A mother with a baby snuggled at her breast strokes her baby’s deliciously smooth skin, ruffles the soft downy hair on his head and gazes into his eyes as the little one curls tiny fingers around mama’s hand and gazes trustingly back at the source of the sweet warm milk filling his belly.
Is it any surprise that a new father proudly watching the woman he loves tenderly nurturing their baby wonders, how can I join this amazing circle of love?
For some dads, this desire to enjoy a closer connection with their baby can mean offering or even insisting that they give the baby a bottle. Unfortunately, this can cause unnecessary stress to a mum who is learning to breastfeed.
Giving a bottle in the early weeks could compromise breastfeeding by confusing a baby who is still learning to feed effectively at the breast because breast and bottle require different sucking actions. It can also reduce the mother’s milk supply if she doesn’t express as well, since breast milk supply works on a supply and demand principle – the more milk that’s removed from the breasts, the more the mother’s body is signaled to produce.
Expressing milk can be a tedious and demanding process even for experienced mothers when simply snuggling your baby close to feed is so much easier – and who is washing the bottles, pump parts and tubing? Hint: If you want your partner to express so you can give your baby a bottle, YOU wash the pump parts and bottles!
And if you are thinking, perhaps a bottle of formula would make things easier, please consider: this could pose some unnecessary health risks such as introducing potential allergens to your baby, compromising your baby’s gut health and reducing the immune protection your baby is receiving from his mother’s milk. As well as being a living fluid loaded with immune factors and disease preventing components, the transfer of saliva from baby to breast signals the mother’s body to produce antibodies to any bug the baby has been exposed to – who would want to mess with that?
So what’s a loving dad to do?
If you and your partner are happy to offer some feeds from bottles so Dad can share feeding, of course this is your baby and your business and you will work this out together, but you don’t need bottles to bond. For instance, think of the elements of bonding that happens when a mother feeds her baby – touch, smell, taste, eye contact, the sound of her voice. Apart from taste (which will be different anyway because breast-milk flavours change depending on the mother’s own diet), you can share all of these elements with your baby without giving a bottle. This will stimulate fabulous ‘feel good’ chemistry in your brain and your baby’s that will enhance your connection with your child and put you into the circle of love with your partner and little one.
Here are 7 ways to bond with your baby right from the start:
1)Talk to the bump! Research has shown that babies can distinguish between their parents’ and strangers’ voices from 30 weeks in the womb—and the same study found that if dads speak to a baby before birth, the newborn will recognize his father’s voice. So talk—or sing—to that bump and your baby will know you as soon as he hears you on the ‘outside’.
2)Tuck him in your shirt: Snuggling your baby skin to skin will elicit the release of oxytocin, the love hormone, in you and your baby, enhancing bonding and attachment. Skin to skin care is especially important for newborns to regulate temperature and body systems, so hold your brand new baby against your bare skin while your partner is being attended to or if she is exhausted after giving birth. Later, you can spend an afternoon in your boxers with baby sleeping on your chest wearing just a nappy (pop a blanket over you both to stay warm) as you watch Netflix and chill together. He will be getting to know you through your smell and he will enjoy the warmth of your skin and the security of your big strong arms as he is soothed by the noises of your breathing, talking or laughing.
3)Wear your baby: Carrying your baby close in a baby carrier is a great way to keep him happy as he hears your heartbeat and your deep voice. You can take him out for a walk while mum rests (warning: dads carrying babies get a lot of positive attention from strange women). Or, just go about your business – walk the dog, rake the leaves or vacuum – your baby will love the movement and you will get brownie points for being a master baby calmer!
4) Bath together: Bathing a tiny slippery baby can be a bit daunting at first. An easier way to manage bathing is to get in the bath or shower with your baby. When you have had a good play, pass him out to your partner to wrap him in a warm towel and cuddle him dry before a feed.
5) Learn baby massage: Massage is not only good for your baby’s health and development as well as his sleep patterns it’s also a great way to get to know your baby’s non-verbal language and boost your confidence. An Australian study of infant massage and father-baby bonding, found that at 12 weeks old, babies who were massaged by their fathers greeted their Dads with more eye contact, smiling, vocalising and touch than those in the control group. Other studies show baby massage reduces paternal stress and increases confidence and bonding between fathers and infants. To learn how to massage your baby, check out Pinky McKay’s baby massage DVD (this is available immediately as a streaming download as well as a DVD).
6) Try the colic waltz: Although it’s much more fun to play with a happy baby, when it all goes ‘pear shaped’, Dads are often the best baby settlers: you don’t smell like breast milk so if baby has a bellyache, he can relax without snuffling round for more mummy milk; you have big strong arms to lie him along (with his legs straddled across your arm and a bit of pressure against his belly). Or snuggle him against your chest with his head tucked under your chin, and hum as you walk – the vibration and deep noise you make will help him calm in no time.
7) Just do it!: Even though you may feel a bit anxious about your baby care skills, especially your ability to calm your tiny crying baby, just give it a go! And don’t be intimidated by your partner (Ladies, lock up that mother lioness and step back!). Although your partner may seem more confident than you about baby care, she will take time to find her groove too. The more you participate in the care of your baby, the better you will get to know your child and the more your own confidence will grow.
Pinky McKay is an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant and best selling baby care author. She is also the creator of Boobie Bikkies, all natural and organic health food cookies to boost energy and support a healthy breastmilk supply. Download your FREE ebook “Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally “ by Pinky McKay.