For 40 weeks mum has the opportunity to gradually bond with their baby as the baby grows and kicks (unfortunately usually in the early hours of the night). After birth this bond is strengthened through skin to skin contact and breastfeeding. A father can not feel his baby growing and kicking inside him or breastfeed their baby – probably 2 of the most important bonding experiences between mother and baby. It is therefore not surprising that our Dad’s often feel a little ‘left out’ when it comes to bonding with their babies. But, this doesn’t mean that Dad can’t bond!
It is important to know that as the father you have an important role to play in taking care of your newborn baby. In many ways, your baby needs you just as much as it needs its mum. Yes, caring for your newborn can be a little nerve racking at first, but remember, mum hasn’t done it before either so you can both learn together. The more you do the more comfortable you will become.
Here are 10 easy ways to ensure that Dad and Baby develop a strong connection.
- Attend the Antenatal Check ups and Scans
It is important that dads attend antenatal checkups and especially scans so you are able to visualise your unborn baby and start the bonding process. This will also help with your transition to parenthood.
- Talk to your baby
Did you know that your baby can distinguish voices from 30 weeks in the womb? Male voices are lower in tone and easier for babies to pick up than women’s higher-pitched voiced. There have also been studies that have found that if a dad speaks to the baby before birth the newborn will recognise the father’s voice.
- Attend Antenatal Classes
Childbirth classes allow expectant parents to build their knowledge about what-to-expect for their impending labour; its stages, pain relief options, pregnancy information, possible interventions and coping strategies. Antenatal Classes aren’t there to turn you into a midwife or obstetrician – they purely aim to build knowledge which allows parents to make informed choices and decisions about their labour and more importantly can go a long way to reduce the anxieties and fears often felt towards labour. More importantly, Antenatal Classes teach you about how to cope when you take your beautiful and precious baby home. Knowing what lies ahead can be very helpful for the expectant parent. Babies don’t come with a manual and no two babies are alike. Taking a baby home will be one the biggest and longest learning curve you will ever experience. Never forget that labour is 1 day but a baby is for life. I’m not saying that Antenatal Classes are going to completely prepare you for taking your baby home, but they should definitely arm you with the confidence to take your baby home, what they need and how to survive those first few weeks.
- Participate in the Birth
Being at the birth of your baby is truly an amazing experience you will never forget. Even if you have no idea what is going on, your presence will make such a huge difference to your partner. If you are able to give practical help, such as a simple back rub, even better. Your only concern is your partner and the baby. You are there solely for them, and to help them in any way you can. It can sometimes be difficult finding words of encouragement and it will feel as though your presence is not helping or appreciated – but it is. Don’t be concerned if you don’t ‘fall in love at the first sight’ of your newborn baby either. It has been well documented that new fathers (and some mothers) may take weeks and months, not hours, to bond or form a strong attachment to their babies.
- Skin to Skin Contact
There are now a multitude of studies highlighting the importance of skin to skin (baby naked, not wrapped in a blanket) contact. The baby is happier, their body temperature is maintained, the baby’s heart and breathing rates and blood sugar levels are more stable. After the initial skin to skin contact with mum post delivery, there is no reason why dads cannot initiate this contact. What a wonderful way to bond with your newborn and meet them up close and personal. Ask your midwife for assistance with this. Spend as long as you wish with your baby on your bear chest. Do skin to skin every day (mum does when she is breastfeeding). Once home you could even try getting in the bath with your baby.
- Try Baby Massage
Baby massage is the perfect way for dads to bond and develop their confidence when handling their newborn baby. The benefits of massage include developing your baby’s first language (which is mainly touch) and massage can assist parents to understand and respond to their baby’s non-verbal language. Massage enhances the feeling of being loved and feeling secure, strengthens and regulates the baby’s digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems. More importantly massage clams the nervous system leading to more restful sleep. A qualified infant massage therapist can give parents some helpful hints regarding infant massage, and which oils and lotions are safe to use on a baby’s delicate skin.
- Carry your baby
Put your baby in a sling or carrier and go about your day. This may sound obvious, but may be overlooked as an effective way for Dad to maintain that close bond with the baby, gives mum a break and doubles as a fantastic settling technique when your baby is unsettled.
- Smile and laugh with your baby.
Babies imitate those who are attentive to them. Your baby’s brain is developing, his/her vision is improving and he/she can recognize your face. All the perfect combination for them to flash that unmistakable first smile!
- Get active in your baby’s care
Most Dad’s doubt their ability to take care of their baby. At first you may feel nervous and maybe even a little awkward, but as soon as you relax your baby will just melt into your arms (of course if they are crying this may not be the case!). Babies are flexible and don’t easily break – they are built to be handled. Just remember the more you get involved and the more time you spend with your baby the easier it will become.
- Play with your baby
Dads are known for their rough-and-tumble style of play – throwing baby in the air, “flying”, tickling madly, making silly noises to create giggles galore; even wrestling! If your child is obviously enjoying the interaction and it’s done safely then it has many benefits. Physical play also helps a baby learn about their body and shapes their brain so that they can learn how to manage emotions, thinking and physical action at the same time.