TD was apoplectic on our second night in the hospital– shrieking, crying, inconsolable. Kathleen and I had the sullen, drawn look that is standard for new parents, a look painted on our faces in a permanent mask as we helplessly watched our new baby wail and flail without any idea how to fix it. An overnight nurse would periodically pop her head in to the room, wave her hands over TD like a witch over a cauldron, and the crying would cease for about 15 minutes before kicking into full gear again.
Though I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from birth, once our daughter got here I realized that I didn’t actually know the most basic things about taking care of a baby1. Some things I picked up instantly. For instance, after being forewarned of the key technique difference between changing boys and girls2, changing diapers turned out to be relatively self-explanatory.
But now that TD is a week old, I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time3 figuring things out about newborns through raw trial and error. Here is are three things I learned about newborns.
You Can Be Rougher With a Baby Than You Think
Previous to TD, I’ve had very limited experience even holding a baby, much less handling them for diaper changes, swaddling, etc., so the biggest surprise after the first night with TD is that she can withstand quite a bit of manhandling without snapping in two.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that she’s ready for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lessons quite yet, but as long as her head is supported, you can move her limbs and body around quite a lot. Now, you need to prepare for the baby to scream bloody murder right in your face, so to tap into your inner sociopath and pretend like the baby’s cries aren’t devastating your very core.
This made a world of difference from night two into night three. Once I got the hang of the fact that I wasn’t going to pull her leg off by moving it out of the way of my baby wipe, it allowed me to feel more comfortable learning a few skills.
How to Swaddle
Swaddling is a little bit like tying a shoe. It’s not a particularly hard skill, but but to those who have never done it, it’s a complete mystery as to how it’s done. My first night with TD, my swaddling skills were nil. Yes, I had watched the requisite Youtube tutorials, but this is something you really need to practice a few times before you can do it right. Ideally, you have it down before the baby is born.
This, of course, is much easier to do when you know that you can, in fact, roll your baby on her side and pin her arms in with a little force while you tie up your makeshift baby straightjacket. If you think, as I did, that you’re going to break the baby, then swaddling is a near impossibility.
A more forward-thinking version of myself would have grabbed a doll or a stuffed animal and practiced until I had it down. In reality, I waited to learn how to do while I had an hours-old screaming baby. This, as you might imagine, is a very stressful way to learn this skill. I implore fathers-to-be to grab a doll and work on it. Those first couple of nights in the hospital are really stressful, and having a few things in your arsenal going into that period will only make you and your new family more comfortable.
The Fussy Baby Inspection
The overnight nurse at the hospital went through the Four-Point Fussy Baby Inspection Program with us. According to her, this process solves 90% of fussy baby problems4:
1. Diaper Check
Is her diaper wet or dirty? This is the default first-step check to make sure the baby is clean. Sitting around in your own filth is not particularly comfortable, as it turns out.
2. Gas Check
Maybe your baby has to fart? A baby’s intestinal track is tiny, but her appetite is voracious. Gas can make babies very uncomfortable, so helping her let one rip is a useful skill to have. Lay her on back and work her legs in a bicycle kick motion. If your baby has legs of steel like TD, this may take some serious torque and she will scream in your face, but if there’s a gas bubble trapped in her stomach, she will thank you with blessed silence.
3. Too Cold/Too Hot Check?
Babies don’t have good internal thermal regulation capabilities. Just because you’re comfortable in the 74-degree room doesn’t mean your baby shares the same opinion, especially if her arms and legs are exposed. Throw a long-sleeved outfit on her, swaddle her in an extra blanket, it may make the difference.
4. Hungry Baby?
If your baby has a clean diaper, doesn’t have any gas, and isn’t too cold or hot, then she’s probably hungry. You can run through the first three things in under two minutes. Better to eliminate those potential issues than to waste ten minutes learning your baby doesn’t need to feed.
First Time Parent, First Time Baby
It’s hard not to feel dumb not knowing these things. I certainly get treated like an idiot by about half of the nurse practitioners we see during our myriad appointments. But I’m trying not to beat myself up too much about it. As has been pointed out thousands of times, parenting uses on-the-job training as its education model. There’s so much more left to figure out, but those are bridges to be crossed, and so forth. In the meantime, I’m going to sit in the corner and pat myself on the back for learning how to swaddle.
- And truth be told: the steps are very basic. Kathleen put it best: caring for a baby is simple, but it’s not easy.
- A girl needs to be wiped from front to back so you don’t trap waste in her vagina; a boy can be scrubbed with reckless abandon .
- Mostly at night.
- Though if your baby is sick, hurt, or colicky, this probably won’t work.