Rad Dad Stories: The Deployed Dad-to-Be

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Army dad Paul and his baby, just after birth (Photo courtesy of the Schmidt family)

Editor’s note: This is a continuation of our ‘Rad Dad stories’ series, which we started in our inaugural magazine. This series features interviews from real dads and moms about their experiences. To be featured in a future blog post or magazine, please contact us at info@raddadbox.com

If you do a Google search on how dads can be involved during pregnancy, childbirth, or during the newborn days, you’ll find a plethora of articles (ours included!) with answers to these questions. Talk to the baby while he/she is still in the womb. Massage your partner’s arms and hips while she’s in labor. Make sure you have skin-to-skin time with baby, too.

But what if you, Dad, can’t be there for these moments? Many military dads, for example, are deployed during the entire pregnancy and even during childbirth and the first few months of the baby’s life. Some may be present for part of the pregnancy and during childbirth, but may have to deploy soon after the baby is born. How can dads bond with their babies in situations like these?

To help answer some of these questions, we spoke with a customer of ours, Kelsey Schmidt, whose husband, Paul, serves in the United States Army. Kelsey and her husband welcomed their son into the world last April 2017.

The Rad Dad Box: Was your husband deployed during your pregnancy? Childbirth? Or soon after?

Kelsey Schmidt: My husband deployed when I was two months pregnant. He was originally supposed to be deployed for nine months, meaning that he would only come back when our baby was three months old, but due to unforeseen circumstances, and what I believed to be the universe being on our side, Paul was able to come home 4 months early….TWO weeks before our baby was due! He was there for the birth, but then was called away to duty again almost a month later for another 6 weeks.

The Rad Dad Box: With your husband’s deployment, what did you as a family do to help foster his bond with the baby?

Kelsey: Before he left for deployment, we got a recording story book and had Dad read it so baby would know his voice. With hormones raging at the time, of course, I sobbed in the kitchen while hearing him record our baby’s storybook knowing how he was secretly afraid thinking our baby wouldn’t know who he was when he returned.

With military OB/GYN clinics, at least in our experience, you are just offered one ultrasound (anatomy scan). So we found a place that did private ultrasounds that allowed us to hear the heartbeat for the first time and see the baby at 8 weeks. We received a little heart that you could press and played a recording of the baby’s heartbeat, which my husband took with him overseas. They also had a gender package where you could find out at 15 weeks, which was a week before he was due to leave. We found out we were having a boy! So we went shopping and Dad picked out two coming home outfits–something we would put in the baby’s special box and keep forever. Just days before he left, we purchased a home doppler so he was able to hear and feel our boy’s first kick.

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Baby Max (Photo courtesy of the Schmidt family)

The Rad Dad Box: You and Paul spent the majority of the pregnancy apart. Were you able to communicate regularly, via phone or Skype? I also imagine that it must be difficult to be separated during such a time. Did you have any family or friends around for support?

Kelsey: Paul left on Halloween and I had 7 months left of being pregnant, with family hours away. Luckily I had started school earlier in the year so I had the support of some of the girls in my class. If it weren’t for a couple of them, I don’t know how I could’ve survived! If someone offers help- TAKE IT! Although I’m a very independent person (and still felt guilty), I accepted any help I could get. Baby comes first which means your body comes first.

Unfortunately, because of the location where Paul was deployed he didn’t have great signal which meant video/voice chat was a no-go. With limited communication it was hard not knowing what he was feeling- was he excited? Scared? Happy? (Of course I knew he was all of these things, it’s just nice to see it). And of course the hormones started raging once again, making myself think maybe he wasn’t? Or afraid he didn’t know what was about to hit him when he returned. As crappy as it is, there’s not much you can do about these thoughts but tell yourself it’s just hormones! Though I knew I most likely wouldn’t get replies most of the time, I messaged him daily updating him on everything knowing he would receive them eventually.

The Rad Dad Box: You mentioned that Paul was able to come home two weeks before you were due. How was it like to see each other after so long and so many changes?

Kelsey: He was shocked, but he was also excited how big my belly had gotten! He talked to our baby every night before he came into the world on April 4, 2017.

The Rad Dad Box: Can you share your birth story and how Paul was involved?

Kelsey: I was scheduled for a cesarean and the look on his face after putting on scrubs is something I will never forget- you could tell every thought in the world was running through his head.

The baby was born, and you can see dad mode automatically turned on. I will say the hospitals are GREAT when it comes to involving dads during the birthing process. He cut the cord and helped weigh/measure our son. About an hour after delivery, our boy Max was taken to the NICU due to fluid in his lungs (common after a c-section). I told Paul not to leave our baby, as I was unable to leave the bed. Paul gave Max his first bath and for the second time I saw a photo of our baby’s face without all of the headgear he had to wear in the NICU. The next week consisted of trips back and forth to the NICU, Paul delivering the breast milk in the middle of the night I spent time pumping and him sleeping on the uncomfortable chair bed when I was forced to go to bed and rest.

After coming home and enjoying every second with our happy healthy boy, less than a month later, duty called and Paul was away for another 6 weeks.

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Baby Max just after birth (Photo courtesy of the Schmidt family)

The Rad Dad Box: Do you have any advice for military families who are going through the same or a similar situation?

Know that the hard times of being apart will pass and the love will always be there. Just like Mom, Dad mode doesn’t turn off! If you have older children, SEND CARE PACKAGES! A simple card or letter means more than you know. And lastly the thing i think is probably most important and simple, bring dad up in conversations every day. Military life is unpredictable, take advantage of EVERY SECOND you have together!

 

 

 

When push comes to shove: How dads can be involved during labor

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This post is for all the Dads-to-be! So, you’ve bought the car seat, the stroller, the crib, and you’ve stocked up on diapers, wipes, baby clothes, and almost every baby necessity you can think of. You’ve taken and attended childbirth and baby care classes with your partner. The hospital bags have been packed and are sitting by the door. The big day is almost here.

Now, you’re afraid that you’ve forgotten everything you learned about childbirth in your classes. What positions are best? What about breathing exercises? Your partner doesn’t remember either, and you both start panicking. But never fear – that’s why we’re here! We’ve been there! To help, we also spoke with 20 couples (and drew on our own personal experience) about how dads can be involved during childbirth and have put together this guide for you. Read on for more!

  1. Review birthing positions and breathing exercises as the “big day” approaches, and make suggestions and reminders to your partner during labor. Although most of the couples we spoke to told us that they completely forgot the breathing exercises while in the delivery room, it’s still helpful to review them, as well as different positions for birth, and when to push (even if the doctor/nurse will instruct you on all of these). Watch YouTube videos on this while you’re waiting for baby to come, and you’ll feel more confident and better prepared.
  2. Massage your partner’s hips, back, and arms during labor. Childbirth is hard on a woman’s body – it’s called “labor” for a reason! If you and your partner are doing a natural birth, she’ll probably be constantly changing positions, which strains the arms and legs. Dads can help here by massaging their partner’s hips and arms when they get sore.
  3. Help your partner relax. Another obvious fact: giving birth is stressful! Dads can help their partner relax by speaking in a quiet, soothing voice, holding their partner’s hand, telling her what a great job she’s doing, or, sometimes, just by not saying anything at all.
  4. Keep your partner cool during labor. Like any exercise, childbirth causes the body to heat up! Help keep your partner cool by feeding her ice chips. Ask your hospital in advance if they provide hand-held fans – if not, include one in your hospital bag and fan her during during labor.
  5. Make a playlist. Music will help distract and calm your partner down, so, while you still have a chance, make a playlist of her favorite songs and give it to the nurses to play during labor.
  6. Have mints/gum ready! Chalk this one up under the same category as the playlist, which is, “things you should do so your partner doesn’t have to think about it.” Mints and/or gum are helpful to have *after* the birth, when you’re still in the hospital and receiving visitors.
  7. Be present and encourage your partner. This was the most common piece of advice we received from the moms and dads we spoke to. Childbirth is a challenge, and it’s no wonder that dads have been present in delivery rooms for the last 40 years. Your presence and support is needed during this time. Above all else, be there and be supportive and encouraging throughout the entire process.

We also wanted to add some words of advice for couples who undergo C-sections (whether it’s scheduled or an emergency procedure). Dads can still be involved in both situations. With a C-section birth, it’s important to be there and hold your partner’s hand (if she asks). If it’s an emergency C-section, it’s possible that this may not be the ideal birth experience your partner wanted. Try to reassure her and tell her that the most important thing is that the baby will be safe and healthy. Also, since C-sections require total anesthesia from the waist down, your partner may not be able to walk for a few hours afterwards, so you will likely be the first one who changes the baby’s diaper and cares for the baby while your partner recovers and regains sensation in her legs.

Do you have any advice for expecting dads, and how they can be involved during childbirth? Let us know in the comments!

How dads-to-be can be involved and bond with baby during pregnancy

 

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We all know that dads are much more involved nowadays than in generations past. These days, dads actually attend childbirth classes with their wives and are present during the baby’s birth. (Although, to be fair, that has been the trend since the 1970s.) Although expecting dads are stepping up to the plate more, some may still find it hard to bond with their babies-to-be, and may need a little nudging on how to be more involved during pregnancy. So, aside from attending childbirth classes, what are some other ways expecting dads can be involved?

  1. Attend childbirth classes. Yes, this list is supposed to be about other ways dads can be involved aside from childbirth classes, but this is so important that I want to emphasize it again. If your schedule permits, you should definitely do this. Nowadays, dads are expected to be active participants in the baby’s birth, which also means educating yourself on childbirth and labor.
  2. Attend the OB/GYN check-ups. Try to attend as many doctor’s appointments with your partner as your schedule permits, Jane Zhao from Baby Got Pack says. As with the childbirth classes, making this effort shows that you care. These appointments also keep you informed of the baby’s progress, and give you an opportunity to feel closer to your partner and baby.
  3. Attend breastfeeding classes. You would be surprised at how many dads are absent at breastfeeding classes. While it’s common to shelve this under “Mom’s thing,” it’s also important to remember that many women struggle with breastfeeding in the beginning. By educating yourself on breastfeeding, you will be positioned to help your partner and Baby should any issues arise. Don’t know where to start? Sign up for the breastfeeding class with your partner, and check out our previous post on how dads can help with breastfeeding.
  4. Do the heavy lifting. If you are there during the pregnancy (meaning , for example, you are not deployed or for another reason can’t be present), don’t let your partner lift anything heavy. This means, no big boxes, no laundry baskets, no storage bins, heavy grocery bags, chairs, or anything else you can think of in that category. Although lifting heavy objects does not have a correlation with miscarriage, it’s best that your partner not strain herself too much physically during pregnancy.
  5. Be patient. We interviewed approximately 20 women for this article, and this was the most common advice. Pregnant women have all sorts of hormones raging through them, and can be emotional, moody, and sometimes downright mean. Just accept it, don’t take anything too personally, and let your partner just cry it out – literally and figuratively.
  6. Help with baby gear research. The majority of moms we spoke to told us that they were the ones doing the research into car seats, strollers, cribs, diapers, and all the products that come with babies. This is one area where more dads can step in and be involved with. Even just giving your opinion on a few big-ticket items like the car seat and crib is an immense help to your partner, who is most likely going cross-eyed from all the research.
  7. Set up the crib – or hire someone to do it. Guys, please don’t let your pregnant wife/partner assemble the crib. Please. Just don’t. If you’re not handy (or, as mentioned earlier, are deployed or not able to be physically present), just hire someone to do it.
  8. Talk to the baby. Babies can hear Dad’s voice in the womb, so if you can, try to talk to the baby at least once a day. You can talk about anything, really: how your day was, how excited you are to meet baby soon, and you can even start reading books to the baby. When I was pregnant, Mr. Rad Dad would sing, “Do you want to build a snowman?” (just that one line, from the movie Frozen) to the baby. After the baby was born, singing that one line would calm him down when he was crying!
  9. Buy a toy and clothes for the baby. Most dads may hate shopping for themselves, but many like to do a little shopping for the baby! Buying a cute toy or a few outfits can help expecting dads strengthen their bond with baby.
  10. Watch the baby move. This will be easier to do as the baby gets bigger, particularly in the third trimester, but spend a few minutes with your partner each night and just watch the baby move around. You can even play with the baby a little by pushing gently on the belly!

Need more ideas? Parents Magazine also has a great list of suggestions on how expecting dads can bond with baby!

Dads, how did you bond with baby in the womb? Let us know in the comments!

How dads can be involved during baby’s early days (besides changing diapers)

IMG_1172After coming home from the hospital, some dads may feel left out of family life and struggle to bond with their babies. In fact, a 2009 study found that 40 percent of dads felt that they had nothing to do after the baby was born. However, there are plenty of things new dads can do to foster their bond with Baby, help new moms to recover from labor, and be involved. Changing diapers is a given, of course, but we’ve outlined a few other ways new dads can be involved in their family’s life.

  1. Give the baby a sponge bath.  Parents are advised to give babies sponge baths until the umbilical cord falls off (usually within the first two weeks). Sponge baths are a great way for dads to begin to establish their bond with and feel more attached to baby, while also giving moms a little time to rest and recover. This article from Johnson and Johnson gives you a handy step-by-step guide on how to give sponge baths. From our personal experience, you can never have too many washcloths during this period! (In fact, this is why we include an organic cotton washcloth in our Rad Dad Newborn Starter Kit.) We also want to warn you that this is not always a pleasant task, as many babies seem to hate sponge baths!
  2. Once Baby’s umbilical cord has fallen off, give Baby a regular bath. I will be honest, Mr. Rad Dad bathed our baby until he was 7-8 months old – basically, until he could sit up on his own. I wasn’t strong enough, especially in the early days, to hold the baby under running water and my hands and arms weren’t big enough to support his head and neck *and* bathe him at the same time. Also, if bathing the baby requires you to kneel down, remember that it is very difficult for Mom to bend down when she is still recovering from giving birth. Bathing is a much more pleasant experience than sponge bathing, and it can really help new dads feel more involved and have fun with baby at the same time.
  3. Read to your baby. Did you know that a recent study found that children develop better language skills when Dad reads the bedtime story?  Reading to your baby is encouraged from day one, and it’s also a good bonding experience for Dad and baby. Even if it seems like there are only 30 minutes a day where your baby is awake and not eating, that’s still a little time where you can squeeze in a story! Check out our previous post on a few good dad-themed books to read to your baby, some of which have been included in our past boxes.DSCN7107
  4. Spend some skin-to-skin time with your baby, or just hold them as they are napping. Since newborns sleep almost all the time, one way for Dads to bond with their babies is to have some skin-to-skin time with the baby. The physical contact, the feeling of warm skin, and a beating heart is very soothing for babies. If you don’t like the idea of constantly dressing and undressing yourself and the baby, then simply holding the baby while they sleep works just as well. Trust me, as your baby gets older, they will never fall asleep in your arms the way a newborn does – so take advantage of this and enjoy while you can!DSCN7050
  5. Help baby with tummy-time. Tummy time is a great opportunity for dads to be involved from early on, especially as parents nowadays are encouraged to start tummy time as soon as they come home from the hospital. Tummy time is the practice of placing the baby on his/her tummy and practice lifting their head and exercising their neck, shoulders, body, and their eye muscles. Moms are encouraged to lie down and place the baby on her stomach or chest as early tummy time practice, but we would actually encourage Dads to do this as well. Doctors suggest starting off with 3-5 minute sessions, 2-3 times a day, although from our personal experience, we did this once a day during the first two weeks of our baby’s life, and usually stopped when he started crying. Read more about tummy time on WebMD here.
  6. Give baby a massage. Baby massage is not only a great way to bond with the baby, but researchers have found that it also promotes better sleep and relieves colic. Parents.com provides a good step-by-step guide on how to massage your baby.
  7. Rattles and Baby Paper are your best friends. Newborns aren’t very interested in most toys, but if you want to try to play with your newborn, they do react to toys that make sound. We recommend rattles, as they are also good for development and have a long shelf-life as toys, as well as Baby Paper, which is crinkle paper sewn into fabric. Babies LOVE crinkle paper. And make sure to have a camera handy to capture your baby’s first reaction to the rattle!
  8. Be involved with breastfeeding, especially if your partner is struggling to breastfeed the baby. Contrary to popular belief, there ARE ways that men can help with breastfeeding. If your partner is having trouble breastfeeding, you can sit with her while she’s breastfeeding, help her position the baby, check on latch, and you can attend sessions with the lactation consultant and read up on breastfeeding so you are well-informed to help in this aspect. If your baby is nursing like a champ, there are still ways you can be involved: washing the pump parts, bringing your partner water while she’s nursing, and making sure the remote and phone are nearby.
  9. Bottle-feed the baby. If you and your partner aren’t averse to it, bottle-feeding the baby pumped milk or formula is a very nice way for dads to bond with the baby – while also giving Mom a break! Nowadays, medical professionals recommend waiting four weeks before introducing a bottle to prevent nipple confusion, but do what you think is best for your baby. If your baby is having trouble latching at the breast or your partner’s milk supply is still coming in, it doesn’t hurt to supplement with pumped milk or formula in a bottle. Fed is best, after all!DSCN9485
  10. Take the baby out for walks. This can be done with or without your partner, but taking the baby out for a walk is a great way for Dad to spend time alone with the baby or for the entire family to get out of the house for a little bit and spend time together. Each new experience helps develop the baby’s brain, and you will be fascinated by how your newborn baby observes leaves, trees, houses, and takes in everything around them.
  11. Cook. If you don’t have any family members helping you out, cooking is one thing you can do to allow your partner more time to recover. Your partner is probably exhausted from giving birth, breastfeeding, pumping, and waking up at all hours (especially if she’s decided to exclusively breastfeed), so why not take one thing off her to-do list and do the cooking? Think about it this way: by making sure your partner has enough to eat, you are also ensuring that your baby will eat well! If you can’t or don’t want to cook, no judgment! There are also frozen meal and delivery options. Taking care of the food area, whether through cooking yourself or ordering out, makes one less thing for your partner to worry about. Less stress for your partner = faster recovery!
  12. Clean and do other chores. Speaking from personal experience and the experiences of other moms we spoke to, cleaning, sweeping the floor, washing dishes, doing laundry, shopping for groceries and other household tasks are all things that Dads can do in the early days that allow their partners time to rest and recover from giving birth.
  13. Take care of yourself. Last of all, it’s important to practice self-care during this time. You will be tired from shouldering many of the household tasks and taking care of a newborn baby during this time, and possibly working full-time as well, so make sure you get a little rest and time to yourself, too.

So, Dads, we hope that this list will give you an idea of how you can be involved, how you can help your partner recover, and how you can bond with baby after you and your partner bring your little one home from the hospital! Experienced moms and dads, do you have any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!

How dads can help with breastfeeding

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(Disclaimer: This post is written by Michelle, the mom behind The Rad Dad Box)

When I was pregnant, neither my husband nor I believed he needed to be involved in breastfeeding. While we both read parenting books to prepare for our baby’s arrival, I was the only one who read breastfeeding books, and I attended the breastfeeding and pumping classes offered by our hospital by myself. Apparently, we weren’t the only couple who thought that Dad didn’t need to be involved in breastfeeding: there were only two dads-to-be in the breastfeeding class, and none in the pumping class!

However, when our son was born and had trouble latching, and I was having issues with my milk coming in, we realized how important it was for Dad to be involved, too.

Now, if you’re one of those moms whose baby latched immediately and started nursing like a champ, and who never had an issue with supply, then consider yourself lucky: You can ignore this post! However, if you’re still pregnant or if, like the majority of women, you have struggled or are currently struggling with breastfeeding, please keep reading to see how your partner can help.

  1. Attend breastfeeding classes with your partner. As a sign of how common our belief that dads didn’t need to help with breastfeeding was, there was a total of two men in my breastfeeding class. Don’t make the same mistake we did! Of course, as with most classes, you learn by practicing, but these classes will give you an idea of how breastfeeding works. The knowledge helps!
  2. Read up on breastfeeding, either through a book or online. My recommended breastfeeding book is The Nursing Mother’s Companion. It gets a little repetitive, but it was the most helpful book on breastfeeding I read. Kellymom and Breastfeeding Basics are also good resources. I also wrote a post for the It Takes a Village blog on breastfeeding necessities in the early days.
  3. Help your partner position the baby to breastfeed. In the early days, I had a lot of trouble figuring out the best position for the baby. My husband would suggest a certain arrangement of the breastfeeding pillows, which hold he thought would be better for the baby to feed, and just stay by my side while I was breastfeeding the baby. It was reassuring to have him there – especially since we were basically on our own after we left the hospital!
  4. Attend sessions with the lactation consultant. Before I became pregnant, I didn’t even know that this service existed. If you don’t already know, a lactation consultant assists women with breastfeeding. Lactation consultants perform an extremely important job, as almost all women struggle with breastfeeding in the beginning. During your sessions, she will watch you breastfeed, advise you on latch, positioning, and make sure the baby is swallowing and getting enough to eat. She also gave me advice on which nipple shields to use and how to eventually wean our son off the nipple shield. If you can, I would strongly advise Dads to come to these sessions as well.
  5. Bring water while she’s breastfeeding. This is one of the easiest ways Dads can help with breastfeeding. It’s a fact: breastfeeding will make Mom thirsty! Have a glass of water ready by her side while she’s nursing, or get ready to bring one to her during nursing sessions. Making sure the phone or remote is by her side helps, too.
  6. Wash the pump parts. During the first three weeks of our son’s life, my world was a haze of breastfeeding (45 minutes-1 hour), followed by pumping (15 minutes), followed by washing pump parts (5-10 minutes), and then getting maybe 45 minutes of work done before the cycle started again. It was such a relief for me when my husband washed the pump parts! It’s only a 5 minute task, but when you’re exhausted, even little things help a lot.
  7. When baby wakes up for a middle-of-the-night feed, change the baby’s diaper before bringing baby to your partner. We spoke with several moms who told us that it was very helpful when their husbands would change the baby’s diaper before bringing the baby to Mom to nurse in the middle of the night. It makes sense: Mom is still waking up, and it’s hard to change the diaper *and* nurse the baby, so if one of these tasks can be taken care of by Dad, it’s immensely helpful to the mother. As I said earlier, every little bit helps! (My husband and I took 5 hour shifts in the night and morning, so fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with waking up every 3 hours to feed the baby, but I realize that this is not a possibility for everyone.)
  8. Help with breastfeeding in public. I tried to avoid it for as long as I could, but inevitably, you will wind up in a situation where you will be breastfeeding in public. Some women are fine openly breastfeeding in public, but if your partner is not, there are many ways you can help her. First of all, you can help her adjust her nursing cover. If she’s having problems getting the baby to latch and needs to look at the baby, pull the top part of the nursing cover slightly away from her so she can see the baby but remain unexposed. If she’s getting the nursing cover on with both hands and baby is in her lap, hold the baby steady until she can hold the baby again.

Did we miss anything? Have any other tips on how dads can help with breastfeeding? Let us know in the comments!