyshare, and Daycare

If you’re like most people, nobody is planning to give up a career after the baby comes along. So it’s important to think through your child’s care and generally those options are a full time nanny, a nanny share, or daycare. Each have their strengths and weaknesses.

Nannies are great if you can afford them, but you’ll likely miss out on some opportunities to socialize your child at an early age. But for that sacrifice, you get individual attention to your particular child. Good nannies will be certified in infant cpr, first-aid and other emergency situations and have poison control on their phone’s speed dial. They’ll also take an interest in your child’s development. Make sure that your nanny wants to play with your child, not play with your phone. 

Nanny-shares tend to get the best of both worlds -- less of a cost, and still a good kid to adult ratio -- typically you won’t see nanny-shares with more than 3 people. 

Daycare, on the other hand, tends to skew a little cheaper, has more socialization, generally has a learning curriculum, but has a much higher student to caretaker ratio. But where daycare really shines is in three places. First, redundancy: you don’t have to worry about your nanny getting sick. Second, insurance -- should an accident happen, your daycare’s insurance can handle it. Third: regulation -- unlike your homes, daycares are normally inspected for health and safety standards that may be higher than yours and a hypothetical nanny’s.

The biggest downside to daycare? Sickness. Should you elect to send your kid to daycare, your kid and then you will get sick. And not just a runny nose, prepare to be sick, on and off, for the first few months after you send your kid to daycare. Stomach flus, fevers, and even bizarre diseases like hand-foot-and-mouth can hit you at any moment. 

That said, unless you plan on homeschooling your child, you will have to go through this at some point -- whether it’s now, or when your child starts school. So plan the time that your kid starts hanging out with other kids all day to be at a point where you can afford to be sick for awhile.

Dropping your kid off at daycare

Dropping your kid off at daycare is never easy. Your kid will scream and holler at the thought of losing you. It is heartbreaking, especially when your child begins to develop object permanence -- the idea that you exist when they can’t see you. 

The good news is that it’s mostly theatrics. If it makes you feel better, hide around a corner and set a timer for one minute. At the end of that minute, your child will likely be just fine. Believe it or not, it hurts way more when they get used to it, and they reach out of your arms for your day care professional.

NuevoCon

Chicago, Sunday Sept. 25 – 28th, 2014

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