Preparing for parenthood often comes with a ton of questions. And perhaps some unsolicited advice. And contradictory advice. And, if you’re lucky, some really useful advice.
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Becoming a parent can be incredibly exciting. It can also be physically and mentally taxing. It changes your relationships. It changes how you think about yourself and your priorities. It changes how you care for yourself as you raise a new life.
We talked with parenting educator Sam Pearson about what new dads need to know and how they can prepare for the changes and opportunities of new fatherhood.
So, if you’re a new parent or parent-to-be looking for advice, you’ve come to a good place. Much of the advice we talked about with Pearson will be relevant to any parent. That includes people who see themselves squarely in the role of “dad,” as well as birthing parents and everyone else who’s a member of your parenting team.
We’re here for parents of all gender identities. Regardless of your sex assigned at birth, if you’re looking for advice about being a new parent — but not so much about being pregnant, giving birth, breastfeeding/chestfeeding and such — you’re in the right place.
Welcome to the new-dad club! Let’s dive in!
What should first-time dads know and do?
For starters, seeking information and looking for advice about fatherhood is commendable. Too many times in life, we all like to pretend we know more than we really do. And becoming a parent for the first time is one of those things you really can’t know what to expect until you’re in the thick of it, trying to figure it out.
But the more you research, the more you ask questions and the more you share your thoughts, the better prepared you can be, Pearson says.
“Many of us aren’t socialized to ask these questions,” he notes. “To take the time to ask and to search for answers is really important and powerful. The more you ask and the more you share, the more you’ll be able to play an even greater role in your kid’s life.”
1. Learn the basics
When you’re preparing to be a dad, there’s a lot of tactical stuff to be familiar with. We’re talking in-the-trenches knowledge that new parents need to have. Pearson says you’ll want to start by making sure you’re down with some basic baby skills. If you don’t already know, you’ll want to learn some day-to-day baby stuff, like how to:
- Hold your baby.
- Change a diaper.
- Bond with your baby through practices like “kangaroo care.”
- Burp your baby.
- Swaddle your baby.
- Install a car seat.
- Bathe your baby safely.
- Calm your fussy baby.
- Store breast milk (human milk) or prepare formula.
- Babyproof your space.
- Follow safe sleep practices for babies.
- Perform basic baby and child first aid.
There are tons of online resources and books dedicated to all these things (and more). Pearson also suggests checking with your local healthcare institutions or community resources. They often host new parent classes where you’ll learn the ins and outs of keeping your baby safe, fed, clean and happy. They may also provide classes specific to new dads to get advice about preparing for a new role in their families.
2. Choose baby gear
There’s no doubt that adding a baby to your home comes with adding some new stuff to your home. It can be overwhelming, and you don’t need it all.
Diapers? Yes. Diaper wipe warmer? Your call. Crib bumpers? Big no.
Pearson recommends working with your partner and talking about what you need and what you don’t. Selecting items to buy or to put on a baby registry is about more than shopping together. What you choose says a lot about how you both intend to parent. And it can lead to some important conversations.
- Will your baby have their own room from day one or stay in a bassinet in your room?
- What are your thoughts on cloth diapers versus disposable ones?
- Can you agree on a baby bag that both of you are comfortable with or should you each have your own?
3. Clean and organize
All that new baby stuff is going to have to go somewhere. New dads can help get the home prepared for their new baby, which is particularly important if your partner is all about nesting but shouldn’t be doing the heavy lifting, Pearson says.
Dads-to-be can prepare for their baby by:
- Deep cleaning the house so no one has to worry about it after your baby comes.
- Doing some meal prep so you don’t have to think about making meals from scratch for a bit.
- Putting new furniture together.
- Making sure the newborn clothes are washed and put away.
- Setting up a diaper-changing station (or consider two if you have a two-story home. Going up and down stairs for each new diaper can be a real drag.)
4. Plan the division of labor
If you and your co-parent live together, it’ll also help to have a conversation about what your responsibilities are to each other, to your baby and to your home. These can be particularly important conversations.
Sharing your thoughts on the role you expect to take in the household and knowing what your partner needs can help you both come to an understanding of how various needs around the house will get taken care of.
“If your partner is busy, tired or has any restrictions from their doctor about what they should and shouldn’t be doing, that can mean some of the things they may be used to doing can go undone,” Pearson says. “It’s a chance to pick up the slack.”
Even for partners who had a well-established balance of household roles before, having a baby means some of those responsibilities may need to shift. And some new, baby-specific tasks will be added to your plates.
- Who will be waking up at night for feedings and changings? Is there an opportunity to take turns?
- Who’s on laundry duty?
- Who will do the cooking?
- How often will the bathroom get cleaned and by whom?
“Maybe you can agree that the dishes don’t have to be done at night or that you’ll start doing the vacuuming,” he says. “Whatever agreement you have is fine as long as you’re both on board.”
5. Manage your work-life balance
You’ll want to plan for how to manage your work life, too. A big part of the life of any working parent is juggling schedules. As you prepare to be a dad, you may find you could benefit from some adjustments to your work-life balance, if they’re available.
Before your baby comes is a good time to consider arranging time away from work and whether your work commitments may be able to shift after your baby arrives.
Find out if your workplace provides parental leave for non-birthing parents. Some do (and it may or may not be paid). Before the baby comes, dads-to-be should understand any vacation time or parental benefits afforded to them in their jobs and make any arrangements needed to take time off when their baby comes.
You may also consider whether you can take advantage of flexible hours or remote work to maximize your time at home.
6. Make childcare plans
Babies need ’round-the-clock supervision, of course, so planning for who will spend the day with the baby is an important consideration for parents-to-be.
- Will one parent stay home?
- What are you looking for in childcare or a daycare center?
- Is there a family member or friend who’ll help care for your baby while you’re working?
If you’ll be looking for a childcare provider, doing your research is an important part of preparing to be a parent. Remember that a lot of daycare centers may have waiting lists, so if that’s the route you’ll be going, you’ll want to start early on narrowing your list and setting up tours.
If the baby will be out of the house while their parents are working, set up a plan for who will be dropping them off and picking them up.
7. Get the financial house in order
It’s no surprise that kids can be expensive. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated the cost of raising a child was around $13,000 per year. Adjusted to 2022 dollars, it’s closer to $17,000, says the Brookings Institution.
As you prepare to be a parent, considering how your budget will accommodate a new family member can help ensure your family remains financially healthy. Some of the bigger expenses in the early years can include things like:
- Baby gear, like car seats, cribs and clothes.
- Child care.
- Daily necessities, like diapers and wipes (formula, too, for those who use it).
- Health insurance.
- Hospital expenses for the birth.
8. Know your role at birthing time
OK, we know you’re not the one who’s going to be going through the rigors of labor and delivery itself. But you’re still an important part of the birth, and there’s plenty for you to do.
Your role during labor and delivery is to help however you can with what the birthing parent needs from you. So, talk with them about how you can be supportive.
“One of the big ways you can help in the birth is to be an advocate,” Pearson says. “Know what your partner’s wishes are during the birth, and offer any support you can.”
In some cases, that could mean:
- Attending childbirth classes so you know what to expect.
- Getting your partner safely to a birthing center when the time comes.
- Providing labor support, like cool compresses, massage, ice chips, breath coaching, encouraging words or other needs.
- Sharing updates and announcements with friends and family.
- Arranging (or discouraging) visitors at the hospital.
9. Take care of yourself
As you consider how your life will change with a kid in tow, it’s important that you also plan for how you’ll continue to take care of your physical, emotional and social well-being. Keeping yourself healthy is important to being a good parent. It’s only when our cup is full that we can offer others a drink.
“Our culture doesn’t always encourage dads to be vulnerable or to spend time caring for their own well-being, but it’s incredibly important,” Pearson stresses.
Being a good parent isn’t about sacrificing yourself. It’s about learning to keep yourself well while also accommodating the needs of others. It’s not always going to be easy to find that balance.
Pearson suggests that as you prepare for fatherhood, also look for ways to continue to care for your physical and mental health. Caring for yourself is a form of caring for your child.
“When we get overwhelmed, it becomes easier to lose our cool,” Pearson notes. “I often talk with new dads about making sure they understand that when tensions get too high, it’s OK to walk away and to compose yourself after making sure the baby is in a safe place.”
That’s especially important as cases of shaken baby syndrome are often at the hands of a male caregiver, Pearson states.
Taking care of yourself can mean different things to different people. It may look like:
- Getting enough exercise.
- Following a diet that’s healthy for you.
- Taking stock of your mental health.
- Making time for self-care and relaxation.
- Spending quality time with your partner and friends.
10. Look at the big picture
Adding a new child to your life changes things. It just does. It changes the roles and the demands placed on every member of a family unit. Your priorities may change. Your time to dedicate to other interests may change. Your relationships may change. That’s OK. It’s only natural.
As you think about this next journey in your life, Pearson says you have an opportunity to consider the kind of dad you want to be and how your parenting style will reflect that.
He adds that we tend to parent at least somewhat similar to how we were parented. So, now is a time to reflect on what your assumptions are based on your own experiences with your own parents.
“You have this big opportunity staring you in the face,” Pearson emphasizes. “It’s a time to really think about what you appreciated about your own parents and also what you didn’t like and make some changes.”
As you think about what kind of parent you’ll be, consider things like:
- How will I approach discipline issues?
- How will I teach my kids to handle disappointment?
- How will I cope with the stresses of parenthood?
- What lasting lessons will I teach my child?
These are big questions, and you don’t need to know the answers now. But considering the kind of parent you’ll be to your new baby will help set a standard. It’ll give you a roadmap for how you handle everything from what to do when your toddler bites a friend (it happens!) to how you’ll help your teenager become a happy, healthy adult.
So, keep asking questions. Keep talking with your partner. Keep learning from others and building your toolbox of new-dad knowledge. And maybe one day soon, you’ll be sharing with others all that you have learned.
“I’m always excited when new dads ask questions and want to prepare instead of going in blind,” Pearson says. “No new parent can be ready for what’s about to come, but the more you talk and share, the more you’ll learn and the more confident you can be that you’re going to be a great dad.”
You’ve got this, Dad!