As of this writing, my son is a new father of a now six-week-old baby girl. He and his wife have really enjoyed this new adventure into parenthood over the last six weeks.
My wife has been to visit several times, and last week watched the baby for a couple of hours while the parents headed off for their first time alone without the baby. But my son has yet to have the experience of being alone with his baby daughter for any period of time with Mom out of their apartment.
If you are like my son, you are probably a little nervous about the first time you will be alone with the baby. Since the baby arrived, both she and your wife have been inseparable.
After all, your partner is the mother; if she is breastfeeding, she is likely the baby's sole source of nourishment. And she has likely been the baby's major source of love, affection, and care.
So now Mom decides to head off for a couple of hours of shopping or out to lunch with some friends, and you, Dad, are about to experience your latest attempt at being a caregiver - alone with the baby.
Here are a few tips for preparing for and handling your first time as a sole caregiver.
Preparing for the Event
- Stock up on supplies. Babies tend to need lots of things to remain happy and comfortable. Make sure you have plenty of diapers on hand, along with the requisite wet wipes and baby ointment if needed. Nothing will make a baby unhappy more than having a wet or dirty diaper for an extended period. And make sure you have a bottle of formula or breast milk available when she is hungry.
- Set a timer. It is pretty easy to get involved with things and lose track of time. At least every hour, check that diaper. Every couple of hours, she will need a bottle. You ignore the clock at your own peril — and the baby's.
- Don't plan on anything else. Being caregiver for a newborn requires your full attention, at least while she is awake. Turn off the laptop, the TV, and the computer; don't plan on some uninterrupted time on the treadmill or in the kitchen. Make her your full focus, and enjoy the opportunity to bond.
While You're In Charge
- Patience, Patience. Babies demand a lot of us when we are their main caregiver. But don't look for the quick fix if you are dealing with feeding, changing or helping her be calm or get to sleep. It can take a long time.
- Remain calm. One of the biggest tendencies dads have to face when caring for an infant is not being in control of the situation. Don't lose your cool even if she is not cooperative. Your time with her is not all about you — it is all about her!
- Watch for the signs. If your baby seems to cry a lot, you have to rule out the obvious. Check her diaper; try seeing if she will eat. If that's not it, it may be that she is tired, or that she is needing a little space, or she is just missing mom. Try to spend about 10 minutes at any one strategy; if it doesn't work, try another one. If she is tired, she will often fall asleep with a little walking and gentle bouncing on your shoulder. If she is needing a little space, ten minutes alone in her crib or bassinet will usually calm her down. If she needs her mom, try to comfort her and wait it out. Often a little quiet music on the boombox or stereo will help calm your nerves and hers.
- Don't be proud. If you can't find a solution to her distress, don't be too proud to call for some help. Call your wife; call your mother; call her mother; call a friend who has been there. But don't let yourself get angry or upset. The baby's needs come first.
When Mom Returns
- Don't drop the baby and run. When mom comes home, she will probably want to hold and comfort the baby, even if she is happy and comfortable. Let mom do her thing, but take the time to stay with them for a few minutes as a family. It will help your mood and the baby's too.
- Take a deep breath. Not just a sigh of relief, but take a moment to collect yourself. Remember any positive moments over the last few hours with your baby. Did you have a chance to gaze into her eyes or to get her to smile? Rejoice in those positives. If you had a hard time, share your experience with your partner and ask for ideas for next time.
- Realize it gets better. As baby starts to grow, the alone times will get better. Maintain your positive attitude and your hope, and you will find it easier and easier to be her sole caregiver, if only for a short time.
There is not much better in a dad's life than developing a relationship with his children; that process starts early in their lives. As you develop confidence and skill in your role, you will enjoy the process and the results more and more over time.