The importance of bonding between a father and a new baby is, these days, indisputable. Not only does this bonding help with a baby’s mental and physical development, it can also aid a new father’s wellbeing and reduce stress—there is even science to back it up.
Sometimes, new dads might struggle to get into the swing of bonding with their new baby due to time constraints, particularly after heading back to work. Yet it is essential that both parents are aware of and prioritise father-baby bonding.
‘Bonding’ refers to the development of a strong, intense connection between parent and baby that establishes unconditional love and a fierce sense of protectiveness.
Bonding is a process that can take time. So new dads may need to be patient and, of course, always be gentle. The following tips offer some key ways for fathers to build that special relationship with their son or daughter.
Skin-to-skin contact with a newborn is encouraged right from the moment of birth – from both parents. But in the weeks that follow, dads in particular should keep in mind the undoubted benefits of skin-to-skin touch. These include the sensory development of the newborn, calming and soothing the baby and helping him or her get used to your physicality and body smells.
Skin-to-skin contact is sometimes known as ‘kangaroo care’, with research suggesting that such intimacy can help a baby’s oxygen levels, reduce crying and improve sleep.
Kangaroo care can benefit the health of a new dad too: close contact with a newborn allows the release of the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin, which can reduce blood pressure and hormone levels.
Integrate bonding with breastfeeding
A mother’s time spent breastfeeding a newborn need not exclude dads. Even just sitting next to a mother and baby as breastfeeding takes place can be a bonding exercise.
For further involvement, once breastfeeding is finished dad can cradle and burp the baby as well as sing, talk or play with him or her—though one thing to ensure is that baby remains upright in order to aid milk digestion.
Another option is—if the mother is expressing breast milk—for dad to sometimes take over the feeding himself. This can be especially beneficial for mum during the middle of the night, a time when the quiet and darkness can make for a unique bonding experience between father and newborn
Talking and singing
A dad’s bonding with his baby can begin even before birth. Talking, singing and reading to a baby in the womb means that a father’s voice is familiar to the baby when they do arrive into the world.
Singing lullabies and talking gently to a newborn can foster a sense of safety and security in a baby through the association of a voice with parental care. Experts believe that a mother’s voice can provide comforting rhythms and tones for a baby—with a father’s distinctive talking style adding another layer of soothing audio.
One thing to remember when talking to a newborn is to make sure you maintain that all-important eye contact and close proximity to the baby’s face.
Indeed, simply offering your face to a baby as something to look at is another bonding option—newborn babies generally can’t see beyond 15 inches, so a father’s face close-up is a source of immense fascination, particularly when there are sounds coming out of it.
Mirror and mimic
Talking and singing to a baby offers early exposure to language and communication. While the baby is very young a dad can also communicate with his baby by copying his or her gestures and movements and even echoing noises: the cooing, gurgling, squeaking and so on.
Developing this call-and-response interaction with your baby lets the newborn know you are responding to them and interested in them. This non-verbal communication is another way to release oxytocin, and can therefore be a source of bliss for dad, as well as stimulation for the little one.
‘Wear’ the baby around the house
As mum rests and recuperates from breastfeeding and general parenting duties (not to mention the birth itself), dad may find himself taking on more chores and odd jobs around the home.
This offers a great opportunity for bonding. Using a baby sling or front carrier, dad can enjoy close-contact time with the baby by strapping him or her in whilst vacuuming, washing up, doing the laundry or anything else that isn’t too strenuous.
Time spent with the baby in a sling is excellent bonding time—consider also strapping in and heading out for a walk (the baby will often fall asleep) as a chance for reflection and relaxation.
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