Lessons learned after five months of being a first-time dad

Transition from a newborn into a baby is awesome!

If I were to pick TWO major events that shaped this period, those would be — transformation from a Newborn to a Baby and a complete and utter sleep deprivation that just keeps getting worse.

First one is awesome. Seeing this little creature go from being a noninteractive bag of poo, all the way to something that actually registers your presence, reacts to it’s environment, learns how to spit (this one is fun!) and starts blabbing and producing all kinds of weird noises is awesome! He’s definitely a BABY now and as such, he’s lovely!

The second one is a nightmare, though. And that’s what I will open this article up with. The dreaded four-month sleep regression. It’s a real thing and it’s awful!

Four-month sleep regression is a bitch

Real-time representation of going through sleep regression

This is, by far, the absolute worst thing of the four-month mark. And this is exactly what I hoped we will avoid; to no avail.

The thing is that, at this time, they start going through a MASSIVE transformation. They start realizing (and interacting with) a world around them, they start recognizing and focusing on sounds, their emotional system undergoes a change from being newborn-like to a grown-up like and, as luck would have it – their sleeping patterns change as well.

Generally speaking, this is a period of HUGE change and it’s scary, confusing, entertaining and all sorts of WTF for them.

What’s usually characteristic for this period is that they become fussier, more irritable and, in some shitty cases like ours – they stop sleeping completely.

We were “lucky” in that that our little one was never a good sleeper, so we were used to 1 to 2 wakeups per night, but I’ve read some horror stories where babies that were sleeping through the whole night all of a sudden stop sleeping and start waking up every 30-45mins.

So, if you are in this phase – worry not. It’s messed up and it sucks big time, but some people claim it passes within a couple of weeks.

The thing with sleep at least is that grown-ups (which means – your baby as well; congrats!) go through phases of deep & light sleep, and these cycles run around 90 minutes in total. However, for babies, once they reach the light sleep, occasionally they’d wake up (humans are just used to it and they keep sleeping) and have no idea what to do, get confused and start screaming.

And let me tell you this – this is really a pure horror. Just imagine having your baby wake up every 45mins throughout the whole night, and you usually have to shush them back to sleep.

I swear and I mean it – I’ve never ever ever been this freakin’ tired and sleep deprived! Ever! It sucks BIG TIME.

The opinions on how to go through this phase vary a lot. Some people suggest Sleep Training, while others mention just surviving enough and this too shall pass.

I personally read stories where the babies never slept until they were 2 years old, so I’m not really sure what to think. But one thing is for sure – during this transition phase they need TONS of love and affection, so don’t be stingy and give it to them! They deserve it!

Sleep training

First of, I have to say that we haven’t tried it. At least not yet.

I do know that people swear by it, but we just couldn’t collect the courage to give it a shot; because we’re afraid it might fail, leaving us even more sleep deprived.

Sleep training is all about the idea that babies don’t really know how to sleep. And this is actually for a fact – they have to LEARN how to fall asleep.

There seem to be a couple of methods and you can really just google them. From my research, the two most common ones are Cry It Out method (CIO – also known as “Ferber method”) and Drowsy but Awake method.

Cry it out is pretty much as the name implies – you put your baby into a crib and let them cry until they figure out how … well, how not to cry and how to fall asleep. Allegedly, for some people this takes 45 minutes. For others it takes a week of 10min nightly cries. For some it takes a MONTH.

The Drowsy but Awake is something I’ve been experimenting with, but without any luck honestly. The idea is simple – you shush your baby in your arms until they get drowsy, and once they do, you put them into a crib. Some babies, ALLEGEDLY, figure out how to fall asleep.

So far, this method hasn’t worked out for us. Sometimes he does fall asleep, but other times he’d just get frustrated and start screaming even louder, so we just have to take him.

if you want to learn more about the subject, one great book that everyone recommend is Precious Little Sleep by Alexis Dubief. I did start reading it, reached about 45% and then, for whatever reason, couldn’t force myself to finish it … No idea why. It’s a good book but I just couldn’t get through it.

There’s a thing called ‘titty strike’!

I used to think I was prepared for everything, but this one definitely caught me off-guard. Off-guard as in – I never damn even heard of it!

Yes, there is a thing called ‘titty strike’. And yes – it’s EXACTLY what it means – they plain refuse to be breast-fed!

It comes in many forms, which is even MORE funny to be honest. Some babies plain refuse BOTH titties, while others ignore JUST ONE.

In our case – he was ignoring JUST ONE tit, which makes it even more weirder – because, apparently he’d start feeding on one and then start SCREAMING when he switches.

Problem with this is that it makes mommy go nuts.

Is the milk bad? Is it something with their breast? Is it something they’ve eaten? Are they bad mommas? So many cues (and all are wrong btw).

Nope. Reasoning seems to be completely unknown and has NOTHING to do with mommy really.

It usually goes away within a day or two. But some people seemed to have had luck tricking babies, like – start with one boob, then trick them into switching, or change feeding positions so that they think they are on the ‘adequate’ tit …

If nothing helps – electric breastpump and time are your best friends.

Catching COVID sucks …

We were “lucky” in that along with four-month regression, we caught COVID as well. Well, my wife and son did. I managed to slip through.

Good news for anyone whose baby has COVID is that they seem to get through it like champs. As in – couple of days and they’re good (ours took three days I think).

The bad news is that they become miserable and fever is destroying them. We spent all three nights without ANY sleep at all, constantly trying to control his temperature, temper and … well, to calm him down. COVID is a freakin’ bitch and it doesn’t spare babies.

Sleep deprivation is a form of torture

Dr. Matthew Walker, author of “Why We Sleep” had a perfect quote during Joe Rogan’s podcast. He said something along the lines of – “Sleep Deprivation will affect every possible sphere of your life – mental, physical, social, … So avoid it by all cost! And yes, I’m REALL SORRY for new parents!”.

You just have to be aware of it – as the sleep debt accumulates you will become more irritable. Well, not just you but both your partner and you. That means less quality time together, less constructive discussions and more, you know, arguments.

It’s hard but try to keep your wits together. Every time you’re about to freak-out, try to remember that it’s sleep deprivation kicking in and it’s not you. It won’t always work, but if it saves 1 out of 5 arguments – you are golden!

Writing becomes harder

Well, this is fully a dad-first problem πŸ™‚

What I noticed is that, as the time passes, I have less and less time to spend doing things that, you know, require focus. Like writing blog posts, for example πŸ™‚

This sucks big time because, for me, writing is a form of meditation. An exercise if you will. And not being able to do it really hurts!

I managed to leverage this by starting something new called ‘Bite-sized Engineering’. The idea is that I started drawing and writing super-short and super-focused articles which require no more than 5-10mins of focus per stroke. So far it seems to be working out and I’m literally trying to use every possible time slot (e.g. when we take little one to grandparents) to write something longer. Like this article, for example πŸ™‚

Mommies develop 6th sense

Laugh all you want, but it’s a fact!

I mean, from my POV, he’s just crying! It’s always the same striking “I WANNA KILL YOU ALL” kind of scream. Scream of bloody murder.

But if you ask my wife … HAHA! Sweet baby Jesus …

He’d be SCREAMING on top of his lungs and she’d be like – “He wants to fart; but he can’t”. Or – “He has a pain in his groin”. Or – “He’s annoyed because milk is not hot enough”. LOL

I used to laugh to it because – how the HELL can you tell it? He’s screaming the EXACT same way when you claimed he was sleepy!

And yet – 5 – 10 minutes in and he’d either release a horrendous FART or fall asleep or … well, whatever it is that she sensed – WILL ACTUALLY DAMN HAPPEN.

I have no explanation for it.

Poop starts smelling AWFUL!

This is a shitty one πŸ˜€

Namely, as their tummy develops, they start processing food better and, you know, the poop starts getting that characteristic grown-up smell. And yes – your poop smells too!

There are days when it smells bad and then there are days when it literally peels the pain off the walls. It’s a freakin’ smell that starts living in your house rent-free!

It sucks! πŸ˜€

Farts become grown-up like

This one is on the hilarious side!

In the beginning you could always tell when it was myself and when it was him releasing one.

But now? Well hell, he’s farting like a freaking WARRIOR. Like full blown BRRRRRRAAAAAAAAANNNNNG!

Daddy’s so proud haha!

Seeing them eat with a spoon is a heavenly sensation

This one in a way makes up for all the shit honestly (pun intended). The first time I saw him eat with a spoon … Well, hell haha.

You’re literally witnessing a small human emerging out of a baby. And it’s amazing!

It’s not that it’s just cute (which, it really is), but I actually think there’s some internal wiring that activates the dopamine rush every time you see your kid go through some new development phase. IT. IS. AWESOME!

Just by writing about it puts a smile on my face. And it’s quite a shitty and rainy day here, so, yeah πŸ˜€

Smiles become genuine

This is, by far, one of the best things. Up until two – three months, their smiles are more reflex like.

But now? Man …

Seeing them smile because they GENUINELY find something funny is OUT OF THIS WORLD. I kid you not! It’s still not fully vocal, but the way our little dickie smiles is inexplainable. It’s literally EAR TO EAR kind of smile and it has a power of making unbelievably shitty day an amazing one!

Oh, and it gives you a great excuse to make all kinds of idiot faces and get away with it πŸ˜€

Some naps become a bit longer

Frankly, this seems to have come at a cost of shorter sleep at night, but eh …

Good thing about this period is that naps seemingly become longer and more predictable. As in, in our case, they went from 10-20mins to, occasionally, 2 hours.

And let me tell you this – getting those TWO hours of uninterrupted time can be FUCKIN’ AMAZING!

Shitty part is that you never know whether it will last 30mins or 1.5hrs; but once it DOES take 2 hours … oh boy! You just start appreciating that time off way more πŸ˜€

Pro Tip: Showering in a bath-tub!

This one was a game changer for us.

Namely, up until 3.5 months or so, we used to bathe him in a baby bath-tub. And this is honestly pain in the ass because you have to assemble it, fill up with water, then add more hot water because it’s not hot enough, then wait a bit because now it’s too hot, then remove some excess water because well you know – there’s too much and he might drown ….

Not to mention the part where you have to REMOVE that water afterwards … I mean honestly – bathing them in a baby bath-tub is a royal pain in the ass.

What I read on Reddit was a freaking game changer. Somebody, blessed be their name, said – “we simply take our little one to regular bath-tub. As in – one of us puts on a swimming suit, we lay the little one on us and – voila! Shower as a grown up!”.

Honestly speaking, bath-time is one of my FAVORITE times now because I get to hold him (and tease along the way) while my wife is showering and shampooing πŸ˜€ It’s like one of the most genuine skin-to-skin-while-having-fun moments and it literally changed our night-time from dreaded hour to I LOVE DOING THIS!

Pro tip 2: Use earphones when trying to calm them down

Again something I’ve read on Reddit a while ago, but started implementing just now.

Namely, if you are a lucky one whose kid loves sleeping so much that they will SCREAM every time you put them in horizontal position (in your arms, btw!), it turns out that wearing earphones helps!

The thing is that they release these high-pitched frequencies that have the ability of poking holes in your brain and that can really be annoying.

What I tried recently and it worked like a charm – put on your earphones and turn on noise-cancelling if you have it (my AirPods Pro are awesome for this!), put up some nice music (our little one likes being shaken quite rapidly, so I found some Cuban music that resembles this tempo) and then start swinging.

It worked out like a charm for me as it blocked those frequencies that make you want to rip your hair off, but still let through enough screams so that you know when you need to start jumping. 10 minutes in and little one passed out like a champ, while I kept my sanity!

Pro tip 3: Hybrid work is made for parents!

Lastly, I came to one huge realization – I seriously think that hybrid working mode (e.g. 2 days in the office, 3 days WFH) is made for parents. Seriously.

I love my son to death, and I can’t imagine spending a day without him, but hell, do I appreciate some time off. Some “silence” if you will. And office does WONDERS.

As harsh as it sounds, i’m pretty sure that every parent would agree with this – change of scenery for 8 hours at least ONCE a week makes you a BETTER parent! Period.

That’s about it!

I think that pretty much sums it up.

There are some upsides (which are awesome) and there are some SERIOUS downsides (e.g. wondering how much brain damage does sleep deprivation leave?) but overall, as my ex-boss puts it — it’s extremely intense BUT rewarding process!

One of our next milestones is going for a vacation with him. Based on what I’ve heard – this will be a challenge on it’s own. As others put it – “it’s not a vacation any more but more like parenting from another location“.

I’ll let you know how that worked out! πŸ™‚

P.S. Here’s another graphic that I created as a response to sleep deprivation:

They say it gets easier…

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