Dear Mr. Dad: I'm a brand new dad and have never been more thrilled in my life. I want to be involved but I never babysat, am the first among my siblings and friends to have a child, and I have no clue what I'm supposed to do with my perfect new daughter. Got any suggestions?
A: Congrats on the new baby. From your level of enthusiasm, it's clear that you're going to be a great dad. Although I can tell that you're excited do jump in and start playing with your daughter, I want to make what may seem like an odd suggestion: spend some time just watching your baby, and allow yourself to marvel at every little thing she does. Babies are amazing and far too many dads (and moms) get so caught up in the basics of parenting that they never get the chance to just look. The baby days will be gone before you know it, and I can't encourage you enough to allow yourself the luxury of doing nothing.
OK, now that we got that out of the way, let's talk about some great ways to get to know your baby:
Start walking. Newborns love to be carried around, whether it's around the block or around the house, it's all the same to your baby.
Chat. It'll be a while before she starts understanding the words you say, but don't let that stop you. Explain everything you're doing as you're doing it, tell her what's happening in the news, etc. It'll help her get to know the rhythm of the language.
Get your hands dirty. It doesn't sound like much fun, but diaper changing is actually one of the most underrated bonding experiences. Plus, it's a great time to rub her soft belly, tickle her knees, kiss her tiny fingers. For at least the first month or so, she needs to be changed every two hours -- her super-sensitive skin shouldn't stew in human waste -- so there are plenty of opportunities. And don't worry: changing diapers is an acquired skill; in just a few days you'll be doing it like a pro. In the meantime, even if you don't do it right, baby poop washes right off your hands and won't stain your clothes. One hint, though: Immediately after undoing the diaper, put something (like a towel or cloth diaper) over baby for a few seconds. The sudden rush of fresh air on the baby's crotch can result in your getting sprayed.
Have fun. You won't be teaching her how to ride a bike or hit a curve ball anytime soon. But make a point to spend at least 20 minutes (broken into smaller pieces, if necessary) every day doing something with the baby one-on-one. Talking, reading aloud, rocking, making faces, experimenting with her reflexes, and gently rolling around on the floor with her are great activities. Here are a couple of playtime ground rules:
Take your cues from the baby. If she cries or seems bored, stop what you're doing. Too much playing can make your child fussy or irritable, so limit play sessions to five minutes or so.
Be encouraging. Use lots of facial and verbal encouragement, smiles, and laughter. Again, she won't understand the words, but she'll definitely understand the feelings. Even at only a few days old, she'll want to please you, and lots of encouragement will help build her self-confidence.
Be supportive -- and gentle. Because babies' heads are relatively large (one-quarter of their body size at birth vs. one-seventh by the time they're adults) and their neck muscles aren't well-developed yet, their heads tend to be pretty floppy for the first few months. Be sure to support the head -- from behind -- at all times, and avoid sudden or jerky motions.
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c)2020 Armin Brott
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