Father and Child Bonding
Lots of fathers worry that they won't be able to have the special bond with their babies that mothers do. After all, moms and babies have nine months to get to know each other. It's only natural that you may be a little envious of that relationship. You're not alone in your feelings, but there are ways that you too can have a special bond with your little one. Our pediatricians know the importance of father-child bonding, and we're here to help you get started on a happy - and healthy - relationship.
Where to start
The best time to start bonding is as soon as you know you're expecting. Studies have shown that newborns recognize their parents' voices at birth because they are familiar sounds from the womb. By talking, singing, even reading to your baby all during pregnancy, you'll already have a very strong bond before your baby's even born.
The moment of arrival
The moment you've been waiting for has arrived. Seeing your newborn face-to-face comes with a wave of emotions: love, joy, and the realization that this little bundle of joy also comes with a bundle of responsibility. The good news is, recognizing that this tiny creature is dependent on you is actually a powerful bond.
Whether your baby is breast- or bottle-fed, you can take turns feeding your baby. Just like mom, hold your baby close to your chest with the bottle positioned so that you can make eye contact. You can also talk or sing softly to your baby. Skin-to-skin contact has also shown to help develop bonding. If your baby isn't wearing a shirt, you can open your shirt while feeding (if the room you're in is chilly, place a blanket over your baby for warmth, but don't cover their face).
Do night duty. Take turns with mom handling those middle-of-the-night feedings, she'll appreciate the break and you'll deepen that father-child connection.
When your little one is crying or fussy, you can be the one to calm them. Speak or sing in a soothing voice, walk around, gently rock your baby, offer a pacifier, and soon baby will learn that both mom and dad can be the source of comfort and care.
Fussy babies may respond to gentle infant massage. In fact, certain types of massage may enhance bonding and help with infant growth and development. Many books and videos cover infant massage — ask your doctor for recommendations. Be careful, however — babies are not as strong as adults, so massage your baby gently.
If your little one is being fussy, try singing, reciting poetry and nursery rhymes, or reading aloud as you sway or rock your baby gently in a chair. You may also try skin-to-skin contact. Lay your baby on your bare chest (if the room is chilly, drape a light blanket over your baby for added warmth). The warmth of your skin and the sound of your heartbeat can be very calming to your little one. Hospitals encourage this technique for premature or very ill babies to help parents connect with them. It has also been shown to have a positive effect on the child.
Human touch is a very powerful sense and plays a large role in your baby's development. There is even research to show that it helps to heal. That's because touch begins at the nerve cells in your baby's skin. These cells are very sensitive and respond to even the slightest touch. Each touch sends out signals, telling all parts of your baby's body to make chemicals called hormones. The hormones:
- Improve blood flow and breathing
- Decrease stuffy nose, gas and colic
- Improve weight gain and growth
- Help sleep times become deeper and longer
- Provide increased feeling of security, love, caring and trust
Some babies can be unusually sensitive to touch, light, or sound, and might startle and cry easily, sleep less than expected, or turn their faces away when someone speaks or sings to them. If that's the case with your baby, keep noise and light levels low to moderate.
Play time helps to stimulate your baby, and is great for baby's physical, mental and emotional development. And if you make it part of a daily routine now, daddy-time will become a special time — a time you'll both look forward to for years to come.
Babies usually love vocal sounds, such as talking, babbling, singing and cooing. Your baby will probably also love listening to music. Baby rattles and musical mobiles are other good ways to stimulate your infant's vision, hearing and cognitive skills.
Baby's also like eye contact. A great way to achieve this is by making funny faces, with a few added sound effects. And while the adult world might not enjoy silly talk or gibberish, your baby certainly will.
Reading is another great way to spend time with your baby, and it's never too early to start reading to your child. Sure, your baby can't understand a word you're saying now, but your voice and energy will delight your little one, and as baby gets older, reading will greatly advance development.
Quality time with your baby doesn't require much. A simple stroll around the block will do. Put your little one in the stroller or the baby carrier and off you go. Everything is new to your tyke as you explore the world around you. Baby's excitement at new sights and sounds benefits you both as you see the world through your baby's eyes.
Diaper changing. It's a dirty job, but it must be done. And while it can get a little smelly from time to time (making you wish you had a gas mask to wear), you'll soon discover that your baby really appreciates you for taking on the job ... and that doesn't stink.
No, we're not suggesting that you put your baby to work around the house. But vacuuming, dusting, doing dishes or laundry, and general cleaning is great bonding time. Pop the baby in the carrier and soon your house and your relationship will have an extra sparkle!
When bonding isn't easy
Some dads find it harder to bond than others. Cultural and social attitudes about fatherhood or having a difficult relationship with one's own father, or not having a role model to follow can create emotional stumbling blocks to bonding, and can feel overwhelming. The bonding tips we've provided here don't have to be taken on all at once. They're here as ways for you to begin the process.
Your work routine may also present challenges. Maybe you travel or work different shifts, or you're on call, but you can still find ways to take an active role as a parent. Be there for visits to the doctor when your baby isn't feeling well, or for well-baby checkups. Ask your pediatrician questions and voice any concerns you have. When you can, take part in your baby's day-to-day care from waking to bathing to bedtime. Get to know what your baby's cries mean, learn how take a temperature if your baby seems feverish, and when a good snuggle is what's needed to help your little one feel secure.
Many new dads find it helpful to talk with other dads for support and suggestions. It can also be helpful to talk with your partner about the roles of parenting. Moms are often more receptive to dads bonding than many realize, mostly because it also takes a lot of the pressure of the nurturing responsibility off their shoulders.
You may also want to talk to your child's pediatrician or your family doctor about ways you can bond with your baby.
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