Bonding with a new baby can be an overwhelming task, especially for fathers. We asked evolutionary anthropologist Dr Anna Machin for her top tips on how best dads can bond with their babies.
I have spent over a decade researching the lives and experiences of new fathers and one of the biggest concerns dads have during pregnancy and in the early days is around forming a bond with their baby.
Dads can feel at a bit of a distance from the whole experience and it is fair to say that due to the hormonal tidal waves that accompany pregnancy and birth mums do have a bit of a head start in this department. It goes without saying that dads can and do develop the most intense and powerful bonds with their children, it just takes a little longer than it does with mum.
Because dads don’t experience pregnancy and birth they have to develop the bond with their baby by behavioural interaction which means your bond may take more time as in the early days much of what occurs between you and your baby will be decidedly one way. As baby develops, smiling, laughing, babbling and play develop and a true two-way relationship is born. It can take a good 6 months to reach this point but have no fear it will happen. In the meantime, here are a few tips for helping that bond along:
- We now know that if a dad is willing to put a bit of pre-birth bonding effort in it significantly increases the chance that he will develop a strong bond with his baby when they are born. So however silly it might feel interact with the bump, take time every day to speak to, sing to, read to and touch the bump. Babies can hear within the womb from 18 weeks so let your little one get to know your voice and you will already have a strong bond when they are born. This is your opportunity to share with them your love of obscure German pop music or the collected works of Jilly Cooper without criticism. And if you have a good imagination give yourself permission to day dream about who your baby will be and what you will do together. Again, we know this leads to stronger bonds after birth.
- Make sure that you get that crucial skin-to-skin contact as soon after birth as you can. Sometimes dad can be forgotten so make sure you tell the midwife of your wishes. Skin-to-skin doesn’t have to finish once you exit the hospital: it’s a great way for dads to continue to get close to their baby so let them hear your heart beat and learn your smell – just like they do with mum when she breastfeeds. Take every opportunity you can to let him or her snuggle up under your shirt. It’s a great way for you both to relax.
The power of touch
- In the early days of baby’s life it can be hard for dad to get a look in particularly if mum is breastfeeding. All the books advise that you find a task that can be just yours and one of the best for bonding is baby massage as it releases floods of oxytocin and beta-endorphin for both of you which will cement your bond. Additionally, recent studies have shown that if you are suffering from the baby blues – yes, dads get them too – then massage can be one of the best ways to raise your mood.
Permission to be fun dad
- Once 6 months comes then the super charged bonding interactions can begin as baby is now developmentally ready for a bit of play! There is one form of play that is just for baby and dad; rough and tumble. This form of play is like bonding on steroids as its fast, exuberant and risky characteristics ramp up the release of oxytocin, dopamine and beta-endorphin which means you both get a real head rush of bonding chemicals. It’s the sort of play where aeroplaning round the room, jumping on the sofa and sickness-inducing levels of tickling are the norm. It is fundamental to your baby’s physical and social development, building mental resilience, physical coordination and social skills, so not only is it great fun but it is also of massive benefit to them as they grow. The message is, get out there and start tickling, jumping, running and bouncing to see your bond become truly rock solid.