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With most dads working full time and moms being the primary caregivers, dads often miss out on the opportunity to form a strong bond with their babies.
What can we do to fix that? Well, I am hoping that a few of the tips that follow will give you some ideas as to how you can bond with your new baby a bit easier.
What Exactly is Bonding?
We all hear how important it is to bond with your new baby shortly after birth, but what exactly does that mean?
Bonding is the intense attachment between a baby and their caretaker/parent. It’s a two-way street where the baby emotionally connects with the parent and vice versa. It also plays a huge role in future development and a child’s understanding of interpersonal relationships.
While it’s true that a lot of bonding between mother and baby happens naturally – after all, the baby became accustomed to her voice and scent in the womb – it does take some effort to create that strong bond, especially with dads who aren’t as hands-on as moms.
It may seem strange for a parent not to bond with their child, but it can happen and it can leave the parent feeling somewhat indifferent toward their little one. They may not be interested in interacting or may even feel that their baby hates them.
How to Bond with Your New Baby
It is important to establish this bond early to prevent these feelings so you don’t jeopardize your relationship. However, we know that it’s not always easy for dad to establish that bond. He may need a bit of help.
1. Take Some Time Off
Obviously, dads can’t bond with their babies if they aren’t there. That’s why he should consider taking some paternity leave, even if it’s not as much time as mom gets for her maternity leave.
Babies start making connections from the moment they are born. It is important for dad to be present in those early days so he and the baby can get used to each other.
Now it’s understandable that some dads can’t afford to take too much unpaid time (if they are ineligible for paid vacation time), but some time off after your baby comes home is important. Check with your company about their Family & Medical Leave regulations
2. Skin-to-Skin Cuddle Time
This may seem like an unusual thing for a father and baby to do, especially when skin-to-skin time is often associated with mothers and breastfeeding. However, you will be surprised by how effective it is when it comes to father and baby bonding.
Skin-to-skin contact (SSC), also often referred to as kangaroo care, is beneficial for babies for several reasons including neurological development, digestion, reducing stress, and synchronizing heart rate and breathing.
Studies have shown that dads who practice SSC have noticed a stronger connection with their babies 3 days postpartum. Keeping your baby close to your body and face means more interaction, more eye contact, and more of your baby tuning in to your unique rhythm.
3. Play with and Sing to Your Baby
This one may be a bit obvious – who doesn’t want to see their baby smile? – but its importance can also be easily overlooked.
Babies learn a lot when we sing to and play with them. These activities not only promote bonding but singing can help develop a routine while teaching your baby new words and playing can help develop social and physical skills.
These things also help your baby get used to your voice, face, and play style.
4. Special Father-Baby Time
Sometimes mom just needs to take a step back. It is easy for her to become the teacher, telling dad everything about the baby – how to swaddle, baby’s favorite toy, the face they make when they poop, etc. – since she is with the baby most of the time.
It’s so important for dad to find these things out for himself to strengthen his bond with the baby. He also needs the opportunity to create his own routines, habits, and special traditions.
Let dad have some special father-baby bonding time. If he is always being told what to do and how to do it, he is merely following directions rather than creating his own bond.
5. How to Bond with a Breastfed Baby
It can be particularly difficult for a new dad to bond with his breastfed baby. With mom being the primary caregiver (and food provider), dad doesn’t get very much natural face-to-face time with his baby. A little more effort needs to be made.
6. Bring Baby to Mom
Even though it may seem like a small thing, you will be surprised by the bonding that can happen when you are the one that picks your baby up when they are ready to eat.
It’s another minute or two several times a day that helps your baby make the connection between dad and caregiver.
7. Take Over Diaper Changes
Mom takes care of what goes into your baby, so dad can take care of what comes out. Not only does this create another bonding opportunity but it also gives mom a much needed and well-deserved break.
8. Be Present
Dads shouldn’t feel like they need to run off when it’s feeding time. Instead, he can be present for these times to keep mom company and to talk to his baby. This also helps the baby to see that mom and dad are a team, that one is not more important than the other.
9. Give Your Partner Some Space/Alone Time
Most moms struggle with self-confidence after giving birth. Their bodies have gone through a tremendous change and they may be feeling eager to get back to “normal.” Not to mention the lack of sleep has them feeling like they’ve lost their glow.
One of the best things dad can do for mom is give her some alone time without the baby every once in a while. Let her go out and catch up with her friends or grab a cup of coffee at her favorite bookstore.
Take some of the load off of her so she can get some glow time. This way you can also have some alone time with your baby. If she isn’t already, ask mom to pump some breast milk before she goes (if she is breastfeeding) so you can take care of everything while she’s out.
What to Do if Dad is Struggling to Bond with Your Baby
If you do find that you are struggling to bond with your baby, don’t feel guilty. You are not alone in this. In fact, there are many dads who feel almost an indifference to their babies for the first few months after birth.
It is believed that moms have a more natural connection to their babies than dads. After all, they’ve carried them for nine months and most likely are breastfeeding them after birth. With dads, it may not be as natural.
Now even if it doesn’t come easily, it doesn’t mean it will never happen. Oftentimes, it’s easier to bond with your baby when they are a bit older, like 8 or 9 months.
By this point, they are eating more solid foods, they’re trying to communicate through gestures, they may be crawling, and their method of playing is a bit more interactive. In other words, they’re starting to act more like a little person.
It also doesn’t mean that it will be the same with any subsequent children. Just be patient, do what you can to try and improve the bond, and it will happen eventually.
Postpartum Depression can Affect New Dads Too
Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND) is actually a common condition affecting up to 25% of new dads. It is similar to what new mothers experience
Some things that can affect the likelihood of developing PPND include:
- Lack of sleep
- Hormone fluctuations
- Poor relationship with parents or spouse
- Lack of support
- Excessive stress about parenting or finances
- Feeling excluded from the mother-baby relationship
PPND is a serious condition, but it is treatable. The key is to pay attention to your symptoms and talk to someone before the symptoms worsen. Prolonged depression can affect your health as well as your relationships with your partner and baby.
Bonding doesn’t always come easy to dads, but by being prepared for the difficulties and taking every opportunity you can for physical contact and face time, you will find that you eventually bond with your baby. And this is a bond that will never be broken.
Do you have any tips to help new fathers bond with their babies?