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Bonding With Baby: What’s a Dad to Do?

In the months leading up to your baby’s birth, both parents are likely gearing up for the big day they welcome their newborn into the world. For many fathers there can be a lot of pressure to know what to expect and do once the baby arrives. Unfortunately, most literature and resources available tend to be directed toward mothers leaving dads struggling to know how to connect with their infant. Here are a few simple ways that fathers can bond with their newborn.

What Is Bonding and Why Is It Important?

Bonding describes the caretaking and emotional exchange between a parent and their child. In addition to creating healthy connections and secure attachments, bonding also has proven to deliver medical benefits and developmental advantages that follow your baby throughout their life. 

Immediate health benefits attributed to early bonding include the release of the hormone oxytocin in both parents and baby, lowering anxiety and postpartum depression (a mood disorder new dads can get too). Studies show that men actively involved with the baby and mother also will release the hormone vasopressin, which promotes behaviors of protection and decreases sex drive. These natural chemical responses trigger nurturing instincts allowing for easier breast/bottle feeding by the infant, better sleeping patterns, quicker recoveries for mom and even a decrease in infant mortality. 

Long-term advantages credited to paternal bonds include increased school readiness, higher IQs, improved emotional control and decreased rates of abuse (including future risk of being in an adult abusive relationship). These effects are magnified when combined with a stable, loving relationship with the baby’s mother and lay a strong foundation for your child’s success.

How Can I Bond With My Infant?

Although research about bonding is often geared toward a child’s mother, there are countless ways a dad can become an active (and influential!) participant in their newborn’s development. Some methods you can begin at their birth, or even before, include:

  • Communicate with your baby. While it may feel silly, scientific research has shown that talking, reading and, even more so, singing to your baby (including while still in utero) is critical to their emotional and social development. It has proven to keep babies calm, improve overall health and lead toward greater language fluency. Find songs that entertain you and mom. The auditory and vocal modulation are more important than words for fostering connection during infancy, so belt out the words of a song that makes you happy. Regardless of your ability to carry a tune, they’ll be happy to hear it too.

  • Skin-to-skin contact. Also called kangaroo care, skin-to-skin contact is developmental care received from holding an infant against the mother or father’s bare chest. Initially discovered to aid in maternal breastfeeding, a variety of studies over 50 years has shown direct correlations to reduced stress, temperature regulation and weight gain, and reduced fetal pain (in particular with premature babies). In addition to just laying the baby on your chest, you can achieve similar contact benefits through the use of baby-wearing carriers. 

  • Establish parent specific routines. Raising a newborn comes with a series of tasks — feeding, changing, bathing, bedtime — and each one offers dads a hands-on opportunity to bond through their own signature way. By taking an active role, you are not only helping an exhausted new mom, but establishing consistent structure and creating eye-to-eye, voice and even smell connections with your new baby. These chores very often turn into the family traditions (i.e. bath time and bedtime  with dad) that carry on into their toddler years and even to their own future parenting behaviors.

  • Maintain balance. New parents sometimes become burnt out because of overcommitment, loss of independence, or general challenges raising a newborn. Remember the importance of caring for yourself as well. Exercising, eating right, and including your infants in your hobbies can be great ways to recharge during a potentially stressful period. 

What’s In It for Me?

Becoming a new dad is an exciting time, filled with challenges, milestones and laughter. Don’t be afraid to get involved and invest in your newborn. You’ll find there is a whole community of other new dads (and moms) who will support you and your new family. Along the way you will discover opportunities to create lasting bonds with your baby that will not only aid in their success, but bring a sense of pride and joy to you as well.

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