Worrying about how to bond with a new baby is common among first-time dads. Many men have not had contact with a newborn before and are nervous about looking after such a tiny person.
It can also be easy to feel sidelined in the new family pecking order as mum takes charge of day-to-day baby care –especially if she is breastfeeding.
But fathers have an important role to play and can have a strong relationship with their child from day one, providing they make the effort.
We asked expert Dean Beaumont, founder of DaddyNatal (daddynatal.co.uk), and reader Michael Payne, 32, from Hampshire, father to 1-year-old Willow, about their tips for successful dad-and-baby bonding – see what they said…
Bond before birth
Dean recommends bonding before baby arrives. The more connected you feel to your unborn child during pregnancy, the more comfortable and at ease you’ll be when she arrives.
Try the following bump-bonding techniques…
- Attend the scans and keep a photo close at hand – this will help you to think of your baby as a real, living person.
- Feel the kicks when they start at 20 to 24 weeks – that way, you can feel physically connected.
- Talk to your baby – from 24 weeks she can hear your voice and can also become familiar with you.m
Dean says “The first thing to do is to spend time with your newborn. Get involved in the day-to-day care, from nappy changes and winding to bathing. Bonding isn’t just about lots of cuddles; it’s about supporting your baby with her basic care needs, too.”
Michael says “I totally agree. I do most of the nappy changes and it really helps me feel as though I’m part of her everyday routine, and not just of use when it’s convenient. Plus I don’t mind the smelly nappies as much as my wife, Sophia, does!”
Dean says “Most dads are really just big kids at heart and playtime is a great opportunity to bond. While your newborn is not exactly ready for a game of football, babies are sociable creatures and they will love spending time with you. At first, play will be very simple. Try sticking your tongue out at her – you may be amazed to find that your baby mimics you. Read stories and sing songs, too, but keep it gentle to start with. Babies tire quickly, and you don’t want an over-stimulated, irritable child on your hands.”
Michael says “I think we did this instinctively, and I love how Willow copies tongue-poking and laughing with us. Even though she is only 1, I feel like we share important times together. The fun times also help level out the more stressful times, which in turn helps my relationship with my wife.”
Dean says “Get your little one undressed, take your top off and spend a bit of time having a cuddle. You could also share a bath or even join a baby massage group. Skin-to-skin contact releases the hormone oxytocin in you both,
which is what helps us to bond.”
Michael says “I did this when Willow was a newborn and it seemed to calm her down when she was really colicky. It was more than just cuddles, as it really did comfort her. There are lots of photos of Willow asleep on my chest and they’re lovely. The hardest part is trying to move without waking her!”
Take a break
Dean says “Take as much paternity leave as you can. Those first few days as a family are very precious as you get to know each other and start to learn about being parents. You’re likely to be inundated with visitors, but make sure you leave yourself time alone as a family. This is a prime bonding phase.”
Michael says “I’m a self-employed music producer and so was able to dedicate time to our new family in those early days. We actually moved house the week Willow was born and because Sophia had a c-section, she couldn’t get involved much. I was thrown in at the deep end, but it’s strengthened my bond with her.”
Have alone time
Dean says “Earmark some one-to-one time with your baby, whether that’s getting up in the morning so mum can lie-in or attending a special class. If you work during the day, take charge of the bath and bed routine in the evening. Having this one-to-one time will increase the confidence you have in each other.”
Michael says “I feel very confident in taking responsibility for Willow and realise this has come from our one-to-one time. I take her to a music class so that Sophia can dash around the supermarket or simply have some time to herself. It’s often hard for dads to get quality time with their children, so it’s all about making the most of the hours you do get with them.”
How can mum help?
Mums can be so caught up in the day-to-day whirl of caring for a new baby that it’s easy to forget to include dad.
Encourage him to have a go with bathing, nappy changing and winding. If you’re breastfeeding, let him bring the baby to you and put her down afterwards, and get him to cuddle both of you during the feed.
You may want to express milk so he can do some feeds, and give you a much-needed break.
Michael and Sophia Payne – ❛How it’s been for us❜
Michael says “I never could have anticipated what being a dad would be like, but I really love spending time with Willow. It’s great watching her change each day. Being a part of this is so important, and my bond with Willow has also strengthened my bond with Sophia. I feel very lucky to be able to get involved as much as I do, because I know that this isn’t necessarily the same for all fathers.”
His wife, Sophia, 33, says “Michael has taken to fatherhood better than I ever could have hoped. He’s happy to get stuck in with all the everyday jobs and knows when to give me a hand. His bond with Willow is so strong, I could even be a little jealous! For example, if Michael’s in his office and Willow gets tired, she’ll point to the door that he left through because she knows that’s where he went. Sometimes only daddy cuddles calm her down.”
Real life: ❛Swimming brought us closer❜
Dad Mike Duxbury, 45, from Northamptonshire, found the perfect bonding activity to enjoy with his baby daughter Daisy Mae.
“I’m registered blind and my disability meant that I’d been concerned from the start about Daisy’s safety, especially around water. My wife, Claire, 39, works for the Water Babies swimming school so decided to take Daisy Mae to a lesson when she was 3 months old.
Then Claire injured her arm. We decided I’d have to get in the pool too and hold Daisy Mae while Claire guided me. I’m so glad we did! Daisy loved the water and I felt more confident with her afterwards.
Now we go swimming regularly. The lessons have really helped establish and develop our bond. She’s now 23 months and understands I can’t see. For example, she’ll show her mum something but come over and put it in my hand. Simple things like that go beyond swimming – the benefits continue at home.
Swimming with Daisy has changed my outlook. I’m home more and take time off to spend with her.”
For more on Water Babies swimming school, visit waterbabies.co.uk.
Get Dean’s new book – The Expectant Dad’s Handbook
On sale now Dean’s book The Expectant Dad’s Handbook, is a one-stop guide for men on their journey to fatherhood.
With practical answers to all the questions on the mind of a dad-to-be, it gives tips including what dad should do during labour and how to bond with baby.