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The relationship that a mother and her baby share has long been the favourite subject of poets, writers and film-makers. After all, what could be purer and stronger than the love a woman feels for someone she nourished and tended to, even before they came into the world? The connection that mothers develop with their babies during pregnancy is part of the reason they can bond so fast after delivery. But what about a father’s parental bond? When and how can he bond with his little bub?
Traditionally, fathers have been kept removed from the core aspects of baby care. They were not expected to spend much time with their child, and take on their fatherly role only when the child grew up and needed help with studies or sports. But the modern dad of today has evolved into a sensitive and thoughtful man who wants to be there for his wife and children, right from the start. And this begins with bonding with his newborn baby.
Importance of Father Baby Bonding
A growing body of research underlines the magic – and importance – of father-baby bonding.
- When fathers bond with their newborn babies, it significantly boosts the child’s physical and emotional development.
- As the child grows up, this early bonding helps her tackle future problems better and take reassurance from her realm of support.
- The benefits extend to the fathers too, who experience less stress and more confidence when they learn to bond with their babies.
- Men who are able to support their partners in looking after the baby tend to feel less competitive and more comfortable about their marriage.
Secrets of Daddy-Baby Bonding
For all its amazing benefits, bonding with the baby remains a struggle for many fathers, especially in the early days. This is entirely normal. Newborns are extremely sensitive and fragile, and the prospect of caring for this new little person can seem overwhelming. There is also a hormonal reason behind the situation. A group of Canadian researchers has found that men experience hormonal shifts during their wives’ pregnancies, especially in cortisol (stress hormone) and prolactin (hormone linked to parenting behaviour). However, these hormones tend to revert to their pre-pregnancy levels over time, making many dads take a backseat after the first rush of pregnancy/delivery is over.
But all that can change.
We have collected ten tips that childcare experts recommend for daddy-baby bonding. Get your husband to try them out in the coming months, and watch the magic unfold between him and your little one!
1. Bottlefeed The Baby
One of the strongest bonding experiences that moms share with their babies is breastfeeding. When the baby is suckling at the breast, she can feel her mother’s breathing, heartbeat and warmth. A good way for dads to replicate this is to take on the responsibility of bottle-feeding the baby (expressed breast milk or formula milk).
Schedule the feedings in such a manner that your husband can be in-charge of at least one feeding during the day/night. Show your husband how to hold the baby close and feed her using the bottle. Childcare experts recommend that fathers should cuddle their babies close and make eye contact.
Tip: Fathers can wear their babies in a sling or front carrier after feeding. This promotes skin-to-skin contact and also keeps the baby upright after feeding (so the milk can go down smoothly).
2. Soothe Her When She Cries
Soothing the baby’s tears has somehow always been looked at as the mother’s responsibility. As soon as the little one gets fussy or cranky, family and friends hand her over to the mother. It is true that a mother’s instincts about her baby are never wrong, which means that she’ll probably be able to calm the infant the quickest. However, according to childcare experts, this is a brilliant opportunity for dads to forge a special relationship with their little ones.
Encourage your husband to try to soothe the baby when she cries. He can gently rock her, sing to her, make funny faces, or use another innovative idea that strikes him. When he makes an attempt to soothe the baby, she will slowly understand that this ‘Dad’ person is also quite a star!
3. Give Baby a Massage
Touch is one of your baby’s favourite sensations, and anyone who uses touch therapy automatically gains favour! Science highly recommends a baby massage for boosting overall health and development as well as bringing you closer to your baby.
Show your husband how to gently massage the baby, focusing on her legs, back, belly and arms. Use a highly absorbing oil like Baby Dove Massage Oil that gets quickly absorbed in the skin and minimises chances of slipping. This oil is very moisturising and will leave the baby feeling soft, supple and relaxed. Dads can take on the massage duty a few times during the week. They can also give an unscheduled massage at any time the baby is well-rested and hasn’t recently been fed.
4. Participate in One Baby Routine Regularly
Babies love routine. It makes them feel secure and in a familiar environment where things happen as expected. Day after day, babies get accustomed to having their moms doing things for them – e.g. changing diapers, giving them a bath, or helping them fall asleep. Mom becomes the one who’s always there for their needs. To promote daddy-baby bonding, experts recommend that fathers should try to be responsible for one routine every day. It could be anything – playing with them in the evening, changing their diapers before bed-time, or telling them a bed-time story.
Bonus: When dads become in-charge of a daily routine, it also helps the baby understand the concept of routine better. For example – the baby may be fussy and unwilling to go to sleep. But when dad declares its bed-time, like he does every night, she knows that’s its time for the Zzzzs!
5. Dedicated Play-Time
An almost-foolproof trick for bonding with a newborn is to play together! Babies are born with a natural streak of fun and love anyone who makes funny expressions and sounds. It is a good idea for fathers to set aside some time every day, say in the evening, for playing with the baby. Once this becomes a regular activity, the baby will start anticipating it and waiting for daddy to come home!
One of our WOM moms, Priya Iyer, shares, “It is tough to get the bub to sit still for more than a few minutes at a time. When I’m exhausted running after her all day long, the husband takes over. He then goes on to play silly, little games with her, like pretending to remove her nose and then putting it right back on her face. They count the fingers and toes on each of their hands and feet, together, giving a fun name to each one of them.”
6. Move With Your Baby
Little ones love movement. They grew to love it when they were in their mother’s womb, and she walked, stretched, and moved her hips. Movement equals familiarity and comfort for babies. This presents a good opportunity for fathers to bond with the infant – just move with them!
Ask your husband to hold the baby close and rock her gently. He can take her out for a walk in a stroller or a papoose-style carrier (baby sling). He can also have a little dance party with her (babies love to dance!). A bonus benefit of this activity is that movement boosts your baby’s proprioceptors or the sensory receptors that teach the baby the concepts of space and position.
7. Have Daddy-Baby Conversations
“What?!” That’s a common response from many fathers when they are told to talk to their baby. Some Dads tend to think that interacting with the baby doesn’t have much point as its just like talking to oneself. However, childcare experts have found that fathers who interact with their babies in the early days can reap wonderful results! Dr. Lin Day, the founder of Baby Sensory development classes, says that babies benefit tremendously from an early paternal interaction. “They’re academically more successful, stay in school longer, use drugs and alcohol less frequently and are less likely to get involved with crime.”
Encourage your husband to talk to your baby as they play or spend time together. Experts have also noted that men tend to use more difficult vocabulary with the baby (as opposed to moms who tone it down), and this can be useful for the baby’s language development.
8. Dive Into Bath-Time
Many babies love splashing around in the water. Anyone who accompanies them on this fun activity becomes a favourite person!
Show your husband how you bathe your baby in the tub/how you give her a sponge-bath. He can help you cleanse your baby’s skin, keep her occupied with bath toys, or help you dry her after the bath. Use a moisturising soap/body wash for the bath so that your baby’s skin doesn’t get dry and she remains happy and playful. Baby Dove Rich Moisture Bar is a good pick – it is infused with 1/4 moisturising cream, making it gentle and very nourishing.
9. Combine Feeding and Bed-Time
This secret works brilliantly if you are feeding your baby solely through the breast and not using the bottle at all. No, doing this doesn’t mean that fathers will be deprived of a bonding opportunity. Dr. William Sears, a paediatrician based in California, suggests that you can turn this into a win-win situation by entrusting your husband with the post-feeding nap.
After your baby is done feeding, ease her into your husband’s arms. Let him burp her and help her fall asleep. Babies usually get drowsy after feeding and will be more open to accepting someone other than mom helping them nap. Once they get used to it, they’ll start turning to Daddy for comfort, just like they do to Mommy!
10. Let Daddy Take Charge
This last secret is exclusively for you, mommies. For your husband and baby to bond, it is important that you give them their space. If you constantly interfere with how your husband tends to the baby or pull him down because he is not a hands-on-dad, it will erode his confidence. It will also transfer negative vibes to the baby who will not grow to trust her father. Men might seem rather vague and helpless around babies at first, but, given time, most of them develop innovative tips and tricks of parenting!
Have faith that your husband will be able to take care of the baby; don’t hover around constantly. Let him develop his own techniques of soothing her and helping her fall asleep. Reassure him – both of his confidence as a father and of your confidence in him.
What to Do if Your Husband and Baby Still Don’t Bond
The above tips should help your husband develop a close bond with your baby. However, there may be occasions where the father still struggles to feel the attachment, or embrace his role of fatherhood, even months after the baby’s birth. A possible cause of this is a mood disorder. Your husband could also be suffering from paternal postpartum depression (PPD). According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, up to 10 percent of new fathers develop PPD.
If your husband shows signs of irritability, fatigue or feeling guilty, consult your doctor for advice. PPD is a condition that can be resolved with therapy.