The New Dads' Survival Kit
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The New Dads' Survival Kit

Congratulations! After several hours of grueling labor by your partner, duly aided by your coaching and support, your brand new bundle of joy has finally arrived. Welcome to the world of midnight feedings, sleep deprivation, and huge quantities of diapers!

You've distributed cigars at work and gazed wondrously into your infant's eyes. You've stocked the nursery with books, videos, and classical music tapes. But after a few sleepless nights, calls to the pediatrician, and advice from well-meaning in-laws, it hits you. This thing called parenthood is a lot more difficult than you thought. Luckily, you're not the first parent to struggle through these challenges, you're definitely not alone! The problems and solutions outlined below will provide a great deal of support for you, your partner, and the baby.

Sleep Deprivation

Nobody told you that as a new dad you would become the subject in a sleep deprivation experiment. If the mom is breastfeeding, you may find that your little bundle of joy wants to be fed every two to three hours; formula-fed babies tend to sleep a bit longer between feedings. Either way, the circles under your eyes are becoming deeper and your patience is wearing thin.

The good news is that the baby will eventually fall into a regular sleep regimen. The bad news, this usually doesn't happen until he reaches six to eight months of age. Just when you think you can't take another sleepless night, your little one will finally adopt a regular sleeping and eating routine.

Here's what you can do to make this stage easier:

  • Share the burden of midnight feedings with your spouse. If she's breastfeeding, get the baby up from his crib, change him, and bring him to your spouse. The extra effort on your part will be greatly appreciated.
  • Learn to sleep when the baby sleeps. This may be hard at first, but eventually you'll be tired enough to sleep whenever you can.
  • Don't overindulge in caffeine or other stimulants. When it's time to nap, you don't want to be wide awake from too much coffee, tea, or other foods that contain caffeine (including chocolate!).
  • Ask your pediatrician for some suggestions on how to handle all-night feeding sessions. Sleepless nights are a very common dilemma for new parents.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help from friends and relatives. Be specific about what you need. Some relatives may actually make matters worse unless you specifically define your needs. Ask them to prepare meals, clean the house, or watch the baby for an hour or two while you and your spouse take a break.

Postpartum Depression

One of the most difficult transitions that you and your partner will make is dealing with the arrival of a baby. Besides the enormous physical and emotional accommodations that occur, women also undergo dramatic physiological changes. The hormones that reached peak levels at the end of your wife's pregnancy suddenly plummet 24 to 48 hours after delivery.

After delivery, many women experience what is typically known as "baby blues," as explained by Dr. Valerie Raskin, in her book, This Isn't What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression. According to Raskin, "Baby blues is actually not an illness, and it will resolve on its own. It is often confused with PPD (postpartum depression), however, because sadness and crying are so common in both conditions." Dr. Raskin explains that as many as 60 to 80 percent of women who give birth experience "a brief, temporary moodiness, sometimes with crying, sadness, irritability, or frustration." Postpartum depression, on the other hand, tends to be chronic and the symptoms may present themselves in a number of ways including chronic sadness, anxiety, fear, obsessive thoughts or actions, thoughts of harming the baby, confusion, feelings of being overwhelmed, anger, and resentment.

Your partner may experience some or all of these symptoms and it's important that you seek medical attention immediately. Do not try to diagnose postpartum depression by yourselves. A woman is more predisposed to postpartum depression if she has had difficulty with depression or anxiety prior to her pregnancy.

Here's what to do if you suspect your wife has postpartum depression:

  • Watch for warning signs. If your partner cannot get out of bed, ignores basic hygiene, or appears depressed or listless, call her physician as soon as possible. She may be reluctant to admit that she is not feeling well. Don't let her talk you out of seeking help.
  • Seek help before her symptoms are out of control. Don't wait for her to become so depressed that she is unable to care for herself or for the baby.
  • Learn more about postpartum depression (start with the Resources section at the end of this article).
  • Don't lose hope. Postpartum depression is extremely common and very treatable. Look for a physician or psychiatrist that specializes in postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety.

Colic and Fussy Times

You may be blessed with a very calm baby, or you may find that your little one is fussy during certain times of the day or night. One of the most frequent complaints of new parents is dealing with a baby that has colic.

Pediatricians define colic as three or more hours of continuous crying and fussing. While some physicians feel that colic may be due to a milk or formula allergy, others attribute colic to the baby's individual temperament. A colicky baby never sleeps, cries incessantly, and is unresponsive to attempts to comfort her.

Here are several techniques to help soothe a colicky baby, but first you should call your pediatrician to rule out other, more serious, medical problems.

  • Rock your baby. If rocking fails, try walking with the baby on your shoulder while massaging his back. Babies enjoy movement, so you may wish to invest in a bouncy chair that vibrates. If all else fails, put your baby in his car seat and drive around the block a few times.
  • Realize that colic is temporary; it does eventually subside. Try not to argue with your spouse about what is best for baby. Babies are very adept at sensing your emotions and stress level. Your infant will sense that you are uncomfortable and will be less likely to self-soothe.
  • Consult your pediatrician, other new parents, or the hospital where your infant was delivered. Don't be afraid to call your child's physician. If it's 2:00 a.m. and you don't want to wake the pediatrician for a non-emergency, phone the hospital nursery for a few words of advice from the nurses.

The tips provided here are only a starting point; there is a wealth of information and support for new parents. Good luck with your little one. Take the time to appreciate the joys of infancy and early childhood. After all, it's only a matter of time before they ask for the keys to the car!

RESOURCES:

Kid's Health
http://www.kidshealth.org

Parenting Magazine Online
http://www.parenting.com

The Postpartum Stress Center
http://www.postpartumstress.com

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

AboutKidsHealth
http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/

Men's Health Centre
http://www.menshealthcentre.net/



Last reviewed November 2007 by Theodor B. Rais, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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