You study new skills for work or school, you practice driving to get your license, but when it comes to becoming a new dad, you may feel at a loss and underprepared for this daunting new role. All too often, parenting resources focus on motherhood and may not highlight the crucial role you play during the early days and months of fatherhood. Whether it is helping your partner create her birth plan or being looped in on the value of rooming-in and skin –to-skin, there are many areas for you to tune into in order to lay the foundation for bonding with your baby.
There is no doubt that successful early bonding impacts the mental and physical health of babies and caregivers. While people have been giving birth to children since the dawn of time, raising children is more challenging than ever before due to our current world’s uncertainties and complexities. Moms and dads can feel the stress of “getting everything right” so that their child is lined up for future success. Yet, at the end of the day, what children long for most is closeness from their parents. Time and attention are the greatest gifts for their current and future wellbeing.
Here are five ways new dads can start on the path to bonding with their baby:
1. Study up on baby bonding basics.
While all birth experiences and baby personalities are different, babies generally bond in the same way: through their senses! From relying on smelling your familiar smell (especially early on when their little eyes have difficulty focusing) to hearing your recognizable voice, to the comfort of being skin-to-skin laying on your chest, you can know that you are building a relationship with your baby just by being close. The physical bonding of skin-to-skin can even help promote your baby’s digestion and sleep health.
2. Communicate early and often with your partner.
Having a baby takes a village, and it all starts at home. Creating a birth plan together, talking about whether you want visitors at the hospital and home, and how you will juggle family leave are all important conversations to have before your baby comes. When you are on the same page on important decisions, it is easier to manage the day-to-day challenges. Historically, moms may have been (and in some cases may still be) the primary caregivers. However, it is equally essential for fathers to play key parenting roles. Research from Ohio State University found that when a dad feels like mom is criticizing his parenting, he is less likely to fully invest in the role. By talking to your partner about how you feel, you can better anticipate and prevent disagreements.
3. Know there is more to baby bonding than feeding.
Breastfeeding is a special way for mom and baby to bond, but it is not the only way. Your role in feeding pumped breast milk, preparing your baby for feedings, burping, bathing, and snuggling are just as crucial to the bonding experience. Other ideas include wearing your baby, reading or singing to your baby, and playing games like peek-a-boo.
4. Utilize family leave/paternity leave where possible.
According to a 2019 report from the Congressional Research Service, only 13 percent of the US workforce has access to paid family leave in the private sector. While efforts to improve this continue to grow, there is a need to advocate for this in our workplaces. If your job does offer paternity or other forms of paid family leave, inquire early and often to make sure you have the time you need to spend with your new baby. You may also want to ask about the availability of flexible work schedules, on-site childcare, flexible spending accounts for childcare costs, and other benefits that could help you as a new dad.
5. Create a special time for you and your baby.
Whether it is exercising together using a jogging stroller on Saturday mornings or going to a favorite park or zoo, various activities can be designated as special daddy-baby time. These activities help create a routine or tradition that your child grows up remembering and looking forward to. Establishing a routine early on enables you to focus on the time you share with your child. Juggling work and other life responsibilities are harder than ever before. Taking the time early and often to be together will benefit you both.
When all is said and done, it is quality over quantity when it comes to creating a bond with your baby. Even a few quiet minutes each day can build on the love that your baby has for you! Enjoy being a dad and be proud of all you do for your family. Slow down and be mindful of each new developmental milestone that your baby experiences. You can indeed blink and miss it!