My cousin and his partner had their first child recently, which got Dr T and me thinking about the first few weeks we spent with Kitty. Amazingly, most of that time has already vanished into a misty haze with the occasional pinsharp image – normally of the Purple Faced Hissy Demon – which I suppose is nature’s way of helping you process the trauma of a baby-sized grenade going off in your life. That, or all the gin we subsequently drank did its job.
Anyway, over the first few weeks we picked up some helpful tips from midwives, health visitors, friends, family and the Internets. With freshly minted fathers in mind, here they are: practical things you can do, buy and say to make things easier in those early days. Every single one is something I didn’t know at first.
1 – Sometimes they’re just tired. Although I sort-of-knew this, it never truly registered, so we definitely spent more time trying to feed / change / clothe / return Kitty to Dog’s Trust than we needed to. One year at Glastonbury I awoke from a cosy, womb-like sleep to discover that some mushroom sucking psy-trance goons had set up a trailer and PA next to my head, and were very keen that I should get up and have a dance. I imagine a newborn baby’s experience in the world is not dissimilar to the tiredness, grumpiness and unwelcome overstimulation that ensued. So definitely check nappies, temperature, food and so on, but don’t forget that the little people mainly want to be back in their sleeping bags in the dark. (And don’t play them any psy-trance, either.)
2 – A hand can be all it takes. Settling a screaming Kitty was often a half hour endurance trial of walking up and down with her and singing Simon & Garfunkel songs until I would gladly have jumped into a river with copies of Graceland weighing me down. But! Actually all she needed to sleep sometimes was a gentle hand laying on her chest as she lay in her cot. Try it: it won’t always work, but it can save you time and them stress.
3 – Bottom first, head last. An amazingly simple tip that I got from another dad: when putting your baby down to sleep, put the bottom down first and the head last of all (not at the same time – last). They’re so floppy at first that it’s easy for the back of a baby’s head to hit the mattress in the lead, but because it’s been through the birth canal and is made of what appears to be squidgy play-doh, it’s very sensitive and the contact is likely to wake them up. Get the rest of the body down first, though, and they should stay snoozing.
4 – Sock Ons. A friend sent us some. They’re brilliant, and will stop you fretting about the sinister dimension that seems to open up and swallow your baby’s socks.
5 – Those pesky hands. It’s hard to get a baby’s hands through the sleeves of a vest or sleepsuit. They seem to have infinite fingers. Add crying or wriggling into the mix and it gets even harder. A midwife showed me to pull, not push: roll the sleeves down, reach in, clasp their wrists and fold their fists up into your hand, then gently pull their arms through the sleeves. On a related theme, get the feet in first, not last, as it helps to hold everything in place.
6 – Come up with your response to the ‘how does it feel?’ question. As a wise friend of mine said, “I bet you have no idea how you feel, do you?” and he was right. But having a harmlessly generic “oh, it’s both beautiful and terrifying,” kind of answer ready to go will stop you from grabbing at people and attempting to lick the traces of caffeine from their last coffee off their lips, while whimpering “there’s a dog loose in the woods,” like some demented, haunted dad-rabbit.
7 – Get some instant food, for the love of god. Time goes right straight to hell once a baby arrives, and you will be amazed by the number of appointments you seem to need to go to. We would go entire days without eating. This is not helpful, so get plenty of nutritious, instant food that you can eat with one hand: nuts, bananas, protein bars, dates, that kind of thing. Not a sustainable diet long term, but it will help during the first weeks. Also, you’ll think you’ll make it to the shops: you won’t. Get online and get the nice 3D people to bring it to your door.
8 – Tell the mother loudly, often, every day, that you love her and that she’s doing great. Yes, we have our own male reactions and needs too, and yes, they matter. Nevertheless: do it. Every. Single. Day. Dr T is my favourite human and the greatest person I have ever known, and yet still I know I didn’t say it enough. You can’t say it enough. It’s important for the new mum to hear, and whatever your relationship to her – friend, partner, family – it models loving behaviour for the baby. Always a good thing.
9 – Speed bumps are not a new mum’s friend. Slow the hell down.
10 – High fidelity madness. You may be tempted to spend the first few days of your child’s life doing something like, oh, I don’t know, obsessively buying and returning audio equipment to Richer Sounds. Consider not doing that. (I may have gone a bit weird at the start.)
There you go. Not an exhaustive list, but hopefully something useful in there. I’d love to know what your tips are, so share away in the comments if you like!