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Strengthening the Daddy Bond

A new father cradles his baby's soft body in his arms, inhales her sweet newborn scent, and falls in love at first sight. In another delivery room, a dad cradles his newborn baby girl and feels happiness, but no real connection. The emotions in the delivery room run the gamut from indifference to intense joy -- for both men and women. Even if you did feel that lightning bolt of love the moment you saw your child, that doesn't mean you're set for life as far as bonding goes. Though most people understand bonding as a feeling, it's more a series of interactions that deepen the emotional connection to baby over time.

While dads are more involved than ever, they still face challenges to bonding -- challenges raised by their partners, by themselves, and by the facts of biology. The good news is that there are plenty of practical and effective things that dads can do to overcome these challenges.

During pregnancy, women live with their baby 24-7, aware of every kick and hiccup. For many fathers-to-be, the blurry sonograms and the tiny kicks he can occasionally feel with his palms don't quite bring it home. Dads often feel removed from the baby during pregnancy. Even after baby arrives, bonding is not as automatic for dads as it is for moms.

Hurdle: The demands of nursing can make dads feel like a third wheel. This can establish a less than ideal pattern as the mother seems irreplaceable in every way. Since Mom is already holding the baby to breastfeed, she often ends up burping him and changing his diaper when the feeding is done.

Solution: When dads back off from taking care of their babies, it's harder for them to develop a connection. New parents can avoid this trap by changing the pattern early on. Breastfeeding isn't the only aspect of taking care of a new baby. Dads can pride themselves on developing great burping techniques, diaper-changing prowess, and baby-massage mastery. Simply holding the baby, even while watching a ball game on television, helps foster the daddy-baby bond.

Newborn babies don't do very much besides nurse and sleep. Moms usually expect this and are perfectly content with holding and cuddling their infant. But many dads feel like they're missing something.

Hurdle: Because baby can't play catch, take walks, or talk back, dad doesn't think baby is very interesting.

Solution: The more hands-on Dad gets with baby care, the more he'll see that baby is capable of mastering new skills at a breathtaking pace. Simply spending time with baby will show Dad the many wonderful things his baby is capable of doing. Learning how to comfort his baby, seeing his baby's first smile, and watching as his baby begins to grasp an object or roll over will bring hours of pride and delight. Soon he'll realize how much his baby really can do and what great fun they can have together!

All too often, when a father dresses the baby or gives him breakfast, his efforts are met with criticism. The outfit doesn't match. Mashed bananas, not pureed peas, should have been served. Assuming his wife is inherently more competent, Dad backs off.

Hurdle: Dad is always running to Mom for advice, or handing off baby for comforting or practical care. The "Mommy knows best" syndrome is in full swing.

Solution: The development of "Mommy knows best" syndrome is partly rooted in culture. Men have been judged historically on their abilities as providers, women on their abilities as caregivers. Sometimes women feel threatened by men infringing on the caregiving role in the same way some men feel threatened if their wives earn more money than they do. The solution is for Mom to avoid casting Dad in the role of assistant parent. If Mom steps back and allows Dad to take on equal caregiving responsibilities, his caregiving skills will be strengthened and his confidence will grow.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.