Dads, keep those engines revved up for another tour of Baby Basics as you take off towards innumerable fathering pay-offs.
In our first installment Baby Basics for Dads, Part One, we covered a number of topics, including picking up and carrying your baby, swaddling, changing diapers, as well as caring for the umbilical cord and circumcision site. But wait, there’s more!
A growing body of research is confirming what many families already know: fathers play a critical role in a child’s life. A 2001 report published in the Review of General Psychology asserts that a nurturing father is as important as a loving mother to a child’s development. “In some studies, father love was actually a better predictor than mother love for certain outcomes,” states the report. “These include delinquency and conduct problems, substance abuse, and overall mental health and well being.”
According to Armin Brott, author of The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year, boys with caring, attentive fathers tend to be more empathic and have better control over their aggression. Girls whose fathers are involved with their lives are more assertive, have better self-esteem, and are less likely to become teen mothers.
So, get involved, Dad! Here are some everyday activities you can learn how to do and spend time with Baby, too.
Grooming Your Baby
Sponge bathe your baby until the circumcision and/or umbilical cord have healed completely, but don’t overdo it or you may dry your baby’s sensitive skin. Every other day is plenty.
Safety Tips and How-To’s:
- Assemble all materials before you start, including a large towel on which to lay the baby, two bowls of lukewarm—not hot—water, a hooded baby towel, a couple of clean washcloths, mild soap (use only if dirty or oily), a couple of clean diapers (have an extra one handy just in case), and a change of clothing.
- Never leave baby unattended, even on the floor.
- Keep the room warm and free of drafts as newborns get cold easily. Cover the baby with a towel, working on one area at a time. Clean, dry and re-wrap before moving to the next area.
- Steer clear of perfumes, lotions, or powders that can irritate baby’s skin.
- Wipe gently, starting with the face. If using soap, rinse with second washcloth. Dry Baby’s face before continuing to clean and dry one area at a time.
- Support your baby’s head and neck as you turn him or her onto the stomach to wash the back, neck, and bottom.
- Wash the genitals and bottom last, using a separate washcloth (always wipe from front to back to avoid spreading bacteria).
- Before diapering and dressing, make sure your baby is dry under the neck, in the armpits, behind the knees and in the folds of the genitals. Trapped moisture can cause rashes.
After your pediatrician gives you the “all clear” for regular baths, bathe while supporting your baby’s head in the crook of your arm. Use your hand on the supporting arm to maintain a firm hold on your baby’s arm, while holding baby’s body close to you. This helps baby feel secure enough to enjoy the bath, and frees up your other hand to wash your child.
Again, less is more; one or two hair washes per week is sufficient.
You will need: In addition to the above bathing supplies, a gentle baby shampoo. Use one washcloth to shampoo your baby’s scalp, the other to rinse. Immediately after, cover the child’s head with a towel to avoid a chill.
Cradle Cap: You may notice a yellowish, scaly residue on baby’s scalp. This accumulation of dead skin cells and scalp oil is harmless and will disappear in a few weeks. Gently massaging a small amount of olive or baby oil to the scalp helps clear it up.
A newborn’s fingernails can grow long and sharp, and can inadvertently scratch baby’s face. Dr. William Sears, MD, author of The Baby Book: Everything You Need To Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Tworecommends filing or (gulp!) clipping nails while the baby is asleep (but not in the dark). Until you feel more confident, ask your spouse to help hold baby’s hand still. For that task, use a clipper intended for use with an infant’s nails, as it’s less likely to catch baby’s skin. If you prefer to use scissors, use safety scissors with rounded safety tips.
Parents who are uncomfortable with clipping Baby’s nails can use an emery board for filing, though that can be a challenge with soft baby nails! Newborn cotton mittens and sleepwear with hand flaps are another line of defense in the war against scratches.
There are few things in life sweeter than feeding your baby. Whether you and your partner plan to bottle feed, breastfeed, or use a combination of both methods, you can help. Here’s how!
Bottle-Feeding or Using Combined Feeding Methods
- Safety Warning: Never heat formula or breast milk in the microwave as uneven hot spots can scald your baby. Instead, run bottles under warm water tap or immerse in warm water for a few minutes. Check the temperature by spilling a few drops on your inner wrist. Milk should be at room temperature or slightly warm, but never hot. When in doubt, cool bottle before feeding.
- Research the best bottles and nipples for your baby. If your partner is also breastfeeding, buy nipples that are compatible, such as “slow flow” nipples.
- Talk to your pediatrician or a lactation consultant about when to introduce a bottle if your baby will also be breastfeeding.
- Anoint yourself “Sir Bottle Scrubber.” Clean and sterilize bottles and nipples. Different brands of nipples and bottles have different guidelines for washing. Some brands require boiling nipples and bottles in hot water, removing with sterile tongs, and placing upside-down on a clean paper towel to dry. Other brands recommend boiling the nipples before their first use only and cleaning bottles and nipples with a bottlebrush after each subsequent use with soap and hot water, then rinsing thoroughly. Read the directions for your bottle system and you’re on your way!
- Volunteer for feeds. Find a comfortable place that offers back support and an armrest. Lay baby in a semi-reclined position, with bottom in your lap and head and back resting on your inner arm. Keep baby’s head and spine aligned, as swallowing becomes difficult if baby’s head is tilted too far forward or back. Slide the nipple (not just the tip) between the tongue and roof of baby’s mouth, and keep the nipple full of liquid to reduce ingested air.
Yes, breastfeeding is natural. So is walking—but few of us got that down on our first try. Both Baby and Mommy need time—sometimes up to six weeks—to develop a rhythm and overcome unforeseen complications. Your help and encouragement can greatly increase the odds of success.
- Learn the mechanics of the various holds including the cradle, cross cradle, clutch (or football), and reclining position. From where she is sitting, it can be difficult for a nursing mother to see if baby is positioned correctly. For example, in the cradle and cross cradle hold, infant and mommy should be belly to belly. Line your baby’s nose up with Mommy’s nipple, with the baby’s head slightly below the breast. This angle encourages your little one to open wide when latching on. Make sure that baby’s top and bottom lips are splayed above and below the nipple (like a fish), with the nipple completely in baby’s mouth. Baby’s lips should cover the areola (pigmented area around the nipple) where the milk ducts are located.
- Mom’s shoulders should be relaxed, not bunched up at her ears. (Neck rub anyone?)
- Be able to recognize the signs of engorgement, breast infections, and clogged milk ducts.
- Gather contact information for local lactation consultants and nursing mothers’ support groups. Be there during visits with a lactation counselor or consultant. (Many insurance companies reimburse visits with a certified lactation consultant.)
- Put yourself in charge of keeping the parts of the breast pump clean and ready to go.
- Hold the baby as your partner finds a comfortable nursing position. At first, she may need help positioning the baby.
- Offer your partner the remote control, a book, water, or snacks. Nursing takes a lot of energy, and women can quickly get dehydrated.
- Finally, sit with your spouse and keep her company. Make her laugh. Remember, a nursing mom feels responsible for her baby’s health and development (which may sometimes cause her to feel overwhelmed). Offer encouragement any way you can and watch your family flourish.
Whichever way you choose to feed your child, babies can swallow air which gets trapped when feeding, and burping helps release it. But don’t overdo it as more air is swallowed when removing and reintroducing the bottle. A good rule of thumb is to burp twice: half way through a bottle and again when emptied. Or if breastfeeding, while switching breasts and after finishing.
Babies do not always burp. Three to five minutes of patting baby’s back should do the trick. Here are two popular methods:
- Against your chest: Hold baby up against your chest with one arm (making sure her head is resting securely against your shoulder). With the other hand, pat the lower back, slightly to the left of the spine where baby’s stomach is located.
- Seated in your lap: Sit baby in your lap, looking out. Place the palm of one hand on his tummy. Stretch the fingers of that same hand out, creating a “V” with your thumb and forefinger. Support baby’s head by resting his chin in the crook of the “V” (your thumb and forefinger should be on either side of baby’s mouth). Use your other hand to pat baby’s lower back, concentrating on the area above the stomach.
Finally, though new parenting is thrilling and exciting, you may find that your joy at the birth of your child is suddenly tempered by irritability, anxiety, tearfulness, or unexplainable “down” feelings on your partner’s part. If that’s the case, your baby’s mom may be going through the “Baby Blues,” a biological response to the rapidly changing hormone levels which follow the birth of a child, and which affects between 50 and 75 percent of all moms after the birth of a baby. Often, joining a support group or talking to other moms can help a new mother alleviate and overcome those feelings. Your encouragement and loving support at this time is invaluable.
Though the baby blues are generally short-lived and may not always require treatment from a health-care provider, postpartum depression is another matter and can become very serious if not treated. If you suspect that your partner may be suffering from either condition, talk to your healthcare provider right away.
The miraculous advent of a baby is perhaps the biggest and happiest event in an adult’s life, and the most crucially binding experience a couple can experience together. As you and your partner embark on your new roles in life, laying the groundwork now for a relationship of love, support, and mutual ongoing help will cement your relationship for years to come. Ultimately, isn’t this the best gift you can give your child?
Baby Basics for Dads, Part One lists a number of additional resources that you may find helpful.