Bonding with your brand-new baby can be overwhelming, and it may not come naturally. No one wants to admit they are having trouble forming an attachment to their baby, because it’s supposed to happen naturally, immediately and intensely—right?
Not for everyone, and that’s okay. Take a breather and give yourself a break. Meredith Small, a cultural anthropologist at Cornell University and author of Our Babies, Ourselves: How Culture and Biology Shape the Way We Parent, told the Seleni Institute:
“Bonding is not instantaneous, but a process—a relationship that grows from being together over time.”
Even though it is admittedly tough for some mothers and fathers to bond with their babies right away, our society assumes that women will bond faster and more deeply with our little ones. Because we are the parent who carries the baby for nine months and are their primary food source, fathers tend to be put into the role of “secondary nurturer.” That doesn’t have to be the case.
How can you help your partner form a connection with the other love of your life? Here are some of our best tips:
1. Jump right in—together.
Encourage your husband to join you in diving into the world of parenting—even before the baby arrives. Maybe it’s getting to some prenatal appointments, attending a birth class with you, or researching certain baby products you’re both interested in. Anything to make you feel like a parenting team.
And when the baby arrives, let’s face it, it’s hard for anyone to know what they are doing during those first few months of new parenthood, so make a pact to try to figure things out together. Dad can immerse himself in swaddling, soothing and diaper changing, just like mama. Parenting fails are easier to deal with, and parenting successes are sweeter to celebrate, when your teammate is alongside you.
2. Mama, try not to criticize.
When encouraging dad to jump into caring for your infant, try to back off and give him space. Colleen Campo, a licensed mental health counselor who helps new mothers during this transition to new motherhood, says, “Try to let go a bit, allow your spouse to fumble. It’s okay if the onesie goes on backwards. You don’t need to swoop into to fix that.”
Mothers have been accused of “maternal gatekeeping,” which is when we prevent our partner from caring for the baby on his own without our supervision or expertise. Try to remember that fathers deserve room to grow and learn on their own. But they need space for this. They are going to do some things differently from us, and we need to trust that everything is going to be okay.
3. Help with feedings, pops.
Campo suggests to “allow the baby to receive a bottle from the husband.” This will help the baby understand that although her mama may be the main source of food, she can also receive nourishment from her dad, too. Dad should cradle her nice and close during the feeding.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests bringing the baby to your wife for feedings, burping the baby after he is done nursing, and cuddling and rocking the baby to sleep afterward. These are all ways to connect with your breastfed child.
4. Give baby-wearing a try.
Follow this adorable dad’s lead and snuggle baby close to your chest while going on a walk or getting things done around the house. According to American Academy of Pediatrics research, baby-wearing “promotes parent-infant attachment and the baby’s development.” Plus it helps baby feel comfortable and safe.
5. Let dad soothe.
Campo says mothers should allow their partners room to figure out how to soothe and comfort the baby, too. “Don’t worry if the baby cries more when your spouse is trying to console them. Your baby loves their dad and needs their dad; their crying is a signal that they are sensing something different and new and they are adapting to it.”
Note to dad: Try singing to your baby (anything!), talk to them, make up a silly song—let them hear your voice.
6. Establish a routine all his own.
Campo says to “encourage your partner to start his own routine or ritual with the baby,” like bath time.
Bath time could be dad and baby’s special time together.
Or maybe it could be an out-of-the-house activity like “taking the baby by himself to Starbucks in the morning, or to swim class,” Campo suggests. “Some sort of ritual that’s going to be his own. And he may need help or encouragement with what that ritual will be.” If that’s the case, feel free to help your spouse find something that can consistently be just for them.
7. Take paternity leave if possible.
One of the major hurdles a lot of new fathers must face in bonding with their child is finding the time to do so. If your husband gets paternity leave, encourage him to take advantage of it. According to a United States Department of Labor policy brief on paternity leave, “Paternity leave can promote parent-child bonding. Longer paternity leaves are associated with increased father engagement and bonding. This means that dads have more time to bond with a new child, and will be more involved in caring for their children right from the start. This hands-on engagement can set a pattern that lasts long after the leave ends.”
Let’s hope paternity leave becomes the norm for all businesses, big and small. Thank you to companies like Netflix, which offers mothers and fathers a year of paid parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child, Facebook, which offers four months of parental leave, and countless other companies that offer superb parental leave policies. Hopefully even more will follow suit.