After my son was born, the question often posed to me was, “How does it feel to be a father?” Truth is that I didn’t know. I hadn’t really given it much thought as it was one of those experiences that did not have single-sentence definitions. Becoming a father had evoked mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was over the moon; and, on the other hand, I was wondering about how to bond with this new creation.
I’d naively thought that apart from helping my wife, my parenting duties would involve admiring our son while he slept and, at most, holding him for a while. However, my experience of parenthood was an eye-opener in a lot of ways. So, I thought I’d share some fun ways (from my experience) for Dads to bond with their babies. Before that, let us understand why Dads must bond with their babies.
Why must Dads bond with their babies?
One of the surprising facts is that many fathers feel left out of the bonding process during the all-important first year of a baby’s life. One of the reasons for this is the way our society portrays mothers; they are described as better suited to look after children. Another reason is the lack of information on the benefits of parenting by fathers.
An article titled, ‘Dads are important too!’ published by Dr Lin Day on babysensory.com highlights the importance of father–infant bonding. The article says that babies who interact more with their fathers tend to get along better with peers later in life. They are often found to be more law-abiding and are less likely to indulge in crime and other anti-social behaviour.
Findings of another study titled, ‘The effects of father involvement’, conducted by FIRA (Father Involvement Research Alliance) also revealed similar facts. The findings suggested that newborns and infants with involved fathers were more likely to be emotionally secure and eager to explore their surroundings; also, they often grew up to be more sociable.
While mothers are ‘naturally programmed’ to bond with babies, the importance of active involvement of fathers cannot be overlooked. Fathers tend to have a different approach to parenting. They are more physical and rough in their approach, which helps children explore a different aspect to what they usually experience with their mothers. In fact, this is one of the important reasons why fathers should find fun and engaging ways to bond with their newborns.
How can fathers bond with their infants?
As fathers are unable to bond with their babies, they often succumb to the feeling of ‘but all the baby does is lie there and be cute’. This is quite normal. However, there are plenty of fun activities that can help to kick-start the bonding process. Here’s a look at some of them:
1. Get in there and get dirty
Every little activity that you do with your baby will help you bond with him. Be it changing his dirty diapers, giving him a bath or comforting him — all go a long way in strengthening your bond. Remember, you are as new to him, as he is to you; so, doing things together the ‘fun way’ will help you both. For instance, while changing my son’s dirty diaper, I would often make funny (and what I thought were cute) noises. In response, he would stop wriggling for a while and we would both get the job done faster. So, don’t hold back. Go all out and discover the magical ways that will make even the crankiest of babies stop crying and start giggling.
2. Use the power of touch
Babies and infants respond positively to touch. An article titled, ‘How important is physical contact with your infant?’ published in the Scientific American says, ‘Touch and emotional engagement boost early childhood development’. To harness the power of touch, you can gently massage your newborn’s tummy, arms, legs, sides of the neck and watch them burst out smiling and gurgling. This would also be a great stress-buster for you.
Skin-to-skin (S2S) contact between the father and the baby is another activity that many healthcare professionals recommend nowadays. This is especially important during the first few days and weeks following birth. An article titled, ‘Fathers and skin-to-skin contact’ published on the website kangaroomothercare.com discusses the benefits of S2S between fathers and newborns.
For S2S, place your baby in a vertical position against your bare chest, with his shoulders resting on or above your chest bone. Remember to turn the baby’s head to one side, keep his neck straight, and his nose and mouth uncovered at all times.
3. Bust a move or two
Newborns love to move. According to ScienceDaily, a research conducted by the University of York, UK, revealed that babies like to dance and move to rhythmic beats. The study states that infants respond to the rhythm and tempo of music. In fact, they find it more engaging than speech. So, whenever you get the chance, hold your baby closely and slowly waltz around the room. But remember to support her head and not to shake her too much; otherwise, you may injure her.
4. Explore the outside world together
New sights and visions are very important for a baby’s development. Also, making ‘movement’ a part of the baby’s routine has long-lasting positive effects on his learning ability.
So, get a stroller and take him out for a walk. Talk to him, point out to objects and name them. Although he may not understand what you are saying, it will help him connect better with the world and things around him.
But, before you take your baby out in a pram or buggy, ensure that he is securely harnessed. Also, remember to carry an emergency backpack stocked with spare clothes, milk bottles, diapers and any other item your baby may require.
5. Read and talk to the baby
If you assumed that your baby can’t differentiate between voices, think again. The Daily Mail published the results of a study conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London. The study concluded that babies can differentiate between human and non-human noises. In fact, some of them can even differentiate between the father’s and mother’s voices from as early as day three. So, talk to your baby and get him used to your voice. Better yet, read out aloud or sing to him.
This is not an exhaustive list of activities. Most of them are simple, fun activities that you may already be doing involuntarily. Every newborn is unique and so will respond differently to the bonding process. However, it is imperative that we realise the importance of paternal bonding with the newborn and the benefits it offers. It’s also important to understand that it is not the quantity but the quality of time a father spends with the newborn that counts.