New Dads: How to Bond With Your Baby
Build a strong connection with your newborn before the arrival and in those early days of parenthood.
You're a dad now! It's exciting, though parts of it may be new to you -- like changing a diaper or soothing your crying baby.
Many people focus on the mother-baby bond. But Pittsburgh pediatrician Mark Diamond says, "Other than the physical act of nursing, dads can do everything else: holding the baby, cuddling, soothing." And the unique connection between a new dad and his baby is special.
Regularly singing or reading books to your partner's pregnant belly may seem strange. But doing so establishes a strong connection before the baby is even born. Later on, your newborn may recognize the tone and pattern of each of your voices.
You can also strengthen your connection to your baby simply by being there for your partner. "Go to OB appointments, ultrasound visits, and breastfeeding classes," says pediatrician David Hill, author of Between Us Dads: A Father's Guide to Child Health. "Become intimately involved with the process because mothers who feel more supported by fathers tend to involve the fathers more with child-rearing later on. And more involved means more likely to bond."
If everything about babies is new to you, start getting comfortable with it now. Spend an afternoon with a new-dad friend and his baby before yours arrives. The experience can help you be confident enough to focus on getting to know your newborn -- starting in the delivery room.
Once your baby arrives, seek out advice from the nurses in the hospital during the first days of your child's life. Pediatrician Emily Borman-Shoap, medical director for newborn care at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital, says, "They can give practical tips on changing a diaper, swaddling a baby, burping a baby -- all the things that are wonderful for dads to do."
Don't assume that the mother will naturally have a stronger connection with the baby than you will. Rest assured that as long as you spend time with your baby, a bond will develop between the two of you. The bond may not seem apparent during the first few days when the mother-baby bond may already be thriving -- but it will be there.
"It's not a competition," Caroline DiBattisto, assistant professor of pediatrics at Georgia Health Sciences University, says. "Parents should support each other and work together as a team. It's important for dads to relax, be themselves, help Mom out, spend time with the baby, and enjoy this special time."
Pitching in will give you confidence as a new parent.
"I think a lot of dads feel nervous that babies are fragile and they're somehow going to do something wrong. But I promise they won't," Borman-Shoap says. "Don't worry about being perfect. The worst thing that happens if you change a diaper wrong is someone gets poop or pee on them. You wash it off, try again, and laugh about it. You need to get right in there and try it."
If your newborn was adopted or carried by a surrogate, you may feel that you should do something extra to encourage the bonding process. But this isn't necessary. "Children respond to comfort, to being loved," Diamond says. "They feel it. They sense it."