Congratulations, you’re a father!
The first few days after you bring your baby home can pass in a blur. You’re justifiably proud of your partner for bringing this tiny creature into the world, and all you want to do is help, support and care, but how and where do you fit in?
We looked at what it means to ‘bond’ and asked new dads how they went about being the best dad possible for their newborn .
What does ‘bonding’ mean and how does it work?
It may seem obvious but there’s quite a bit of science and biology going on behind the scenes as parents get to know and bond with a newborn. Scientists have seen that men’s testosterone levels drop after the birth, we assume to make them physically more sensitive and attuned to parenting.
Men also develop higher levels of the bonding hormone oxytocin while their partner is pregnant, and this is strengthened when they play with their baby. A man’s brain also becomes honed towards being caring, protective and affectionate.
Why is it important for parents to bond with their baby?
Bonding is a physical and an emotional connection between parent and child. It helps babies feel secure, lowers their stress levels, and improves their social skills.
It’s also important for adults to bond with their newborns to sustain the round-the-clock care the baby needs. Luckily, animals (and that includes us humans) are wired to nurture their offspring to help preserve the species.
Most of the time, mum or the primary caregiver will form this bond with their newborn simply by caring for them, day and night. For dads it can be easy to feel you are not bonding as quickly as you might like. But don’t worry, there are plenty of ways for dads to bond with their newborn baby.
8 ways to dads can bond with their newborn
Looking for ways to help you bond with your newborn? We spoke to new dads about the way they've created deeper bonds with their little ones.
1. Feeding time bonding
Joe, dad to Freya, says: “Rosie introduced a bottle quite early on, so I could help feed Freya, especially at night. She was so supportive and made me go and sit in a quiet space, so it was just the two of us, and Freya wasn’t fussing around looking for mummy, or smelling her milk. First few times I was awkward and tense, but after a few days I relaxed, and so did she. I would chat to her and tell her stuff about my day. Sometimes it felt like therapy for me.”
2. Bonding with music
Gary, dad to Chessie, says: “I love my music, so taking Chessie to baby music classes when she was tiny was something I wanted to do. It became a real ‘Dad and Chessie’ thing. I’d played her music when she was in Jo’s tummy, and I swear she would recognise some of the tracks when she was out. I chose the music in the car especially for her, and me singing to her became part of her bedtime routine. It still is (much to her annoyance although I know she loves it really).”
3. Buggy time bonding
Roy, dad to Chase, says: “My little boy was very bad at getting to sleep, no matter how long we spent rocking or soothing him. However, I discovered that the pushchair really helped get him off to sleep. For the start of our walk, we make eye contact and I chat or sing to him, point out trees and the sky and lights in the shops. Gradually, as he gets drowsy, I lower my voice and eventually he drifts off. It’s lovely to be able to have some special time and to help him get his all-important sleep.”
4. Explore and bond
Jack, dad to Toby, says: “We’re lucky enough to spend most weekends by the sea and I take the opportunity to just hang out on the beach with Toby. From the very early days when I would carry him in a sling, to now when he can help me explore the rockpools and collect the shells on the beach, it’s a magical time we spend together enjoying the water and the fresh air. Of course, we usually both fall asleep as soon as we get home.”
5. Bonding over books
Tom, dad to Ellie, says: “Story time is my uninterrupted time with Ellie. I started reading her stories right from day one. I like to put a lot of effort into it, so I do all the voices of the characters and the animals or machines. Now she’s a bit older, story time can be really loud and boisterous, with her joining in all the sounds and shouting for the next page. I make sure I read a quiet, gentle book last, that has lots of reinforcement about going to sleep and saying goodnight to each character. The repetition and the association help her calm down again for sleep.”
6. Sling time means bond time
Dougal, dad to Oscar, says: We always had a battle keeping Oscar awake for his feed in the evenings – he’d go off just before 5 and then would be difficult to wake and hell to settle at bedtimes, so I would stick him in the sling, and he’d ‘help’ me make dinner. Sometimes that meant a walk to the supermarket, sometimes dribbling all over a spatula, sometimes just watching me pretend I’m on Saturday Kitchen. It certainly kept him awake!”
7. Bond by changing
Dave, dad to Sienna, says: “Unlike some of my mates, a big fat nappy doesn’t scare me. In fact, I got quite a buzz out of taking it on as one of my ‘jobs’ in those early weeks. Kind of gave me a role. I’d stock check to make sure we didn’t run out of wipes. The nappy games I play to keep her calm (and not cry) are better than anything on CBeebies! Now she smiles so nappy changing is even more rewarding.”
8. Bond with nature
Grant, dad to Leo, says: We love going on walks in Wimbledon Common. We feed the ducks and see the different parts of the park in the fresh air away from screens (me) and being at home (him). I talk to him and explain everything around us, why the leaves are changing, we go and look at the swan’s cygnets and see how they are growing and changing colour. We use our baby carrier which we both love and gives us the agility to go anywhere we want.”
What if your baby doesn’t seem to be bonding with dad, or mum?
For some mums and dads, bonding doesn’t come easily, and they might not feel the immediate ‘rush of love’ they expected. And that’s ok. For many parents, it’s little things they experience with their new baby that help them get close over time.
In fact, there’s lots of things you can do to help if your baby is not bonding with dad, or with mum.
What you can do to help build your baby bond after birth
Parents can help foster that bond in several ways:
- Be alert to your baby’s moods and signals, both verbal and physical. You’ll soon learn when they are happy or unhappy.
- Speak to your baby and interact with them when they are alert and awake. When they are drowsy, or unhappy, speak gently in a calm voice while holding or rocking.
- Realise that your baby is not a blank canvas – babies are born with likes, dislikes and a strong personality! Try to get to know their preferences and realise they have emotions and feelings, from day one.
- Allow your baby to hear your voice as they did in the womb. Speak or sing to them and they will start to respond.
- Carry your baby close to you in a sling or carrier and have lots of skin-to-skin time at home.
Inspiration for new parents
We know those early days can be as bewildering as they are beautiful! You’ll find plenty of insight here from parents and parenting experts alike, from that first nappy change and the first bath to the best bit of advice our panel of dads would give dads-to-be on preparing for fatherhood (it may surprise you!).