Dear Mr Dad: My wife just had our first child. I'm insanely happy and I want to get more involved but I've never been around babies before and have absolutely no idea what I'm supposed to do with him. What do you suggest?
Armin answers: Although it may be tempting to just sit around and stare at your baby, marveling at every little thing he does, you'll need to do a lot more than that if you're really going to get to know him. Here are some of the best ways to start:
- Hold him. Newborns love to be carried around, held in your arms, held in a pack, etc.
- Talk to him. No, he can't understand a word you're saying. In fact, he barely even knows you exist. But talk anyway--explain everything you're doing as you're doing it, tell him what's happening in the news, etc.--it'll help him get to know the rhythm of the language.
- Change his diapers. It doesn't sound like much fun, but it's a great time to interact with the baby one-on-one, to rub his soft belly, tickle his knees, kiss his tiny fingers. For at least the first month or so, he needs to be changed every two hours--baby's super-sensitive skin shouldn't stew in human waste--so there are plenty of opportunities. And don't worry: changing diapers is an acquired skill--in just a few days you'll be able to do it with your eyes closed (although you probably shouldn't -- especially if you're using pins). In the meantime, even if you don't do it right, baby poop washes right off your hands and won't stain your clothes. One hint, though: immediately after undoing the diaper, put something (like a towel or cloth diaper) over baby for a few seconds. The sudden rush of fresh air on the baby's crotch can result in your getting sprayed.
- Play with him. During the first few weeks, forget about football and chess. But try to spend at least 20 minutes (probably broken into 5-minute installments) a day doing something with the baby one-on-one.
Chatting, reading aloud, rocking, making faces, experimenting with the baby's reflexes or even simply catching her gaze and looking into his eyes are great activities. Here are a couple of things to remember:
- Take your cues from the baby. If he cries or seems bored, stop what you're doing. Too much playing can make your child fussy or irritable, so limit play sessions to five minutes or so.
- Be encouraging. Use lots of facial and verbal encouragement, smiles, and laughter. Although the baby can't understand the words, he definitely understands the feelings. Even at only a few days old, he'll want to please you, and lots of encouragement will help build his self-confidence.
- Be gentle- -- especially with the baby's head. Because babies' heads are relatively large (one-quarter of their body size at birth vs. one-seventh by the time they're adults) and their neck muscles are not 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.