As a new dad, you're worried about so many things it's hard to even keep track. You haven't changed a diaper before (I can help with that!), or you need to get the nursery done, or you aren't sure what stuff you need.
Don't forget that even with all that craziness going on, there's a little baby at the heart of it all. Someone who is trusting you completely to take care of him or her, who is going to love you so much and you'll love them back so much it'll blow your mind.
That also means its high stakes. I know you'll rise up to the occasion.
Dads face tremendous pressure. Maybe you’re expected to provide for your family. Maybe you have to quit your full-time job and be a stay-at-home parent. Your wife will expect you to help take care of the baby and be a good role model. And you'll also be expected to know how to put in car seats that are freaking impossible. AAHHH! Car seats are the devil’s playground.
There are bigger issues, though. Things you can absolutely ace, but if you get it wrong, there are serious, irrevocable consequences.
It's three things I want you to promise to yourself right now you will not ever do as a dad. Here we go...
Dads cannot forget your baby in a hot car:
If this was so easily avoidable, how come it keeps happening? How come ordinary dads keep accidentally killing their babies who are left to slowly die in 100-plus degree temperatures car?
An average of 37 kids each year die from being trapped in a hot car and suffering heat stroke. Other than backing over a child with a car, hyperthermia from kids left inside cars is the largest category for nonaccident-related vehicle deaths in kids in the country.
What's to blame for this? Usually, the parent says they just forgot the kid was back there. Every so often, that probably is the case. The baby is asleep, you are distracted and busy, and you forget.
But how do you forget for an hour? For an entire morning? Honestly, even 15 minutes? If you're like me, you regularly check with your spouse about what the baby is doing. My wife wouldn't let a whole morning go without asking me how our kid was doing, and vice versa.
But it still happens. And it's a fatal mistake. Want to see how hot it can get? NFL player Tyrann Mathieu did a demonstration as a way to get people to stop leaving their pets in the car.
Tyrann lasted eight minutes before tapping out; just imagine a 10-pound baby that can't move anywhere. We're talking organ failure. It's that serious. Parents get charged with felony murder over this.
It just takes a matter of minutes on a 90-degree day for the interior temperature of a car, even with the windows cracked, to soar to 120 degrees. 120 DEGREES! Even on a 70-degree day, you're still facing unsafe conditions.
What can you do to avoid leaving your baby in the car?
Make a habit of checking the backseat. Remember, for the first year or so, the baby's car seat is reversed. So you either need a baby mirror or glance in the back window as you exit.
Leave your phone in the backseat so you have to check before you leave. Hey, you also can't text and drive this way! Double whammy!
Talk or sing to your baby. If you even talk a little bit to the baby when you drive, it's that much harder to forget they are there.
If it's warm outside, make an extra effort to double-check your car before you leave.
Tell your daycare, if you're the drop-off guy, to call you if the baby hasn't arrived after a certain time. Sometimes, the dad goes to work and leaves the baby in the backseat.
Put a stuffed animal in the car seat. When the baby goes in, the stuffed animal goes in the front seat. Instant reminder.
Use technology like this as a second layer, but don't rely on it. You're the best monitor. Waze has a “Don’t forget the baby!” feature if you let it know you often bring a kid with you.
Go to safercar.gov for more tips.
You cannot fall asleep holding your baby:
Please, please, please, please watch out for this. In a recent interview I did with a nationally-renowned neonatologist who happens to work at the hospital where my kids were born, he said he has seen far too many babies die from suffocation because of parents who fall asleep on their kid. (Read about the safe sleep organization he supports, Cribs for Kids)
About 3,500 babies and infants each year die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome-related causes. What's crazy is that safe sleep campaigns have helped reduce SIDS cases in recent years, but one category is increasing in deaths: suffocation/strangulation. How terrible is that?
This can happen so easily! You pass out on the couch with the baby on you, but the baby slips down between you and the back of the couch and suffocates. Or a blanket that you thought was far enough down gets caught on your hand and pulled up while you're sleeping over the baby's head. Or the baby rolls onto its face and you're not awake to see it.
"But I don't move when I sleep!" Exhibit A:
"But I only do it when I'm taking a quick nap!" Doesn’t matter.
Every time I see a photo of a dad who brags a little about how they love taking naps alone with their baby, and the photo looks like a SIDS PSA, I get antsy. Cute photo? Yes. Only because you got lucky.
You are going to be exhausted. It won't always be like that, but it will for several months, at least, and you would be shocked how easily you'll fall asleep. Even just driving home from work can be tough, trust me. I had never taken 5 Hour Energy in my life until I had kids, and even though I rarely use it, it has been the difference between me being able to drive home and not some days.
As our neonatologist put it, SIDS can happen to any family, and a lot of times it happens when exhausted mom or dad doesn't put the baby down in a safe location before the parent falls asleep.
If you want to take a nap with your kid on you, cool! Just have your wife or a grandparent be in the same room checking to make sure the baby hasn't moved. That's not the same as them checking once then leaving the house for a bit and then coming back in 45 minutes. It's gotta be constant. And no blankets.
I know that all sounds draconian and like I'm being a prick about it. I'm saying this as someone who, despite being completely aware how dangerous it is, has still accidentally fallen asleep holding a baby because I'm so tired.
This isn't to say you can't consider co-sleeping options, if that's your thing. We do it, but with a co-sleeper attached to the bed, not with the newborn baby in the bed. (If you want more info on co-sleeping, here are some great guidelines.)
You just have to be smart about it. I know you're tired, dude. Trust me. TRUST ME. Just take the extra step.
Swaddle 'em up and put the baby in the crib. Or a swing. Or a bouncer. Then pass the eff out.
Dads cannot take frustration out by shaking the baby:
I know. You were with me so far, but now you're thinking I'm calling you a monster.
I'm not saying I think you are the type of person who would carelessly shake their baby. I'm saying you are going to feel at some point like you want to shake your baby.
Mentally, you will be at a breaking point one night where you just want them to stop crying and they won't - some nights, they just won't - and you just want to force your baby to be quiet for Christ's sake. Why do I think you'll have that thought?
I’ll be candid. I've had that momentary thought of "What the hell?! Why won't they be quiet?!" and tensed my arms as I thought that this is why they show you those videos in the hospital.
Please realize there is just a sliver of a difference between that thought - one that I think every parent has once or twice - and making a horrifying snap decision that you can't ever, ever, take back.
Dads are more susceptible to shake a baby than moms, according to a study. If you're a guy, you're more likely to try to force the baby to be quiet; chalk it up to how we approach things. So this is not a wild guess on my part. It's the facts. It's not daycare workers or family friends or others who are primarily the culprits of shaking a baby. It's the dad, stepdad, or boyfriend.
"But that's not like me!" you say. I get it! Uninvolved, loveless parents, I'm sure the data would say, have to be more likely on some level to injure their child. But parents who love their baby so much sometimes shake them, too, as a terrible decision on a bad day.
Every day, 3-4 babies suffer head trauma from being shaken, according to one study. It happens all the time.
When you find yourself extremely frustrated with your baby
Remember that even if you can't stop the baby from crying, you do still have control over how you react.
Dealing with frustration is one of the most critical skills you learn as a dad - something I work on all the time.
Mindfulness helps, by the way.
A baby has weak neck muscles and a large, heavy head. Shaking makes the fragile brain bounce back and forth inside the skull and causes bruising, swelling, and bleeding, which can lead to permanent, severe brain damage or death... These injuries may not be immediately noticeable.
So it wouldn't take much to cause an injury.
The examples are everywhere and they are all tearjerkers. I'll let you watch this while I put my fingers in my ears and close my eyes because it's so sad.
There is nothing wrong with putting the baby down in a crib, taking a deep breath, closing the nursery door, and sitting by yourself for a couple minutes to let it all out. You'd be amazed how even 5 seconds away from the crying can do wonders, dude.
Babies are going to cry, even ones who have been "perfect up to this point, I swear." They get collicy - my son did like you wouldn't believe - or they get sick or they are just unhappy. It will pass, I promise.
Remember, the baby is not out to get you. I'm saying that to myself, too, because there are some nights when I'm pretty sure my daughters are plotting together to destroy me. But they aren't and your baby isn't either. They just can't control emotions or process things the way we can.
Don't let anger at the situation, at not having slept, at not having quiet, at not being able to do something you wanted to do because you needed to watch the baby, end up leading to you taking that frustration out on an entirely innocent human being.
There's a 99% chance you won't ever need this lengthy pep talk. You may even think, "C'mon man, I'm not that kind of guy." But if there's a 1% chance you did need to hear it, then it's entirely worth it. If you have questions about any of it, get in touch.