I’ve often heard comments from fathers about not knowing how to be useful during the very early days and weeks of having a newborn. Some say that they feel completely helpless or that they see themselves in a support role while their partners take the lead and that their chance to bond with their baby will come later, once their little ones are older, more responsive and more robust. They may even feel left out of the relationship between a mother or primary caregiver and their baby, especially if the baby is nursing.
Various factors play into these experiences. Firstly, newborns. As much as I adore a tiny baby, and miss so much about when my children were so new, I’m the first to admit that caring for a newborn can be somewhat…tedious? Those early days when newborns are still adjusting to the world outside the womb can be absolutely wondrous (you created a whole tiny person!), terrifying (you have to keep the whole tiny person alive!) and a seemingly endless fog of feed, change, sleep (or not), repeat. We’re often led to believe that we will have an instant connection with our babies, but in my experience this can sometimes take time to build as we get to know our baby and they get to know us. Some people speak about the six-ish week mark when their baby first smiles at them as being a significant milestone. That little indicator that your baby is starting to interact with you on a level beyond needing food, cleaning and sleep is beautiful and rewarding. I’ve also heard some dads say that once their babies are toddlers they’ll be able to connect more with them through play. Add to this the belief that mothers are innately more nurturing and adept at caregiving while fathers are naturally better at the active “rough and tumble” aspect of parenting. This belief, though, ignores the influences that our own personalities, experiences and socialisation as boys and girls have on our parenting skills.
I think that by perpetuating the message that dads can only really start bonding with their babies when they’re older, we’re denying them so many priceless opportunities to build and nurture that relationship in the early days and weeks. Sure, this may look different for different families facing diverse circumstances surrounding work, finances and societal pressures. But there is an incredible amount of development happening for a baby during that time and any effort to start nurturing your relationship with your child will be so worth it.
So what are some good opportunities for a dad, partner or parent who is not the primary caregiver to bond with their new baby?
Aside from the numerous physiological, developmental and health benefits of skin-to-skin, it can promote feelings of calm and safety for both baby and parent. The close contact is also an opportunity to get to know each other and get comfortable. Skin-to-skin contact in the hours directly after birth (regardless of the type of birth) is especially beneficial, but any time in those early days, especially if your baby is struggling to settle or sleep, is a good time to grab some cuddles. You could also be skin-to-skin during feeding time if your baby is being fed from a bottle.
Hold your little one (diapered but naked) on your bare chest (pop some clothes or a blanket over the two of you if it’s cold) and get comfy!
Ultimately, a huge amount of bonding with your baby comes down to getting to know one another and what better way to do that than to spend time together? Nappy changes, while not exactly something we look forward to as parents, are a great opportunity to connect. As is bath time, and maybe even a walk in a carrier (see babywearing below). Whether it’s through chatting about your day (conversation can be a little one-sided at first, but give it a chance), giving them some extra tummy rubs or toe kisses or introducing them to your mad singing skills, they’ll love to hear your voice and feel your touch.
Adjusting to the outside world after a cozy and comfy 9 months in the womb can be quite tricky at times. As can adjusting to having a whole tiny person to carry around seemingly endlessly (how can such a tiny person feel so heavy?!). Baby-wearing is a great way to help your baby adjust to their new environment from a safe and comfortable position, while strengthening the bond between the two of you and promoting their physical and emotional development. Plus, your arms get a break and you have your hands free.
Those newborn days can be TOUGH, but finding those moments in the chaos to build that connection with your child will make it all worthwhile.
Happy Father’s Day!