How and Why We Should Help a Breastfed Baby Bond with Dad

How and Why We Should Help a Breastfed Baby Bond with Dad

We tend to focus on nurturing the bond between mother and baby. Perhaps it is because moms often take on the role of primary caregiver along with being a loving milk machine. This gives them plenty of opportunities to be close to baby and for that all-important mother-child bond to form.

It becomes easy to forget that fathers, too, need to begin building a special bond with their children from as early as possible. To develop this relationship lets see how and why we should help a breastfed baby bond with dad. A secure child dad bond is important for a host of reasons including strengthening the family unit, healthy development of a child’s’ mental health, and indeed a reduced chance of dad suffering from paternal postpartum depression. A bond can be strengthened by getting dad involved in feeding, changing, and spending quality time with his baby.

So, what can a dad do in order to foster the bond between his breastfed baby and himself? It might seem difficult where a baby is breastfed and appears to be latched on to mommy almost constantly.  Read on; we’ll share some ideas with you.

Why Is It Important for Dads to Bond with Their Baby?

The importance of a father’s bond with his baby is highlighted in a June 2017 press release from the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) titled “Father’s Day: A Father’s Bond with His Newborn Is Just as Important as a Mother’s Bond.” 

Right off the bat, the article warns, “When fathers delay bonding with their newborns, they risk altering the long-term course of paternal involvement as the infant progresses throughout childhood and adolescence.” In other words, failing to bond with your baby can be detrimental to the relationship you have with your child as he or she grows.

Here are four more important reasons why dads should bond with their babies.

1. It reduces the risk of paternal postpartum depression. 

We usually associate postpartum depression with mothers only. Recent studies have shown, however, that fathers can experience the behavioral and physical symptoms of postpartum depression, as well. As we more frequently hear the benefits of breastfeeding for mom, it’s also important to recognize that early bonding between father and child makes it less likely that dad will suffer from this possibly debilitating condition. Paternal postpartum depression is also discussed in the AWHONN article mentioned above.

2. It strengthens the family unit

Coping with a newborn can be physically, emotionally, and mentally draining for Mom. A real problem can arise when Dad tries to help by taking over baby duties, but the baby just isn’t settled with Dad because they have not had the chance to bond. When Dad is able to take over baby care, and the baby is comfortable with Dad, it puts a breastfeeding mother’s mind at ease, and she can truly take the time to relax. This feeling of working as a team and sharing the load of caring for your child brings parents closer together.  

3. It benefits children’s mental health

Fathers’ involvement in early childhood development plays “a hugely important role in the mental health of their children much later in life.” That is according to psychology professor Melanie Mallers, Ph.D. She speaks further about the impact of early father-child interactions on an adult’s stress management ability in this article on the American Psychological Association’s website. 

4. Father’s love matters as much as mother’s love

The father-child connection has even been shown, in some cases, to be more important than the mother-child bond. This is what international psychologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Connecticut Ronald Rohner, Ph.D., and his co-author discovered when they reviewed more than 100 parent-child relationship studies. A child’s happiness, academic success, emotional intelligence, and social competence are all affected by the level of early involvement dad has in their life.

How to Involve Dad in Breastfeeding

It goes without saying that breastfeeding is the time when dads most feel like they have been sidelined. Instead of walking away, there are several ways in which a father can become a part of the breastfeeding experience. 

  • Sit with mom and keep her engaged in light conversation. Talk about the baby, about your mutual interests, or about anything at all – it really doesn’t matter what you talk about. If you run out of things to say, just try singing a happy tune instead! This is the beginning of baby spending time with you both as a family. He or she will hear and get used to your voice while associating your presence with the happy experience of being fed and cuddled.
  • Get in close and snuggle up to mommy and baby. You can talk directly to the baby; let the baby hold your finger while nursing; stroke the baby’s arm or leg; or just gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes. This helps baby to get to know you – your touch, the sound of your voice, your smell, and your smile.
  • Take charge of the before and after. Be on hand to take the baby to mommy when it is time for a feed. Be there, too, after baby has had his or her fill and needs to be burped or have a diaper changed. It’s another way to share the baby workload while making it obvious to baby that you are also an important part of the breastfeeding experience.

How Can Dad Soothe a Breastfeeding Baby

We often use the terms “breastfeeding” and “nursing” interchangeably. Breastfeeding, however, is just one way in which a baby can be nursed. Nursing includes different ways of comforting or soothing a baby. That means that while only mom can breastfeed a baby, both mom and dad can get in on the nursing action. 

A father sitting on a blue couch trying to calm his newborn baby

Here are a few ideas on how dad can nurse a breastfed baby.

  • Wear your baby. Wearing baby in a sling across your chest is an excellent way to keep him or her close. This way your baby gets to enjoy the gentle swaying as you move around and is soothed by the sound of your breathing and heartbeat. 
  • Cuddle baby skin to skin. Holding baby close helps to build the parent-child connection. You can even try removing your shirt and keeping baby in a diaper only, so the two of you get some beneficial skin to skin contact. (We’ll explore this in the next section.)
  • Give baby a massage. Your baby loves being touched gently and reassuringly. You can set aside time each day to treat your baby to a loving massage. Check out this video to see some recommended baby massage techniques.
  • Recreate womb noises. Dad’s low, rumbling voice is the perfect sound effect for recreating the noises baby hears while in the womb. Get the effect by snuggling baby into your neck, close to your voice box, and then humming, singing, or talking rhythmically to them. 

When Should Dad Do Skin to Skin with His Breastfed Baby? 

The answer to this question is a very enthusiastic “As soon as possible, please!” 

Many studies have long shown the numerous benefits to be derived from skin to skin contact between mother and baby right after birth. Also, skin to skin contact is lauded for its positive effects on the progress of babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). 

What has recently been recognized, however, is the impact paternal skin to skin contact can have on bonding and child development. In fact, one study found that skin to skin contact with dad immediately following a cesarean birth had the ability to reduce baby cry time from 110 minutes to just 15 minutes when compared to babies placed in cots. 

Skin to skin time with dad will not interfere with how baby responds to mom and breastfeeding. What it will do is help father and child to feel connected by stimulating the release of important attachment hormones. 

While it might be obvious that skin to skin contact will also help to regulate baby’s body temperature, some of the other benefits may not be so well-known.

  • It boosts baby’s immune system by passing some of the natural protective flora (microorganisms) found on dad’s skin to the baby. 
  • The close contact aids the emotional, social, and cognitive development of the baby.
  • It acts as a pain reliever by soothing, comforting, and reassuring baby.
  • It helps to both stabilize and improve baby’s heart and lung functions.

Dad Is Unable to Settle Baby – What to Do

It can be a frustrating and somewhat disheartening experience when it seems you are simply unable to settle your baby. If that happens, here are a few tips on how to get around it. 

Make it just the two of you.

The fact that baby may be feeling more attached to mommy (and her milk) might interfere with daddy’s efforts to soothe baby. It might help if mommy takes a well-deserved break and goes out of sight, out of earshot, and out of smell range. That way baby gets to focus on daddy as the only available pacifier without the distraction of mommy.

Do it your way.

Moms and dads have naturally different styles when it comes to parenting. Even the way they hold and rock baby may be different. Trying to mirror the way mommy does it will not only be uncomfortable for baby and dad, it will also leave dad feeling stressed and drained. Get in tune with your own natural caregiving style, and both you and baby will probably be more relaxed. 

Try bottle feeding breast milk.

Feeding time is the perfect bonding experience for parent and child. It’s one of the reasons babies bond so easily to their mothers. Being held close and nourished helps to foster feelings of security within the child. If mom is able to express her milk, then dad bottle feeding baby with breast milk may be a good opportunity for the father-baby bond to form.

It must be pointed out, however, that as explained by La Leche League International, alternating between breast and bottle feeding can cause nipple confusion in some babies. However, it can be done successfully with some tried and tested techniques.

Remember, it’s probably just a phase.

Newborns usually won’t object to being held by anyone. By the time babies are a few months old, however, they may have developed such a strong attachment to their mommies that they refuse to settle with anyone else – even dad. Don’t take it personally. Give it time, be present, and find ways to remain an active part of your baby’s daily routines. Baby will eventually pass this stage and both of you can go back to the closeness you once enjoyed.

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