[...] far too many men continue to undervalue the importance of the role they play in their children’s lives. Too many children have missed having a relationship with their fathers, and too many fathers have missed having relationships with their children.
I’ve spent the better part of my career trying to break that cycle, and I’m delighted that you’re joining me. As a new dad, you’re in a unique position to be a role model for other dads as well as for guys who aren’t even thinking about fatherhood yet. Together, we can make the word fatherhood as synonymous with child-rearing and nurturing as motherhood. And there’s no better time to start than right now.
A significant amount of recent research has shown that even babies as young as ten to twelve months are influenced by the behavior of the characters they see on television.
A warning: the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests not starting your baby on cow’s milk until after her first birthday. When you do finally switch to milk, start with whole milk. Your baby needs the fat in it for healthy brain development.
A tip: make sure your partner is out of the house (or at least out of sight in another room) when you’re trying to give the baby a bottle. If your partner (actually, her breasts) are within smelling distance, your baby may refuse the bottle.
By the time she turns one, your baby will have gotten most of the long-term health benefits from breastfeeding. At this point, she’s getting far more emotional nourishment than gastronomic nourishment from nursing. Your partner may decide to nurse for longer, which is fine as long as she realizes that breast milk alone can’t satisfy all the baby’s needs and may, in fact, suppress her appetite for solids.
In some cases, your baby’s tantrums may be the result of frustration at not being able to get you to understand something. More likely, though, her tantrums will be triggered by your not letting her have or do something she wanted to have or do. It’s slowly dawning on her that she’s not in control of as much of the world as she thought, and she’s not happy about it. Here are a few ways you can deal with the inevitable:
1. If you know what she wants and you don’t want to give it to her, try redirecting her or offering an option.
2. If you don’t know what she wants, make a real effort to find out. Asking direct questions may help you straighten things out. Hunger and exhaustion are responsible for a lot of tantrums. Taking your baby into the grocery store during one of her regular nap times and expecting her to stay awake is a mistake you won’t want to make again.
3. If she can’t or won’t tell you, do a quick check to make sure there’s nothing physically wrong—no cuts, bruises, or assorted owies, no fever, no clothing that’s too tight, and so on.
4. If your baby doesn’t respond to your words, stop talking. You can’t reason with an irrational wild animal, and during a tantrum, that’s exactly what your child is.
5. Now, here’s the tough part: If she’s not hungry, tired, sick, or in pain and the tantrum continues, make sure she’s in a place where she can’t hurt herself or do any damage and ignore her. Yes, just turn away and go about your business. This is one of the rare times when I think it’s okay to check your email—but only for a minute—on your phone when you’re with your child. Nothing makes a tantrum disappear faster than the realization that it isn’t having the desired effect.
6. If the tantrum happens in a public place—every parent’s worst nightmare—quickly go through 1 through 3 above. If that doesn’t work, immediately get her and yourself out of there. Just pick her up and carry her away. If you have to leave an almost-full shopping cart behind or walk out of a restaurant, do it.
7. Do not spank or yell at your child. Yes, this may be the most embarrassing moment of your life, and you may be worried that people are staring at you (some of them may be), thinking you’re a horrible parent, but the sooner you get out, the sooner they’ll stop staring at you. And hitting or screaming at your child will only make even more people stare at you.
8. Don’t imitate your child. Throwing yourself on the floor and having a tantrum of your own, complete with kicking legs and flailing arms, might be enough to shock your baby into stopping. However, keep in mind that your baby is learning a lot by imitating you. Pitching your own fit could inadvertently give your baby some new ideas to try next time.
9. Don’t give in, no matter what. If you do, you’ll be proving to your baby that she’s discovered a great way to get Mom and Dad to do what she wants.
Be a Yes man. Telling a baby “No!” to something often makes her want to do it even more. Plus, “No!” can be awfully specific. For example, if you tell her “No poking the dog,” she may stop poking the dog for a minute, but what about the cat? You didn’t say anything about the cat, so it must be okay, right? So instead of surrounding your baby with things she can’t do, show her how to do alternative things correctly: “Animals don’t like it when we poke them.” Then take her hand and pet the dog with her, while saying, “Nice doggie. This is how we pet animals.”
Limit the number of warnings. If you tell your baby “No!” five times, give two “If you do that one more time” warnings and three final warnings, you’re telling your baby that she can ignore you at least nine times before you man up and do something about it.
Don’t have too many rules. Saying something like, “You can shred any section of the newspaper you want except for the comics,” is too complicated for your baby to understand.
Be consistent. Don’t allow certain kinds of behavior some days and forbid it on others. That just confuses babies (and plenty of adults too).
Stop dangerous behavior immediately, but calmly. If your baby is pounding on a plate-glass window with her toy hammer and you scream, drop your coffee, and leap across the room to wrestle her to the ground, she’ll find your reaction so much fun that she’ll be sure to repeat exactly the behavior that provoked it the first time. Instead, tell her firmly to stop (one time only). If that doesn’t work, calmly walk over and disarm her.
Have plenty of substitutes available. Old phones and remote controls, spare computer keyboards, and so on. But be prepared: some kids can tell instinctively that what you’re giving them isn’t the real thing, and they won’t be amused.
The big question now—one that will come up again and again as your baby gets older—is: How much independence do you allow before drawing the line? For me, it gets back to my dad’s line about swinging arms. Let her have plenty of room to explore, but stop her before she hurts anyone or anything, including herself.
As annoying and frustrating as her parent baiting will seem, try to remember that it’s actually a healthy part of her development. In order to feel secure, she needs to have limits. And the only way to grasp where the limits are is to see how far she can push before they kick in.
When I was a kid, one of my dad’s favorite sayings was, “You’re free to swing your arms around any way you want. But that freedom ends right where someone else’s nose begins.” In a nutshell, teaching your child this lesson—to be respectful of other people’s noses—is the primary goal of discipline.
Watch what you say. Don’t insult or humiliate your child. If you must criticize her, do it in private. Contrary to the old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” calling your baby names can, in fact, have a greater long-term negative impact than hitting.
Take a break. It’s perfectly fine to leave the room, even if your child is screaming her head off. Just make sure she’s in a place (like a crib) where she can’t hurt herself or anyone (or anything) else. Ideally, your partner will take over for you while you regain your composure. But if she’s not there, your baby will be fine without you for a few minutes. Continuing to try to soothe your screaming baby when you’re furious will just make things worse. Babies can pick up on tension and will react to it by crying even more, which is not the result you’re hoping for.
Change your perspective. Although your child may periodically do something deliberately to annoy you, many of her actions are really beyond her control. In fact, being able to make you angry is actually a normal part of your child’s development—she’s learning about actions and reactions.
Because anger can completely take over your mind and body in a heartbeat, it’s easy to understand how even parents with the best intentions accidentally lose control. If you do:
• Apologize. Explain to your child that you lost your temper. Make sure she knows that it was her behavior you didn’t like, not her as a person, that you love her, and that you’ll never hit her again. She may not understand everything you’re saying, but she’ll definitely understand your calm, loving voice.
One afternoon my oldest daughter woke up from her nap crying like she never had before. I knew she wasn’t tired, so I checked to see if her diaper was full (it wasn’t), whether her clothes were binding her (they weren’t), and even took her temperature (normal). She didn’t respond to my comforting words or my requests to stop crying and tell me what was wrong (at six months, why should she?), and she continued howling. I was alone in the house, and after half an hour I’d had enough. I was frustrated and angry.
For months I’d been telling everyone in sight how perfect and well behaved my baby was and how I love her so much that I’d throw myself in front of a steamroller for her. But at that moment I felt tempted to throw her under the steamroller.
Almost immediately, I was nearly overcome with feelings of embarrassment and guilt and shame. I also felt like a complete failure as a father. What kind of father would have such horrible thoughts about his own baby? Well, the truth is that sooner or later, every dad (and mom) has flashes of intense anger toward his child. And anyone who claims to never have felt like choking his or her kids is either lying to you or isn’t a parent at all.
Don’t board early. Instead, send your partner on with the carry-on stuff while you stay out in the lounge, letting the kids run themselves ragged until the last minute. Why spend any more time cooped up in the airplane than you absolutely have to?
Traveling by Car
• For short trips, try to leave an hour or so before your baby’s usual nap time and, once he falls asleep, drive as far as you can while his nap lasts.
• For longer trips, consider doing your driving from 4 P.M. to midnight. That way, you’ll only have a few hours of entertainment and stops for feedings before baby goes to sleep for the night.
• If you need to drive during the day, you or your partner should ride in the back seat with the baby in one- or two-hour shifts to keep him amused and awake. Car travel tends to knock babies out and can really screw up their sleep schedules.
Once You Get There
• Keep up the routines you’ve established at home. Read, sing, and play at the same times if you can. This is especially important for Predictable babies.
• Don’t overbook activities. One or two excursions a day is plenty.
• Keep a sharp eye on baby/relative contact. If friends and relatives haven’t seen the baby for a while or are meeting him for the first time, they’ll all want to hold, squeeze, cuddle, and entertain him. This can freak out even the calmest of babies. Be especially sensitive if your baby is going through a period of stranger or separation anxiety.
“Boys and girls actually elicit different responses from us,” says psychotherapist Michael Gurian. “Primal, visceral, instinctive responses that tell us how to treat them. Because boys are a little bigger and stronger, we tend to play with them more roughly. And because girls are quieter and enjoy eye-to-eye contact, we spend more time talking to them.”
Whether it’s socialization or biology, the bottom line is the same: boys and girls are different. But be very careful: biology does not have to be destiny. Acknowledging that boys and girls are not the same doesn’t imply that one gender is somehow better or worse or smarter or dumber than the other.
Just because your baby isn’t really able to hold up her end of a conversation doesn’t mean you should stop talking to her. In fact, the more you talk to her, the more she’ll learn.
They also measured the men’s testosterone levels, finding that dads who provided more child care tended to have lower levels.
Testicle size and sperm count are closely linked: the bigger the balls, the more sperm there is. So this team of anthropologists speculated that having more sperm would make a man want to spread it around as far and wide as he could. That would leave less time for—and interest in—child care.
The connection between the round parts of a man’s package and his level of involvement with his kids is pretty well known—at least among other primates. Research has found that male chimps, which don’t do much to care for their offspring, have testes that are twice as large as a human male’s. But gorillas, which are very protective of their babies, have smaller balls.
[...] we need to define another term: equal. To be egalitarian, does every job need to be divided right down the middle? Do you and your partner have to change the same number of diapers, soothe the same number of owies, make the same number of trips to the grocery store, give the baby the same number of bottles, and cook the same number of dinners?
In my view, the answer’s simple: Nope. We should be going for symmetry rather than equality. In other words, how much time are you and your partner each logging for the benefit of your family? If it takes half an hour to cook dinner and about the same amount of time to give the baby a bath, feed him, put him in PJs, read him a story, and put him to bed, wouldn’t those things roughly offset? And what about when one parent works in an office ten hours a day while the other is taking care of the kids (working just as hard) at home for those ten hours? Whose contribution to the family is more important?
The problems arise when one person consistently puts in fewer hours than the other. That’s just not fair, and you need to do something pretty quickly to reestablish equilibrium (but not equality).
Several studies have found that couples in “egalitarian” relationships have sex less often than couples with “traditional” housework/child-care arrangements. And when those traditional roles are reversed and Dad does the majority of the housework, sex is even less frequent. That could explain why, as researchers Phil and Carolyn Cowan have found, most couples, despite their good intentions, slip into those traditional roles, with mothers doing more of the stereotypically female jobs and fathers doing more of the guy jobs.
The more equitably domestic tasks are divided up, the happier couples are with their marriages. Well, that’s what conventional wisdom says. But it all depends on how you define “happier.”
There are literally dozens of cutting-edge, high-tech (and expensive) toys and games that claim to be essential to your baby’s physical and mental development. Some are worthwhile; others aren’t. But there’s one toy—just about the least-cutting-edge, lowest-tech, cheapest thing going—that truly is an essential part of every nursery: blocks.
[...] screens are not your baby’s friend. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies spend exactly zero time in front of screens (TV, tablet, phone, computer) until age two. And there’s good reason. TV watching in particular can disrupt parent-child interaction and is associated with lower cognitive outcomes. Be especially careful around educational videos such as Baby Einstein and Baby Mozart, which make all sorts of grandiose claims. The reality is that the more time babies spend watching these videos (which are one-way communication instead of the back-and-forth of a person-to-person interaction), the smaller their vocabularies.
Although you may be in a hurry to see your baby walk, be patient. Crawling (which includes just about any type of forward movement, such as slithering, hopping along on the butt, or “rowing” forward with one leg) is a major developmental stage, and you should encourage your baby to do it as much as possible. There’s some evidence that makes a connection between crawling and later proficiency in math and sciences. Kids who don’t crawl apparently don’t do as well in those fields.
Fathers tend to encourage their children to do things for themselves, take more risks, and experience the consequences of their actions. Mothers, in contrast, tend to want to spare their children disappointment, are more protective, and discourage risk taking. (Keep in mind that I’m talking about tendencies. There are plenty of people who don’t fit the mold.)
To see how these differences might play out, imagine that your baby is building a tower that is just about to collapse. You’ll probably let the tower fall, hoping your baby will learn from his mistakes. Your partner, though, will probably steady the tower as it teeters. And if your baby were a little older and started climbing a tree, your partner would probably tell him to be careful and not to fall, while you’d encourage him to see how high he could go.
Many researchers have found that the differences in father-child and mother-child parenting styles can have a significant impact on the child. “There were indications that children’s intellectual functioning was stimulated more in families with high father involvement,” writes researcher Norma Radin. “We attribute this effect to the fact that fathers appear to have a different way of interacting with children; they tend to be more physical, more provocative, and less stereotyped in their play behavior than mothers.”
If you’re not married (or are about to become not married) to your baby’s mother, you may hear about how important it is for the baby to have one primary attachment figure—usually the mother. That absurd theory is often used to justify limiting a father’s contact with his baby. There is “no basis for rank ordering parents as primary or secondary in their importance to child development,” says psychologist Richard Warshak. “Having a relationship with two parents increases children’s odds of developing at least one secure attachment.” And researcher Linda Nielsen adds that when mom and dad aren’t together, “babies who have secure attachments to both parents do just as well as babies in intact families.”
Among birds and mammals, there is a high rate of coparenting. For example, male and female geese, gulls, pigeons, woodpeckers, and many other birds work as a team to build their homes, brood (sit on the eggs to keep them warm), and feed and protect the young after they’re born. In a similar fashion, the male California mouse is responsible for bringing food into the nest and for huddling with the young to keep them warm (the babies aren’t born with the ability to regulate their own body temperatures). These mice have at least two things in common with human parents. First, they are both generally monogamous. Second, the presence of an involved father has a major impact on the babies: pups weigh more, their ears and eyes open earlier, and they have a greater survival rate than pups that are separated from their fathers.
Although the vast majority of attachment studies have focused on mothers and children, some researchers are now beginning to study father-child attachment. Their findings confirm what active, involved fathers have known in their hearts for years—that the father-child bond is no less important than the mother-child bond. In fact, over 80 percent of studies that have examined father-child relationships have concluded that there’s a strong connection between a father’s involvement and his infant’s well-being.
Negotiate and compromise. You give up Cheerios and take a brown bag to lunch; she does her social media stuff at home. Remember, there are many ways to cut back without having to skimp. Why pay full price for a pair of pants your child is going to outgrow in a few months when you can get a perfectly good used pair at a local thrift store for just a few bucks?
At about seven or eight months, you’ll probably notice a marked change in your baby’s behavior around strangers. Only a few weeks ago, you could have handed her to just about anyone, and she would have greeted the new person with a huge smile. But now, if a stranger—or even someone the baby has seen a few times before—comes anywhere near her, she’ll cling tightly to you and cry.
Welcome to stranger anxiety, your baby’s first fear. What’s happening is that your baby is just beginning to figure out that she and you (and her other primary caretakers) are separate human beings. It’s a scary idea, and she’s simply afraid that some person she doesn’t like very much might take you—and all the goods and services you provide—away. Stranger anxiety affects 50–80 percent of babies. It usually kicks in at around seven or eight months, but sometimes not until a year. It can last anywhere from a few weeks to six months.
At eight to nine months of age, children who have been read to regularly can predict and anticipate actions in a familiar book and will mimic gestures and noises. So at this age it’s a good idea to involve your baby more actively in the reading process. Talk about the things on the page that aren’t described in the text and ask your baby a lot of identification questions. If you can, show your baby real-life examples of the objects pictured in her books.
But here’s the thing: none of those gizmos can ever come close to replacing the real you. So use these things if you absolutely need to, but relying on technology does not count as being involved (unless you’re on a military deployment or extended trip and you have no other choice).
Besides making you miss your baby, a long day at the office can also make you feel guilty about the amount of time you’re away from her. A little guilt is probably a good thing, but far too many parents let their guilt get out of hand and end up backing away (emotionally) from their children.
Although there’s no practical way for you to make up for lost time, it’s important that you find some middle ground between being overly controlling and distancing yourself from your baby. The best way to do that is to make sure that whenever you’re with your child, you’re there 100 percent. Mute the phone, take a break from tweeting or posting to Facebook, turn off the TV, let the dirty dishes pile up in the sink, and eat dinner later. You can do all those things after the baby goes to sleep.
There’s nothing like a long day at the office to make you realize just how much you miss your baby. And when you get home, you might be tempted to try to make up for lost time by cramming as much active, physical father-baby contact as you can into the few hours before bedtime (yours or the baby’s). That’s a pretty tall order, and just about the only way you’ll be able to fill it is to be “overly controlling, intrusive, and hyper-stimulating,” writes psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan. So, before you start tickling and wrestling and playing with the baby, spend a few minutes reading or cuddling with her, quietly getting to know each other again—even at eight months, a day away from you is a looooong time for your baby. You’ll both feel a lot better if you do.
Stay away from walkers (amazingly, they’re still being sold) and most of the “safe” alternatives that are out there, unless your pediatrician specifically tells you to get one. Your baby will learn to walk when he’s darn good and ready.
“Discipline is the second most important thing you do for a child,” says pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton. “Love comes first.” There’s no question in my mind that Brazelton is absolutely right. But before we go any further, let’s clarify one thing: discipline does not mean “punishment”; it means “teaching” and “setting limits.” And the goal is to help your child develop impulse control.
Whether it’s in person or on the Internet, there’s plenty of research indicating that fathers who get together with other guys are generally happier. So don’t be a hero and try to handle every fatherhood-related matter that comes up by yourself. You can’t. And trying to do so will only hurt your kids and yourself.
One of the best things about a group setting is finding out quickly that you’re not the only one who’s feeling a little lost. Fortunately, every dad there has some directions that may help. And even if they don’t, it’s better to be lost with someone else than lost alone.
They miss out on the camaraderie and learning they could have had from talking with other guys about parenting, and as a result, many new fathers feel isolated. They have all sorts of concerns, worries, and feelings they don’t completely understand, but as far as they know, there’s no one else they can share their experience with. Fatherhood, it seems, can be a lonely business at times.
I usually describe my love for my children in fairly happy terms, but periodically I experience it in a completely different way—one that sometimes frightens me.
Here’s how it happens: I’m watching one of my daughters (any one of the three will do) play in the park, her beautiful, innocent face filled with joy. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I begin to imagine how I would feel if something terrible were to happen to her. What if she fell and broke her neck? What if she got hit by a truck? What if she got horribly sick and died? The loss is almost palpable, and just thinking about these things is enough to depress me for the rest of the day.
Don’t feel that you have to entertain your baby all the time. Sure it’s fun, but letting her have some time to play by herself is almost as important to her development as playing with her yourself. And don’t worry; letting her play alone—as long as you’re close enough to hear what she’s doing and to respond quickly if she needs you—doesn’t mean you’re being neglectful. Quite the opposite, in fact. By giving her the opportunity to make up her own games or to practice on her own the things she does with you, you’re helping her learn that she’s capable of satisfying at least some of her needs by herself. You’re also helping her build her sense of self-confidence by allowing her to decide for herself what she’ll play with and for how long.
Again, if your baby doesn’t respond to some, or any, of these activities, don’t worry. Babies develop at very different rates, and what’s “normal” for your baby may be advanced—or delayed—for your neighbor’s. And keep in mind that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on fancy toys. When my oldest daughter was about this age, one of her favorite toys was a plastic dish-scrubbing pad. And I remember taking her to FAO Schwartz in New York—zillions of fantastic toys everywhere—and thinking that she was going to want to play with everything. But all she wanted to do was play with the price tags. (She’s a teenager now, and I look back at that experience as a warning—she still spends an awful lot of time looking at price tags …)
Hold an object in front of the baby. When you’re sure she’s seen it, let it drop out of your hand. At five or six months, most babies won’t follow the object down. But starting at about seven months, they’ll begin to anticipate where things are going to land. When your baby has more or less mastered this skill, add an additional complication: drop a few objects and let her track them down. Then hold a helium balloon in front of her and let it go. She’ll look down and be rather stunned that the balloon never lands. She’ll also give you a priceless look of betrayal—as though you cheated by defying the laws of physics. Let her hold the string of the balloon and experiment.
Peek-a-boo in particular teaches your baby an excellent lesson: when you go away, you always come back.
Jealousy’s “potential for destruction,” writes Greenberg, “lies not in having the feelings but in burying them.”
Another way your baby demonstrates her complete power over the world and everything in it (especially you) is to cry for attention whether she needs any or not. Both these activities show that your baby is able to formulate plans and can anticipate the consequences of her actions.
A word of caution: microwaves heat food unevenly, leaving hot spots right next to cold ones. So if you’re using a microwave, make sure you stir well and test anything you’re planning to give the baby.
When you make your own baby food, though, it’s so tempting to toss in a little olive oil, a few spices, butter, and all sorts of other things to make it taste better. That’s great—if you’re planning to eat it. But what your baby needs right now (and that’s what it’s all about, right?) is bland. Seasonings, especially salt, aren’t good for him. So save the curries and butter and sugar until he’s a little older. Of course, if you plan to eat your baby’s leftovers, season them up as much as you want—after he’s finished.
Be prepared for some Technicolor diaper contents. Babies are kind of like horses—whatever comes out their butts tends to look pretty much the same as what went in. I remember when my first baby was about six months old and I was feeding her mashed pumpkin (it was close to Thanksgiving and I had some left over from pie making). We did the usual I-put-it-in-her-mouth-and-she-spits-it-out routine. And I, like any loving father, dutifully scraped it up with my finger and ate it. When our “meal” was over, and I was taking my daughter out of the high chair, I noticed a glob of pumpkin on the inside of her leg. So, naturally, I scooped it up and popped it into my mouth. Unfortunately, it wasn’t actually pumpkin. To this day, I’m still a little skittish around orange-colored pies …
When you begin giving your baby solids, he’s going to make an incredible array of faces: horror, disgust, fear, betrayal. Try not to take them personally—he’s just reacting to the new and unknown and not criticizing your cooking.
Despite the claims of about 25 percent of American parents, fewer than 5 percent of children under three are truly allergic to any foods. True allergies are abnormal responses by the immune system to ingested proteins. The most common symptoms are nasal congestion, asthma, skin rashes (eczema and hives), chronic runny nose or cough, vomiting, and severe mood swings. In contrast, symptoms such as headaches, excess gas, diarrhea, or constipation are generally caused by intolerances, which are usually the result of an enzyme deficiency.
While you may be tempted to say, “What’s the difference? A reaction is a reaction,” the distinction between an allergy and an intolerance is critical and subtle. Allergies often begin in infancy and get progressively worse with each encounter with the offending food. Intolerances don’t. Fortunately, most kids—except those allergic to peanuts and fish—outgrow their allergies altogether by age five. (Only about 2 percent of children over five have true food allergies.)
Babies who are breastfed for four months and then put on solid food have four times the risk of developing respiratory illness (such as pneumonia and asthma) and twice the risk of developing ear infections as babies who nurse for six months.
Introducing solid foods before sixteen weeks has been linked to weight problems throughout life.
Older siblings aren’t the only children who get jealous. There’s actually some indication that babies as young as five months may too. Sound crazy? Well, consider this: British researcher Riccardo Draghi-Lorenz asked twenty-four mothers of five-month-old babies to show affection to another baby or to talk with another adult while their baby watched. The results weren’t pretty: over half of the babies got upset and cried when Mom cooed or tickled or cuddled with another infant. But when the mothers were schmoozing with adults, only 10 percent of the babies cried.
Let me start with this: there’s no such thing as work/family balance. What looks like perfect equilibrium today will be horribly out of whack a few weeks from now.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t remember that his friends started off (to him, at least) as strangers. Consequently, he’s a little slow to warm to new people. That can be tough on you if you’re trying to show people what a fantastic baby you have, but it’s a positive developmental sign.
It’s perfectly normal for even the soundest-sleeping kids to wake up every three or four hours for a quick look around the room. The vast majority (about 70 percent) soothe themselves back to sleep after a minute or two. But about 30 percent will spot something they just have to play with (you or your partner, for example), and they’re up for hours.
Here’s something simple you can do that may reduce midnight wake-ups and could make your baby smarter: spend more time with your infant during the day. Liat Tikotzky and her colleagues at Ben-Gurion University in Israel found that the more dads (but not moms) are involved in daytime care, the fewer times their babies wake up at night. Dads’ daytime involvement also helped with sleep consolidation, meaning that babies do less of their sleeping during the day and more at night. Good sleep consolidation (as opposed to sleep fragmentation, which is the opposite) is associated with better memory, cognitive outcomes, and language ability.
As I mentioned above, the most common reason babies wake up at night is because they’re hungry. But it’s not the only reason. Sometimes, no matter what you do, your baby is going to wake up at two or three in the morning for no other purpose than to stay awake for a few hours and check things out. So if you hear rustling and other noises coming from wherever your baby is sleeping, wait a few minutes before you go to her—she may go right back to sleep. If you do have to get up, keep your middle-of-the-night encounters as boring as possible. Until they’re old enough to have sex, kids need to know that nighttime is for sleeping.
When your baby is about six months old, start leaving the door to her room open. Kids that age get scared if they feel they’re trapped in a small space, especially if they aren’t sure you’re just outside the door.
Keep nighttime activity to a minimum. Whether your baby is sleeping in your room or not, she needs to learn that nighttime is for sleeping, not for playing.
It’s perfectly natural for babies to fuss or be restless for fifteen or twenty minutes after being put down. (Please remember that fussing is one thing, screaming is another. If the baby begins to really wail, pick her up and soothe her, but try to get her back in her crib while she’s still awake. It’s absolutely impossible to spoil a baby by picking her up or soothing her in the first three or four months of life.)
Don’t become the baby’s sleep transition object. Baby’s last waking memory should be of her crib or something familiar in it (blankie, toy, a picture on the wall, glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling). That way, if she wakes up in the middle of the night, she’ll see the familiar object and be able to associate it with sleep. If you were the last thing she saw before dropping off, she’ll want you again, even if you happen to be sleeping.
Getting your physical relationship back to normal is going to take patience, communication, and some careful planning. Here are a few things that may give your sex life the jump start it needs:
• Go for quality over quantity. Just because you can’t have sex three times a week doesn’t mean you have to give up altogether. You may only be able to fit in a few rolls in the hay a month, but make them count.
• Keep it regular. When it comes to sex, it’s use it or lose it. Your sex organs are muscles, and they need some regular working out to operate at peak capacity. In addition, long breaks can cause your hormone levels to change, which can reduce your desire.
• Start early and build from there. When she gets out of bed, tell your partner how good she looks; if you see her naked, compliment her body; flirt with her and let her catch you peeking down her shirt over breakfast; rub up against her as you walk past each other in the hallway; and make a few sexy phone calls to her during the day. By the time you get home, you’ll be all over each other.
• Think like teens. Watch some porn together, grope each other in the back seat of the car, or have sex on the sink in the bathroom of a friend who’s invited you over for dinner.
• Be good to yourselves. Both of you should you eat right, exercise at least three times a week, get plenty of sleep, and have at least five minutes alone a few times a week just to get your thoughts together.
• Reach out and touch each other. When you were younger and more awake, the need to touch your partner was sparked by desire. Now that you’re a dad, things have changed and the order is reversed. Touching, holding, stroking, and kissing each other—even if you aren’t really into it when you start—can actually produce the desire, which in turn will make the kissing and fondling more intense, which could lead to other things …
Recognize that challenging children are challenging because of their innate makeup. Their temperament exists at birth. It’s not their fault, it’s not your fault, and it’s not your partner’s fault. It’s just the way things are.
Once upon a time, way back in the 1950s, a husband-and-wife team of psychiatrists, Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas, came up with a theory that children are born with a set of nine fundamental behavioral and emotional traits that they called “temperamental qualities.” These qualities, which are noticeable within days (sometimes hours) after the baby is born, remain fairly consistent throughout life, combine differently for each child, and determine, to a great extent, a child’s personality and whether he will be “easy” or “challenging.” Chess and Thomas also found that a child’s temperament has a major influence on his parents’ behavior and attitudes.
Over the past few decades, Chess and Thomas’s original research in temperament has been expanded, refined, and improved upon by all sorts of people. But it’s still the gold standard and one thing that has remained constant is how learning to recognize and accept your baby’s temperament can truly change your life by helping you to accept her (as well as yourself) for who she is. Here, then, are the nine temperament traits, adapted from Chess and Thomas and the work of Jim Cameron, head of the Preventive Ounce (preventiveoz.org), a nonprofit mental health organization for children. The chart on pages 134–36 has a lot of examples that will give you a good idea of what each of the nine traits looks like. When you’re done reading it, take the quiz below.
1. Approach/Withdrawal: Your baby’s usual initial reaction to unfamiliar situations, such as meeting a new person, tasting a new food, or being in a new situation.
2. Adaptability: Similar to Approach/Withdrawal, but deals with your child’s longer-term reactions to changes in routines or expectations, places, and ideas.
3. Intensity: The amount of energy your baby commonly uses to express her emotions—both positive and negative.
4. Mood: Her general mood—happy or fussy—over the course of a typical day.
5. Activity level: The amount of energy she puts into everything she does.
6. Regularity: The day-to-day predictability of your baby’s eating, sleeping, and filling diapers.
7. Sensitivity: Your baby’s sensitivity to pain, noise, temperature change, lights, odors, flavors, textures, and emotions. Note: it’s quite possible for her to be highly sensitive to one sensation (bright lights, for example) but not at all sensitive to another (noise).
8. Distractibility: How easy it is to change the focus of your baby’s attention.
9. Persistence: Similar to Distractibility, but goes beyond the initial reaction and concerns the length of time your baby will spend trying to overcome obstacles or distractions.
There are two major reasons why so many of us would prefer to drive ten miles down the wrong road rather than stop and ask for directions. First, from the time we were little boys, we’ve been socialized to associate knowledge with masculinity—in other words, real men know everything, so admitting to being lost is a sign of weakness (and, of course, a lack of masculinity). Second, we’ve also been socialized to be strong, independent, and goal-oriented, which makes asking for help a sign of weakness (and, again, a lack of masculinity). Nothing in the world can bring these two factors into play faster than the birth of a baby. Because of the near-total absence of active, involved, nurturing male role models, most new fathers can’t seriously claim that they know what to do with a new baby (although never having cooked before didn’t prevent my father from making all sorts of wild claims about his culinary skills; boy, was he wrong).
So rather than focus on the one thing you can’t do, pay a little more attention to what you can do—and are probably already doing. In addition to the baths and massages, think of all the skin-to-skin contact you’re making, all the diapers you’re changing, the stories you’re reading, the playing you’re doing, the bedtime routines you’ve created, the walks you’re taking, all the times your baby has blissfully fallen asleep on your chest. Sounds pretty involved to me.
Most important, because you’re the grown-up, you’re going to have to pay close attention. If you underdress your baby, he’ll probably let you know about it; babies usually complain loudly when they’re too cold. Babies who are too hot, though, tend not to complain, preferring instead to lie there listlessly.
Make it interactive. Take plenty of short breaks from the text to point out interesting things going on in the illustrations and to ask questions (“Where’s the piggy hiding?” “What does the big bad wolf say?”).
Feeling a little silly about the prospect of sitting down and reading to your baby? Consider this: “When children have been read to, they enter school with larger vocabularies, longer attention spans, greater understanding of books and print, and consequently have the fewest difficulties in learning to read,” writes Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook.
Still not convinced? How about this: 60 percent of prison inmates are illiterate, 85 percent of juvenile offenders have reading problems, and 44 percent of adult Americans don’t read a single book in the course of a year. Clearly, reading is an important habit to develop, and it’s never too early to start.
Playing with your baby is one of the most important things you can do for him. Researchers have found that early parent-child play can speed up the attachment process. In addition, kids who play a lot—especially with their dads—as babies are more attentive and interactive as they grow up, and end up with higher self-esteem than kids who don’t get as much physical activity.
Put the bag of milk toward the back of the freezer, where it will be coldest. The reason for the storage-time differences is that freezers inside refrigerators get opened a lot, which can slightly warm the milk. Separate-door freezers are generally colder and get opened less, and stand-alone freezers don’t get opened all that often.
One important note on pumps: if a friend or relative offers to let you have or borrow her breast pump, respectfully decline. Unlike with rental pumps, there’s no way to properly clean the machine’s internal mechanism, and there’s a slight risk of infection.
[...] if your relationship with your father wasn’t everything it should have been, you may be afraid that you’re somehow destined to repeat your father’s mistakes. And you may have started to act accordingly. If your father was abusive, for example, you may worry that you will be too, and you may emotionally and/or physically pull back from your baby as a way of protecting him.
If you find yourself doing—or not doing—things with your baby out of fear, you can relax. At least a little. Dr. Snarey found that new fathers seem to take the good from their fathers and throw away the bad. In fact, many new fathers are able to turn to their advantage the example of a less-than-perfect relationship with their fathers.
He’s very perceptive about your moods and will react to them. If you’re tired and anxious, he’ll be harder to calm and soothe, but if you’re calm and happy, it’ll be easier.
When it comes to people, he has strong likes and dislikes, crying or calming down depending on who holds him. He’ll also smile or laugh at familiar people, and stare at strangers.
One day your baby will catch sight of his own hand on its way into his mouth. Until this very moment, he had no idea that the thing he’s been sucking on for the past few months actually belongs to him. Better still, he now realizes that objects (or at least his hand) can exist for at least two reasons at the same time: to look at and to suck on.
While she was pregnant, your partner was probably awake during the day, and all of her movements rocked the baby to sleep. At night, though, when your partner slowed down, the baby woke. That’s exactly why most pregnant women say that within a few minutes after lying down, the baby would start kicking up a storm.
To help develop your baby’s sense of smell, offer her a wide variety of things to sniff:
• If you’re cooking, let her smell the spices and other ingredients.
• If you’re out for a walk, let her smell the flowers.
• Try some experiments to see whether she prefers sweet smells to sour ones.
• Be careful, though. Make sure she doesn’t get any of these things in her mouth, and don’t experiment with extremely strong smells. Also, stay far, far away from ammonia, bleach, gasoline, paint thinner, pool or garden chemicals, and any other toxic materials you may have around the house.
Smell and taste are very closely related. In another study of babies’ reactions to painful heel pricks, babies were soothed by the smell of breast milk—as long as it was their mother’s. The foods that pregnant women eat make their way into the amniotic fluid. And babies whose mothers ate strong-flavored foods like anise turn toward the smell when it’s nearby. But babies who’d never drunk anise-laced amniotic fluid are revolted by the smell.
[...] give the baby lots of different objects to put in her mouth. But be extremely careful that none of them has removable pieces or sharp edges, or is small enough to be a choking hazard. (Anything that can fit through the tube in a standard roll of toilet paper is too small.)
Babies are, almost by definition, irrational and not at all interested in your timetables. In no time at all your baby will figure out what you’re most rigid and impatient about, and she’ll begin pushing your buttons. That leisurely walk in the park you planned might have to be cut short when the baby panics and won’t stop crying after a friendly dog licks her hand. Or you might end up having to stay a few extra hours at a friend’s house so as not to wake the baby if she’s sleeping or, if she’s awake, not to upset her nap schedule by having her fall asleep in the car on the way home. And just when you think you’ve figured out her routines and the surefire tricks to comfort her or get her to sleep, she revamps everything.
So you’ve got a very Zen choice to make: you can either learn to accept change and bend, or you can break. It took a while, but I eventually learned that trying to be a father and Mr. Prompt at the same time just wasn’t going to work. Most of the men I’ve interviewed have said basically the same thing: since becoming dads, they’d learned to be a lot more flexible and tolerant—not only of themselves and their limitations but of other people’s as well. It’s all a part of becoming a grown-up.
Being out of control is hard for anyone, but it’s especially discombobulating for men, who are supposed to know everything and be in control all the time. Before my oldest daughter was born, I was incredibly anal about time; I always showed up wherever I was supposed to be exactly when I was supposed to, and I demanded the same from others. But, as you now know, going on a simple trip to the store with baby in tow takes as much planning as an expedition to Mount Everest. And getting anywhere on time is just about impossible.
It’s hard to admit, but like it or not, your baby’s running your life. She cries, you pick her up. She’s hungry, you feed her. She fills her diaper, you change it. She wants to play, you play. She needs a nap, you drive around the block twelve times until she falls asleep. She wakes up in the middle of the night, you’re up too. The ancient rabbis of the Talmud described it pretty well. The first stage of life, they said, “commences in the first year of human existence, when the infant lies like a king on a soft couch, with numerous attendants about him, all ready to serve him, and eager to testify their love and attachment by kisses and embraces.” It’s all happening on your baby’s schedule, not yours.
Most adults have a limited repertoire of ways to please each other. But there are plenty of ways to be sensual short of intercourse. Hand holding, back rubs, hair stroking while watching TV, and even gentle, nonsexual kissing are good for those times when one of you isn’t in the mood. If you’re not in the mood but want to give—or receive—some nonsexual affection, tell your partner up front that there are no strings attached. Researchers have found that men and women who don’t want sex are frequently afraid that the kiss or hug they need from, or want to give to, their partners will be misinterpreted as a sexual overture.
Start dating again. No, not someone else—your partner. Having a good sex life can certainly contribute to the happiness of your relationship, but even the wildest, most amazing sex doesn’t guarantee anything. So make sure to set aside some time every day—even if it’s only fifteen minutes—to talk about life, work, movies you’ve seen, books you’ve read, politics, whatever. But don’t talk about anything to do with your baby.
Change your attitude. A lot of men have the idea that every erection has to result in an ejaculation. But is having an orgasm the only way to experience pleasure? Not a chance. Sometimes just getting aroused—and leaving it right there—can be fun.
Be completely honest. If you and your partner agree that you’ll hold each other like spoons and kiss but that you won’t touch each other’s genitals, don’t go over the line. Doing so will only make her tense and distrustful.
Negotiate. If you really want to have sex, and she doesn’t, ask her—without putting a lot of pressure on her—what, if anything, she’d be willing to do. Would she, for example, be willing to masturbate you? Would she hold you in her arms or let you touch her breasts while you stimulate yourself? In sexuality expert Sari van Anders’s research, 58 percent of partners of new moms received oral sex. It goes without saying (or at least it should) that you should be prepared to reciprocate. The object here is not to convince her to have sex; the two of you should be working toward creating an environment in which you both feel safe expressing your desires and in which each of you can turn the other down without fear of causing offense or hurting feelings.
During the entire time that your partner is breastfeeding, there’s a risk that almost any drug she takes—whether it’s for pain or for some kind of chronic or acute medical condition—could get passed into her milk and affect the baby. Most of the time the risk is very small, but sometimes it’s not. Unfortunately, a lot of doctors aren’t familiar with the potential risks medications pose to lactating mothers and nursing infants. As a result, they may either prescribe something that’s potentially dangerous or suggest that the woman stop breastfeeding. There is an easier solution.
LactMed is a free, online, searchable database (run by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It’s a comprehensive listing of prescription and nonprescription drugs, herbal remedies, other chemicals, and even illegal drugs, which are evaluated for safety to both mother and baby during breastfeeding. They even suggest safer alternatives where available. You can access it at toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/newtoxnet/lactmed.htm.
Hold the baby differently. Not all babies like to be held facing you; some want to face out so they can see the world. One of the most successful ways I’ve learned to soothe a crying baby—and I’ve tried this on many kids besides my own—is the Magic Baby Hold. Quite simply, have the baby “sit” facing you in the palm of your hand—thumb in front, the other fingers on the baby’s bottom. Then have the baby lie face down on your forearm, with his head resting on the inside of your elbow. Use your other hand to stroke or pat his back.
Carry your baby more. The more you hold him (even when he’s not crying), the less likely he is to cry. In one study, researchers found that a two-hour increase in carrying time per day resulted in a 42 percent decrease in crying time.
Although baby blues or depression are almost always associated with women, the fact is that many men also get the blues after their babies are born. In some cases, men’s blues are hormonally based like their partner’s. Canadian researcher Anne Storey found that new fathers’ testosterone levels often drop by as much as a third right after the birth of their children. Since testosterone is involved in energy and mood, lower levels could explain why some men feel a little down. It’s also quite likely that the feelings of sadness, the mood swings, and the anxiety you may be experiencing are the result of facing the stress, the responsibilities, the bills, and the reality of your changing life.
Here’s how author S. Adams Sullivan put it: “The hearty congratulations at work last a few days, but then your status as a celebrity wears off and you begin to notice that you’re coming home every night to a demanding baby and a distraught wife.… You look at your wife and … the healthy, radiant glow that made her beautiful while she was pregnant has disappeared, and you’re tempted to agree with her when she gripes about her looks … you’re getting maybe four and a half hours of sleep, total, and that’s broken up into hour-and-a-half naps, so that you’re nodding off every day at work and falling behind.”
Somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of new mothers experience periods of mild sadness, weepiness, stress, moodiness, sleep deprivation, loss of appetite, inability to make decisions, anger, or anxiety after the baby is born. These “baby blues,” which many believe are caused by hormonal shifts in a new mother’s body, can last for hours or days, but in most cases they disappear within a few weeks. One researcher, Edward Hagen, claims that postpartum blues has little, if anything, to do with hormones. Instead, he says, it’s connected to low levels of social support—especially from the father. And it could be the new mother’s way of “negotiating” for more involvement.
The newborn is faced with two fundamental and simultaneous challenges during the first weeks of life,” writes child psychiatrist Stanley I. Greenspan. “The first is self-regulation—the ability to feel calm and relaxed, not overwhelmed by his new environment. The second is to become interested in the world about him.”
Unfortunately, babies can’t do much to accomplish either of these goals on their own. That’s your job. And you’ll do it by caring for and responding to your baby, and by providing him with a stimulating environment. But because your baby can’t be expected to sit around waiting for you, he came fully equipped with a wide range of reflexes to get him started. Yes, all that wild, seemingly random arm and leg flailing really has a purpose.
Babies don’t eat much the first 24–48 hours, and any sucking they do is almost purely for practice. Whatever nutritional needs your baby has will be fully satisfied by the tiny amounts of colostrum your partner produces. (Colostrum is a kind of premilk that helps the baby’s immature digestive system get warmed up for the task of digesting real milk later.)
From the moment their children are born, men and women have very different ways of handling them. Men tend to stress the physical and high-energy, women the social and emotional. Your baby will catch on to these differences within weeks, and she’ll start reacting to you and your partner very differently. When she’s hungry, she’ll be more easily soothed by your partner (if she’s breastfeeding), but she’ll be happier to see you if she wants some physical stimulation. Don’t let anyone tell you that the “guy things” you do are somehow not as important as the “girl things” your partner may do (or want you to do). Ultimately your baby needs both kinds of interactions, and it’s a waste of time to try to compare or rate them. Just be gentle.
Watch her head. Because babies’ heads are relatively enormous (one-quarter of their body size at birth versus one-seventh by the time they’re adults), and their neck muscles aren’t yet well developed, 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. Never shake your child. This can make her little brain rattle around inside her skull, causing bruises or permanent injuries. And never throw the baby up in the air. Yes, your father may have done it to you, but he shouldn’t have. It looks like fun but can be extremely dangerous.
Schedule your fun. The best time for physical play is when the baby is in the active alert state; playing with toys or books is fine during the quiet alert state. Also, choose a time when you can devote your full attention to the baby—no phone calls, social media, or other distractions.
Don’t expect your pet to be as excited as you are about the birth of your baby. Many dogs and cats do not appreciate their new (lower) status in your house. To minimize the trauma for your pet (and to minimize the chance your pet will do something to harm the baby), try to get your pet used to the baby as early as possible.
You can do this even before the baby comes home by putting a blanket in the baby’s bassinet in the hospital, then rushing it home to your pet. It’ll give Rover or Fluffy a few days (or hours, at least) to get used to the little interloper’s smell.
Control the visiting hours and the number of people who can come at any given time. Dealing with visitors takes a lot more energy than you might think. And being poked, prodded, and passed around won’t make the baby very happy. Also, for the first month or so, ask anyone who wants to touch the baby to wash his or her hands first (warm water and regular soap are fine—stay away from antibacterial soaps). Babies’ immune systems aren’t ready to handle the day-to-day germs we deal with.
Once it’s okay for you to touch your baby, don’t waste a second. Babies who had daily ten-minute sessions of neck, shoulder, back, and leg massage and five minutes a day of gentle limb flexing grew almost 50 percent more than those who didn’t get the massage—even though calorie intake for the two groups was the same, according to Dr. Tiffany Field, the director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Hospital stays were shortened by almost a week, and the bills were correspondingly lower as well. On their first birthdays, formerly premature babies who’d been massaged were bigger and better developed than similarly premature kids who didn’t get massaged. Pretty neat, eh?
Be a little bit selfish. Sounds horrible, but it’s not as bad as you think. The point is that you’re not going to be much use to anyone—baby or partner—if you’re walking around like a zombie because you haven’t slept in forty-eight hours. You’re in a really tough spot. Mom and baby need you to be there and to be strong for them. Plus, you’ve got your own stress, worry, and fears to deal with. So if you need to find a couch and take a nap, do it. And if you need to go for a run or play basketball or do something else to blow off steam, do it. Your whole family will be better off in the long run.
Ask about kangaroo care. In Colombia, the mortality rate for premature infants was as high as 70 percent as recently as the 1980s. But a few doctors decided to try something different: they placed the tiny babies, wearing only a cap and a diaper, on a parent’s bare chest, skin to skin, for several hours a day. The results were amazing. To start with, the mortality rate dropped to 30 percent. In studies in the United States and other countries, human kangaroo babies slept better, were taken off respirators sooner, cried less and were alert more, were better able to regulate their body temperature, gained more weight, and came home earlier. There were benefits for the parents as well: dads and moms who held their babies like this felt more confident in their parenting abilities and better able to do something productive for their babies. And breastfeeding moms who did kangaroo care were able to produce more milk.
Babies actually have six clearly defined behavioral states that are apparent within just a few minutes after their birth.
1. Quiet Alert
2. Active Alert
5. Quiet Sleep
6. Active Sleep
Having a child with a disability can be particularly tough for highly educated or intellectual couples who had great expectations for their baby, expectations the baby may never be able to live up to. Interestingly, moms and dads react somewhat differently. Moms tend to be more concerned about the emotional strain of having to care for the child, while dads are more concerned with the costs of providing care and with the baby’s ability to be a leader and her potential for academic success. Having a child with a disability can undermine a father’s feelings of masculinity and his confidence in himself.
[...] being an involved father will affect you in a number of ways. You’ll learn to feel, express, and manage emotions (positive, negative, and everything in between) you never knew you had. You’ll be more empathetic and better able to see things from others’ perspectives. Plus, dads who are actively involved with their children tend to be mentally and physically healthier and are more likely to advance in their careers. It can also change the way you think about yourself. “Fathering often helps men to clarify their values and to set priorities,” writes my colleague Ross Parke, one of the pioneers in fatherhood research. “It may enhance their self-esteem if they manage its demands and responsibilities well, or alternatively, it may be unsettling and depressing by revealing their limitations and weaknesses. Fathers can learn from their children and be matured by them.”
[...] dealing with crying, postpartum depression (which men get too!), childproofing, family finances, and finding appropriate child care.
Nobody really knows how or when it started, but one of the most widespread—and most cherished—myths about child-rearing is that women are naturally more nurturing than men, that they are instinctively better at the parenting thing, and that men are nearly incompetent.
The facts, however, tell a very different story. A significant amount of research has proven that men are inherently just as nurturing and responsive to their children’s needs as women. What too many men (and women) don’t realize is that to the extent that women are “better” parents, it’s simply because they’ve had more practice. In fact, the single most important factor in determining the depth of long-term father-child relationships is opportunity.
Basically, it comes down to this: “Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist,” writes author Michael Levine in Lessons at the Halfway Point.