Having an infant can be overwhelming, especially as a new father. Mothers, of course, have it pretty hard, too, but being a father is a very strange thing. You don’t want to disrupt the very intimate, biological relationship happening between your kid and their mom, but you also want to be part of the newborn experience. Once your baby is home from the hospital, giving mom a break from the work is an excellent opportunity to start forging your own relationship.
However, bonding with a newborn can be difficult, especially when all you want to do is sit and stare at this tiny person. Over the course of my fatherhood, I’ve been able to ascertain fun activities to do with an infant to facilitate bonding. Here are a few of my favorites.
Showering—This is a life-saver when you want to give mom a break but still need to be productive. Showering with your new baby is a great way to have alone time while simultaneously getting something done—cleaning. A lot of babies are also soothed by the sound of water, so I’ve found this to be a great way to calm babies down. If you’re not comfortable holding your baby in this environment yet, taking a bath together is another excellent option.
Walk outside—Staying cooped up with your newborn can by you stir crazy. Taking baby on walks around the house or down the street is a great way to introduce them to new phenomena. They’re experience something new, you’ll get outside, and you’ll form some memories in the process. Your memories, of course.
Have a song that is only yours—When you spend time with your newborn, choose a special song and play it on repeat. Sing it while they’re trying to get to sleep, and play it when you’re lounging together. This is something your child will appreciate as they grow up, too.
Read together—While your child won’t retain anything read to them in the first couple of years, most infants love being read to. It’s important for babies to hear a lot of words, and choosing a picture book can make the practice mutually beneficial.
If you’ve been a parent long enough, you’ve likely settled into a routine. When you take your kid(s) somewhere, you have a certain set of tasks: pack the stroller, add the diaper bag, bring snacks and drinks, and maybe a toy or two. You grab extra wipes and a change of clothes—after all, you never know when an accident will strike. You ensure your child is secured in a car seat, buckle them in, and drive off.
If you’ve parented in the summer months, the added heat can make your usual routine a bit scarier. Buckling your kid into a car seat isn’t just a protective precaution—it could also be a death sentence if you don’t pay attention. The annual average for hot car deaths, which include kids who play in cars and accidentally lock themselves in, is around 37 per year. However, the past few years have seen an uptick in the numbers. It’s happening more than ever, and nobody really knows why. I hypothesize that parents are busier and more distracted than ever, and that distraction has a fatal consequence.
There are, of course, simple things parents can do. I like to leave my wallet in the back seat to ensure I remember to, you know, bring my baby with me. Some daycare centers have alert systems where they will communicate with the parent if a child is just a few minutes late. Some parents set up their own systems, like texting each other daily once the child has been brought where he or she needs to go to ensure safety.
It seems, however, that car manufacturers are beginning to take notice of this persisting anxiety among parents. They’re developing technology that could prevent hot car deaths. GM was the first to come out with a system to fight this problem. Called the Rear Seat Reminder System, this technology chimes at the end of your trip if you had opened your back doors at the start of your trip. Pretty ingenious, right?
Nissan has also developed a new technology called the Rear Door Alert System. Though only available in the 2018 Pathfinder, it includes a message that will display on the center panel. The car horn will honk if you had previously opened the back doors. The technology, apparently, was spurred by a pan of lasagna left in a backseat overnight.
Hyundai also has a system, but it’s slightly different. Called the Real Occupant Alert System, this technology has a movement sensor in the backseat, and it will flash its headlights and honk its horn if movement is detected once you’ve exited the vehicle.
So, if you’re a new parent and in the market for a new car, as your dealership about these offerings. Though they’re only available on specific car models, it might be worth the upgrade for that lovely peace of mind.
Most parents have been in this situation. You’re sitting down and wrestling a fussy, screaming, distraught infant in your arms. You don’t know what to do, but you know sitting still isn’t working. Without really thinking about it, you stand up for a moment. Lo and behold, the baby stops crying.
This is the reality of having a fussy baby, and if you’ve had this experience, you’re not alone. In fact, scientists have studied this very phenomenon. It’s been observed and well-documented as a thing, so don’t worry—you’re not crazy. Apparently, the whole thing has to do with evolution. Go figure.
In essence, babies have evolved to stop crying when their moms are standing up. Prehistorically, if a homo sapien held her baby while standing up, it was a warning sign. Standing up would buy her a few extra seconds in terms of fleeing the scene if a predator or other threat was nearby. Researchers call this the “calming response,” meaning that babies are both quiet and relaxed—their heart rates slow significantly when in the upright position.
The authors of the study found that infants under six months of age stopped voluntary movement and crying when their mothers stood up. The calming response is essentially a set of central, motor, and cardiac regulations. It’s adaptive and, back in the day, helped to increase the infant’s chance of survival. This also supports the parent-infant relationship.
Pretty fascinating stuff, right?
So, there you have it. It’s not just you, and it’s not just your weird baby. They’re needy as heck, and they like what they like. Most of the time, that includes survival. While it might seem tedious that the only way to stop your screaming baby is to stand up and walk around, there’s nothing wrong with employing a fake set of rocking arms—maybe a swing, or some type of cling.
While I’m lucky enough to work at a company that offers paternity leave, taking those weeks off is a difficult and interesting process. The first time I did it, I assumed I’d simply spend time with my wife and child. Nothing more, nothing less. Of course, there would be the occasional grocery store, several late nights, and maybe a few panicked calls to the doctor, but that’s about it. Boy, was I wrong.
Now that I’ve experienced paternity leave a couple of times, I’ve really honed the craft of taking time off with a new baby. The key to making the most of this period is to keep your expectations low and understand that each process is a new experience. That said, there are a few things I wished I’d known before taking leave the first time. Now, I’m passing those regrets (and knowledge!) to you.
- Get to know your baby. Okay, this is an easy one. But I mean it when I say that you should try to get to know your new kid. No, feeding, burping, and consoling your crying newborn doesn’t count. Learn what they prefer and how they want to interact with you. How do they like to be swaddled? Do they like to be saddled at all? What to their different cries mean?
- Take some time to mentally adjust. Whether this is your first or your fifth baby, your life just changed. Take the time to think through which parts of your life will be different, then try to anticipate any speedbumps you could encounter.
- Accept help. If help is offered, always take it. My wife and I both had time off, so we didn’t think we needed to accept help when one of our parents offered to spend the weekend in town taking care of the little one. Boy, were we wrong. If somebody offers to help with your newborn, even if it’s just for a few hours, you take that help. It really helped my wife and I emotionally reconnect after the birth.
- Take as many pictures and videos as you can. You really can’t have enough pictures of your newborn. They grow and change so quickly—the kid you saw after the birth will not be the same kid sleeping on your chest a month from now. Document everything shamelessly.
You’ve addressed eating, pooping, and sleeping. What other New Baby Stuff are you going to need as you begin your new adventure as parents? Here’s a list of a few items that might not be key to survival, but that you’re going to need nonetheless if you want to live a normal life, survive as a parent, and do right by your new addition. With the exception of a quality car seat, these don’t qualify as basic survival needs. Instead, they’re all items that will help make both you and your baby happier, which you’ll soon learn are one and the same! Happy, relaxed parents make for happy, relaxed babies. And happy babies definitely make for happier parents!
- Rear Facing Car Seat – We can’t emphasize how important this is from a safety perspective. Make sure your new baby has a new (not used) rear facing car seat with a five point harness. And while you’re at it, do yourself a favor and purchase one with a removeable seat that you can carry inside. The old adage is true: nothing puts babies to sleep faster than a good car ride. Unfortunately, nothing wakes a baby up faster than unhooking them from a five point harness and moving them to a crib or bassinet. If you have a detachable car seat you can leave them be and bring your baby inside in their seat, so they don’t lose out on any Z’s.
- Sling, Wrap, or Baby Carrier – This is as much for the parents as for the baby. It doesn’t matter whether you’re going for a hike in the mountains, a walk around the block, making a run to the grocery store, or just cooking dinner, these baby holders are a must-have in our opinion. A sling, wrap, or baby carrier keeps your baby close while giving your arms a break (and freeing them up for tasks besides toting around your new arrival). We love our Baby Bjorn, but to each their own. There are literally hundreds of designs and brands to choose from, whether you’re a Boulder hippie looking for a hand-woven baby wrap to wander the Pearl Street Mall with or whether you need something a little more robust in order to tackle your next fourteener with your baby in tow.
- Rocking Chair – Rocking chairs are for old people whittling on the porch, you say? Au Contraire Mon Frere! A good rocking chair is as essential as bottles and diapers if you’re a new parent mulling over new baby stuff. You’re going to be spending a lot of time during your new baby’s first year sitting in a chair with that babe in your arms, and nothing soothes a crying baby like the steady motion of a good rocker. That being the case, do yourself a favor and spend a little extra on a rocker that’s as comfortable for you as it is for Junior.
- Bouncy Chair – A good bouncy seat is a lifesaver until your bundle of joy gets old enough to entertain themselves. It’ll also double as a good place to sit your baby for early feedings when they finally begin to transition from breast milk or formula to solids like rice cereal and those cute little jars of Gerber baby food. Make sure you get one with a vibrating option as they work wonders for lulling tired babies to sleep, and if you can get one that sports mobiles and toys, even better. Your newborn won’t give them a second glance, but in a few months that dangling mirror and rattle will make for hours of baby enjoyment!