When my first daughter was born Jon and I had been married for nearly five years. We weren’t the type of couple that spent a lot of time apart aside from when we were at work. Jon was from Australia and he had left behind all of his family and friends to move to my hometown in Michigan. So it was a bit of a shock for Jon when I put our relationship on the back burner in order to tend to our baby pretty much non-stop. As a breastfeeding mother I was the only one who was feeding little Josie. When she was upset I was the one she wanted. And when she was asleep I was exhausted, leaving me no energy for my relationship with my husband. Like many other dads, Jon felt really left out.
While we were both thrilled to have a little baby this was a challenging time for our family. Those first three months are surreal. There’s the relentlessness of suddenly having so many demands on you (and when it’s your first, the reality of this does come as a bit of a shock). The sleep deprivation was really getting to Jon. And it wasn’t getting to me! I was on a real high. I felt so happy. I was so fully into my baby and she was so into me. And instead of ‘baby makes three’ it seemed like ‘daddy makes three’ and Jon was starting to think there was no need for a third wheel!
For a little while there Jon felt like he didn’t have much of a place in my life, or in Josie’s life. Of course, as Josie grew out of that ‘fourth trimester’ things changed. There’s definitely more than enough of Josie to go around these days! But five years later, when I was pregnant with Jade I realised that those early days made a big impact on Jon. He mentioned often that this time he would have ‘something to do’ after the baby was born because he would have Josie to look after. In his mind his primary role would be to help Josie adjust to a new sibling. But I wanted him to bond with his new baby too. It turns out he had plenty of opportunities and the second time around he found that bonding with baby was easier.
If you’re looking for ways to help your partner bond with baby here are 4 tips to get you started:
1. Prepare for birth together
Many dads do not know how to be involved in birth. Your partner may want to help you but he may feel helpless. He may be afraid that he will do the wrong thing and decide it’s better to just stay out of the way and let the professionals help you. You may misinterpret this as disinterest from your partner, which can cause tension between you. I recommend that you take a private childbirth education course that is inclusive of the baby’s father. I teach hypnobirthing and in the course we prepare the birth partner (which is often the father) to have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to support the mother during birth. Part of our program also includes helping you bond with each other and with baby before birth. By bonding in the lead up to birth, and by preparing to be part of birth dad can get a head start on being involved with your new baby.
You have probably heard that it’s a good idea to have skin to skin contact with your baby right after birth and for the first few weeks of your baby’s life. But did you know that this is also a great way for dads to bond with their newborn? Holding your baby skin to skin gives your baby a sense of security, and can be quite calming. It also releases the hormone oxytocin, which is known as the love hormone. As oxytocin is released with each skin to skin session, the bond between dad and baby will strengthen.
3. Make feeding time family time
In the early weeks it seems like you are spending all of your time breastfeeding. This is a time when dads can feel pretty left out. However, I think having the support of the baby’s father is one of the most important factors in breastfeeding success. Take some time before baby arrives to teach your partner about breastfeeding. You can either look for a breastfeeding class to go to together, or you can do your research and teach him what he needs to know in order to support you.
There are many ways that dad can get involved even if you’re doing the actual feeding. Dad can sit with you during some feeds. He can be there to bring you water (you’re going to need it and a lot of times you won’t remember until let down starts). He can help you get comfortable. He can help the baby get rid of wind. He can be there for you to help you keep you going when you’re exhausted, sore, or just plain over it! Let him know that sometimes you will need encouragement to keep going.
Whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, dad can help by bringing baby to you, changing baby when required, and giving you time to rest in between feeds.
If you are bottle feeding, whether it’s expressed breastmilk or formula, get dad to feed the baby from time to time. If dad is bottle feeding, this nurturing act can be a real bonding opportunity. Dad can even be encouraged to take off his shirt while feeding to maintain skin-to-skin contact as discussed above.
4. Let him do it his way
This can be a hard one, especially in the early days. Some new mothers can feel the need to control everything when it comes to taking care of the baby. You might end up criticising everything your partner does when with the baby. If your partner feels like everything he does is wrong, he may stop trying to get involved. You may end up fighting over really silly things. This isn’t good for your relationship, or for dad’s relationship with the baby. Of course, if you feel like your baby could be harmed by anyone’s actions you should speak up. But if your only objection is that your partner doesn’t do things the way you would it’s probably best to learn to let go. Let dad do things his way when he’s the one taking care of the baby. Enjoy the opportunity to have a break when dad’s in charge and forget about the fact that your baby’s not wearing the outfit you would have chosen! Let go of the reins and give dad a fair go. If you do, he will feel much more comfortable and confident when he spends time with the baby.
These are a few ideas for helping dad bond with baby. Please comment below to share the ways your partner has bonded with baby, or ideas you have to help dads bond with their baby.