Time and biology certainly give new mothers a leg up on the baby bonding process, making fathers work that much harder to try and get equal time. Mothers have the extra nine months before the child is even born where the bond is first created in the womb and cemented over time. Then once the baby arrives, it's the mother who is the primary caregiver, feedings, changing diapers, suffering through sleepless nights. A father pitching in on the 'mommy's domain' is usually looked at with amusement and indulgence.
So what's a new father to do to get equal time with the new infant and is it really all that important anyway?
If we were to switch the primary care roles where the mother is suddenly out of the picture for whatever reason and the father is left as the one who feeds the baby, plays with him, shows him affection and just works to assure its overall well being, the bond between them would strengthen to the point where bringing in the mother again would result in her being the odd woman out.
Babies whose fathers take an active interest in their development score higher on mental development tests and are shown to handle stressful situations later in life much better than if the father leaves the bonding and care to mommy. Researchers even suggest that a strong fatherly bond leads to higher academic excellence and improved social skills and self-esteem.
How is this father/baby bonding time supposed to happen when in most cases, moms have the advantage of not only the biological bond but the time afforded new mothers by maternity leave?
Some companies now offer Paternity leave for new fathers of up to six weeks. While California became the first state in 2004 to offer paid leave for fathers, other states and most of North America is slowly following suit with varying degrees of time and levels of pay offered.
The most important thing for new dads to remember is that they are not competing with moms for baby time or for the baby's favor. While bonding will happen more quickly between mothers and their infants, there are things dads can do to build their relationship with the new baby from day one.
1. Be Tactile
Babies are comforted through the sense of touch. Pitching in during bath times, massaging the baby, and holding the baby against your chest will all succeed in fostering a warm, strong connection between the two of you.
2. Eye Contact
If you've been talking to the baby since he was still in the womb, he'll be familiar with your voice. Holding him in your arms so that you can look down at him while you speak and he can look up at you will help him associate that voice with your face and make him feel safe and loved.
3. Sharing Doctor Duty
Taking over some of the doctor's visits from mommy will not only earn you points with her but will help you gain info on your baby's overall health. It will give you the opportunity to help pitch in if the doctor offers any suggestions for any necessary treatments.
'Doody' Duty: Parenting is a messy business and while most fathers feel it is the mother's responsibility to take care of the less enjoyable end of baby care, they're missing out. A crying, uncomfortable baby who is soothed by a clean diaper and clean clothes will associate that soothing, comfortable feeling with you. Bonding with your child takes work, and in this case, you've got to just jump in and get your hands dirty. The baby will benefit and so will you.
5. Sing, Even If You Can't Carry A Tune In A Bucket
Music is the universal calmer. A screaming baby will nine times out of ten quiet down if the radio is switched on to something soft and gentle (sorry, no AC/DC.) So if you want to bond with your child, hold them close and sing them a lullaby while rocking them, or look down at them in the crib and sing to your heart's content. This isn't American Idol and your baby isn't Simon Cowell. You might get a burp or a spit bubble. It's a sign of relaxed approval. Keep going. He'll associate you along with mommy as someone who will make him feel better.
6. Schedule Some Daddy Time
Despite the fact that the new mother will no doubt be frazzled and suffering from sleep deprivation, you might find some opposition when you put forth the initial idea for some alone time with the new baby. Mothers are usually pretty territorial about their newborns and feel uneasy with passing them off to someone else to take care of, even if it's just for a few hours, even if it's you. This is why pitching in with little tasks is so important. It shows the nervous mother that she can trust you to know what you're doing. Respect her nervousness but assure her that the two of you will make an even better team if you can share parenting responsibilities and that giving her some free time will be beneficial for both of you. You can get to know your baby and he can get to know you so that if she's ever swamped, you can take over with minimal fuss on the part of the child.
The baby will benefit from getting to know each parent separately and while it is important that the father take the time to build his own unique relationship with his child, it's only when parents work together, respectful of those separate necessary bonds that the child can truly grow into a strong, loving, and well-adjusted human being.