Thursday, November 1, 2012

How Dad Can Bond with Baby

"I plan to pump and make bottles once in a while so his dad can feed him and bond with him, too."
"We do formula at night so Daddy can take the night feedings. He needs that bonding time."
"If I breastfeed exclusively, then how will his dad bond with him?"
"I want to make sure my husband has a chance to bond with my baby, too, so I think he should handle some of the feedings."

I hear or read comments like these often, usually couched as arguments against exclusive breastfeeding, and what it comes down to is the concern that if Dad doesn't feed the baby sometimes, if Mom is "hogging" the baby by breastfeeding all the time, then Dad won't get to bond with his baby.

Why is feeding so closely associated with bonding? Why is there this notion that the only way to bond with a baby is by feeding?

Part of the issue is that we breastfeeding advocates often tout the "bonding" aspect of breastfeeding as one of the major benefits. Nursing a baby activates love and attachment hormones in the mother (oxytocin and prolactin) that encourage the mother to protect and care for her child. Coupled with this are the warm feelings that the cuddling and eye contact associated with feeding provoke.

But there must be ways to bond with a baby aside from nursing! After all, parents who bottle-feed become attached to and bonded with their babies without nursing them. Parents who take in older children who no longer need bottles or breastfeeding bond with and love their adoptive children. What about stepparents who come into children's lives after infancy and become very well bonded with them?

While nursing, and feeding in general, definitely promotes that bond, not nursing or feeding doesn't prevent bonding.

While the mother may be the only one who can nurse a new baby, dads can certainly bond with their babies in other ways.

If we want to keep talking about feeding = bonding, then, once breastfeeding and supply are well established (at around four to six weeks), mom can start pumping so that Dad can give the baby a bottle. Indeed, if Mom is returning to work, she'll need to pump and have someone feed the baby from a bottle anyway, and it's a good idea to get baby used to taking a bottle of pumped milk before he has to be separated from Mom for any length of time. However, I do not recommend having Dad give a bottle at night in the early weeks, especially if there is any concern about milk supply, because late-night and early-morning feedings are essential for establishing supply and stimulating milk production. If he does give a bottle at night, then Mom should wake up and pump at around the same time that Dad is giving a bottle, at least for the first several weeks.

Continuing on the feeding = bonding track, once baby starts taking solid foods (around six months of age), Dad can feed baby! That first introduction to solid foods is usually fun and hilarious, watching baby's expression as he experiences a new texture and flavor, trying out the spoon for the first time. Of course, this has to wait until the baby is old enough for solids, but it can certainly be an enjoyable bonding=feeding time for Dad.

Moving on from feeding, how about bathing baby? My husband was the expert baby-bath giver for our oldest. Baths are fun and relaxing for baby and parents alike, and the skin-to-skin contact of Dad's hand as he washes the baby is healthy and also stimulates bonding and love. Dad can also massage baby before bed (Google "infant massage" for techniques).

Dad can diaper and dress baby. Before our oldest was born, we scoffed at the idea that diapering the baby would be a time of bonding. Who wants to change a poopy diaper? It's just a chore that has to be done. But we both soon found out that, while not exactly "fun" in the "enjoyment" sense of the word, changing a diaper can be much more than just changing a diaper, especially when it comes with tickles of the armpits, raspberries on the tummy, and stroking those adorable baby feet. Anything to entice a smile!

Dad can soothe the baby. Especially in those early days and weeks, when the baby may be fussy in the evenings and need help calming down, Dad can absolutely hold and cuddle the unhappy baby. He can hold the baby skin-to-skin against his chest, which will help the baby regulate his breathing and heart rate and keep him warm. He can swaddle, bounce, shush, or sing to the baby. Often, I've seen the magic of Dad's big, warm hands comfort a baby with gas or other tummy troubles, and Dad's deeper voice is calming and relaxing for the baby.

Dad can wear the baby. When baby needs to be carried, Dad can strap him on just as easily as Mom. Wearing a baby in a wrap or front-carrier is beneficial for both baby and parent!

Dad can sleep with the baby. While I know that not all married couples share a bed, it is pretty common. If Mom is co-sleeping, then so is Dad! Dad can cuddle his sleeping baby, gaze at the sweet sleeping face, and help quiet him during night wakings. And even if they don't co-sleep, what cuter picture is there than of baby asleep against Daddy's chest for a cozy nap?

The essential piece to bonding with your baby is not the feeding, it's taking care of your baby in general. Any way that you care for a baby will encourage a bond. The only way to ensure that Dad does not bond with his baby is for him not to participate in the day-to-day needs of his baby. The above ideas are just a few of the myriad ways fathers contribute to the well-being and care of their babies.

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