Having a baby for the first time is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, which is why I’ve put together 26 tips for first time parents that will help you during the first eight weeks.
Let me say it again.
Having a baby for the first time is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
It’s an amazing experience, but know that it’s not a cakewalk. In fact, it’s probably going to be one of the most challenging times of your life.
Prior to my son being born everyone and their grandmother seemed to want to give us advice. Do this. Do that. Don’t do that.
And if you search online for tips for new parents you tend to get the cookie cutter type results that are helpful for… about five minutes.
When I started thinking about putting these tips together, I did so from the perspective of what I’d have liked to know ahead of time that I’ve learned along the way.
I also have to give you a big gigantic disclaimer.
I’m not a doctor and I’m not a parenting expert. I’m also not in a million years going to pretend like all babies and parents are the same. Please don’t consider these tips as the gospel. Use what you want and delete anything you don’t want from memory.
Glad we got that out of the way.
While I’m not a “parenting expert,” I will tell you that my wife and I did lots of homework, made mistakes and also figured things out during the first eight weeks of our child’s life. Some of the tips you are about to read may be common sense, and others are going to be a nice “ah ha” moment.
So let’s get to it.
26 Tips for First Time Parents
The Early Days
1. You aren’t going to break them. Your new baby should most certainly be treated with caution and care, but know that they aren’t as fragile as you might think. This is an especially important tip for dads. When first time dads hold their newborn early on they tend to be really stiff and feel as though any wrong move will be catastrophic. Be gentle, but know that your little one is resilient and very flexible.
2. Beware of the head. Your doctors probably going to give you a heads up (no pun intended) about this, but if they don’t, know that your baby might have an oddly shaped (cone) head when you first see them. This is due to the pressure of the birth canal and shifting that takes place with your baby’s head.
In some instances the shape might not be very noticeable. In others, it may be very noticeable. If the shape has had significant change, it will typically shift back over time. Some babies may need a special helmet to help reshape their head. Not the prettiest topic to talk about, but try not to let it freak you out.
3. The first week and sleep. Expect your baby to sleep a decent amount during the first week. When your baby sleeps, please try to get some sleep. You’re going to have plenty of time to be exhausted down the road, so take advantage of this potential downtime. Be aware that doing so is much harder than you might think. Reason being is that prior to your baby being born you had a particular schedule, and it probably didn’t contain a mid morning or afternoon nap.
4. Take Professional Photos Early – if you’re going to take baby photos, do so sooner rather than later. You’re going to take them within the first three weeks so they still have the newborn look. If you wait later than that it’ll show in the photos and the result won’t be quite the same.
5. They Sleep a Lot – newborns sleep a lot, but the initial sleep stretches will be very short. These sleep bursts are normal and they will sleep for longer stretches as they get older.
6. Weight Loss is Normal – it’s perfectly normal for babies to lose a little weight between when they are born and their first doctor’s visit. Your doctor will put you on a plan to help your little one gain the weight back.
If you are breastfeeding and are put on an every two hour feeding schedule, please read our 10 Breastfeeding Tips post. There’s a lot of important information that will help make life a bit easier during this period. It can be intense for new moms.
7. The smiles will come. It’s easy to create a fairy tale in your mind about your baby’s first smile. This will start to happen around week six or so. All babies are different, but it’s pretty guaranteed that you’re not going to see any smiles the first few weeks. Manage your expectations and take in that first smile with all the excitement and joy that it’s going to make you feel. It’s a pretty awesome moment.
8. Dry Skin is Normal – your baby will initially have amazingly soft skin. Don’t freak out when it gets a little dry and possibly flaky. This is normal and will go away.
9. Baby Pimples – this one just seems wrong, but it’s a common occurrence and can be a bit alarming. The bimples (my word for baby pimples) are caused by hormones from the mother. Not to worry, they’ll start to go away relatively soon.
10. The Sleep Roller-coaster – for the first couple of months expect sleep patterns to be all over the place. You may be ecstatic that your little one sleeps for seven hours straight one night, and then a couple nights later is only sleeping an hour and a half or two hours at a time.
The constantly changing sleep pattern can do a number on you mentally. One day you’ll get excited, and hopeful, that a pattern is going to start, and then on another you’ll be wondering if your baby is trying to torture you.
Feeding and Care
11. Trust the Food Signs – You might find yourself obsessing over timing your baby’s eating schedule. That’s fine, but trust your little one’s cues. Watch for the puckering of the lips and head bobbing. And when they are done eating, you’ll know.
12. Get a Ceiling Clock – These are clocks that can sit on a shelf or floor and project the time on the ceiling. These are super helpful for tracking feeding times in a dark room and, in general, helping keep track of time early in the morning or overnight.
13. Get an App – an app will help you keep track of everything from growth and medical information to feeding schedules. If you’re breastfeeding, get an app that will help you keep track of feeding times and amounts. Don’t use paper. It’ll drive you crazy and will give you much less actionable data. If you aren’t breast the apps will also help you track formula feeding schedules and amounts consumed by your baby.
Helpful Items to Buy
14. Get the Sponge – You know the fun little baby bathtub you’ve bought or is on your registry? Looks simple enough to use, right? Well, put some water in it and add a baby and it becomes a slip and slide. There are baby body size sponge inserts you can get. Get one. It’ll make bathtime so much easier. Seriously. Get the sponge!
15. Mini Flashlights for Overnight Changing – the last thing you want to do overnight while your baby is in sleepy mode is to turn on a bright light. The catch is, a little nightlight only gives you so much visibility and there’s going to be times you just need brighter light, especially when trying to wipe the escapable poop out of a baby fat crease. A small flashlight will give you the added light to get the job done without over stimulating your baby.
16. You should read Happiest Baby on the Block – before your child is born, read this book. It’s going to give you a head start on understanding why your baby acts certain ways and how to make them happy during fussy times. Once you understand the 4th trimester… a lot of things make sense. Both mom and dad should read the book.
17. Grab a copy of The Wonder Weeks — this can be read a bit more casually on a week by week basis as your child gets older. It’ll help you understand a lot of the physical and behavioral changes that will occur.
Just for Parents
18. You don’t have to Hibernate – this whole having a baby thing is new and can be scary, but it doesn’t mean you have to stay home 100% of the time. You’ll initially be terrified about germs, which is good, but don’t let the fear keep you confined. Go for a walk. Take a drive. The sun and fresh air is good for both you and your baby. Just make sure anyone that comes in contact with the baby washes their hands.
19. Set Boundaries – it’s your child and you set the boundaries. Don’t want people to kiss your baby? Make that known. Want people to wash their hands when they come over? Make it the first thing they do. Have a friend with a cold? Tell them you love them, but that they need to stay away.
20. Dads Should be Involved – Traditionally, dads go back to work much sooner than moms. With that said, it’s important for dads to make an extra effort to be present with their newborn as much as possible. They should also be changing diapers and be involved with the feeding process — no matter if you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding.
21. Teamwork is Great – mom and dad can take turns changing diapers and feeding. If you’re breastfeeding, dad can help feed via pumped milk in a bottle. No matter what the scenario is for you, this isn’t a mom does all the work game. It’s simply not a sustainable model and it’s important for dads to be involved and engaged early on.
22. Everyone has Different Opinions – things, both good and bad, are going to come up after your baby is born. Everyone and their grandmother (literally) will have an opinion as to how you should do things or as to why something is happening. You’re going to quickly learn that trial and error may be your most valuable resource because what works for one baby/family might not work for another.
23. Dads aren’t Backup Parents – this one really gets me fired up. Being a slacker dad simply isn’t OK and dads shouldn’t treated as though they aren’t supposed to be involved. Yes they should change diapers. Yes they should be exhausted. Yes they should make dinner or order in. Simply put, dads are half of the parenting team and should both act as such and be treated as such.
24. Frustration Happens – you’re going to get frustrated. It happens. And that doesn’t make you a bad parent. When you combine exhaustion with a crying baby it can make you feel like you are at a breaking point. When this happens, put your baby in a safe place and leave the room for a little bit or have your partner jump in and takeover for a bit.
25. Don’t Buy Everything – don’t feel the need to buy everything under the sun. First, people are going to buy stuff for you. Second, half the stuff people and lists say “you need” is bogus. This is where trial and error helps a lot.
26. Pee First – before you do whatever it is you’re about to do with your baby, pee first if you have to go. Nothing is ever quick with a baby and the next thing you know you’re going to be jumping around or squeezing your legs together in an effort to not pee on yourself.
Hopefully these 26 tips for new parents will prove to be helpful for either you, your partner or someone you know.