7 essential ways for dads to bond with their newborns

Bonding doesn’t always come instantly for overwhelmed new dads, but it’s crucial.

11 January 2017
by Glynis Horning

The sense of loving attachment from bonding is important for both dads and babies. Studies suggest babies as young as five months score higher in cognitive development when they have highly-involved fathers, reports the journal of Applied Developmental Science, and later they tend to tolerate stress and frustration better, and are more secure, resilient and curious. Dads, in turn, report greater satisfaction and confidence, and career benefits linked to this bonding.

Hormones may be involved (Israeli studies show a rise in oxytocin, the ‘cuddle chemical’, in new dads), but paternal bonding may take a little longer to develop than maternal, so it needs to be encouraged and supported by mom.

Essential bonding tips for dad

The following bonding practices will help dad cement his bond with baby:

1. Hold baby: “After you’ve fed her, or while he bottle-feeds her, show him how to cradle her as you do while breastfeeding, holding her so they make eye contact,” says Durban psychologist Rakhi Beekrum.

2. Soothe baby: Many dads nervously hand over crying babies. Encourage your man to work his own magic, walking, rocking and singing to her. He’ll be teaching her that mom isn’t the only source of comfort. “He’ll also feel less overwhelmed when mom isn’t around, as he’ll start to trust his instincts with baby,” Beekrum says.

3. Play with her: Many dads only really get into this once babies become more responsive and mobile, but encourage your man to make funny faces and play peekaboo from the start, to engage with and enjoy his newborn.

4. Do bath or story duty: This can be a fun time, and becomes an important part of baby’s routine that helps prepare her for the night, as she starts to figure out that bath time comes before story and bed time.

5. Take a night shift: If mom expresses milk for this, it will give dad valuable alone-time with baby, and help mom catch up on sleep, deepening her own bond with dad. “There will be less resentment in the relationship if these duties are shared,” Beekrum says.

6. Do nappy duty: Help dad brave this too, as it’s a chance to help make baby comfortable and build war stories for the guys.

7. Take baby for walks: Getting out together in a sling or stroller is great for bonding -- just remind him to put sunscreen on them both.

When dads struggle to bond

If dad struggles to get involved, he may be one of an estimated 10% who develop paternal postpartum depression, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

If he experiences any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, let your doctor know: loss of interest in activities, constant tiredness, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, inability to focus, irritability, eating or sleeping too little or too much. He may need professional help for depression.

“Discuss it first to determine whether it’s not just the exhaustion and adjustment,” Beekrum advises. “First-time parents could consider couples therapy before the baby arrives, as many don’t realise the impact of adjusting, exciting as it may be.”

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