13 Ways For Partners To Bond With A New Baby
The bond between a mother and her baby is intense, it is one born out of necessity. It’s a bond that has been able to grow and flourish over the whole 9 months or so of pregnancy. It’s in intimate and unique connection. But the partner-baby bond is so important too, and having ideas as to how to grow and nurture this bond is really important. Sometimes partners (whether Dads or same sex partners) can feel left out of the bonding experience and this can create tension. Or new partners can feel rather overwhelmed by the birth and the new arrival, and the responsibilities of parenthood in general. It’s mums of course who create the breastmilk on demand, and small babies need feeding so often (it can seem in the early days that all babies seem to do it feed, sleep and poo!). But there are many other ways that partners can be involved with baby in beautiful and loving ways that will help to connect baby and partner together wonderfully. With a little time and patience partner and baby will form their own special and unique loving bond, and that is a real joy to behold. It’s not just though feeding that bonds are created, it’s through closeness, touch, words , gazing into baby’s eyes, warmth, being involved and interacting with baby - just like any other human relationship. And you can do all of this without a bottle (if that’s what you hope to do). There’s a whole chapter about this in the book ‘Why Breastfeeding Matters’ by Charlotte Young (so do buy a copy to learn lots more about partners roles, and why feeding doesn’t need to be a shared thing. Plus so much about breastfeeding in general too).
So here are 13 ways that partners can try to feel more involved, and nurture that bond with their baby:
It’s all about trying things out, being open to learning on the job - there are no instructions books to your baby (as I’m sure about a million people have told you already!), it’s just a case of being open to finding what works for you, and just doing the best that you can and supporting each other. And remember when things feel tough, ‘this too shall pass’.
#1 - Cuddles and Some Skin to Skin Time
Touch is one of your baby’s most important senses, especially in the first few weeks and months, and gently cuddling your newborn is a great way to bond with baby. Simple but wonderful, just cuddling your baby will help to reassure both you that you matter to each other. Cuddling is a natural way to give and receive affection, and it also encourages the release of the ‘feel-good’ hormone oxytocin in both of you, which helps with the bonding process. When mum feeds your baby the pair are placed in a naturally intimate position and this is often followed by a post-feed cuddle. It’s important for partner and baby to develop this closeness too and enjoying a cuddle, and especially plenty of skin to skin contact can be one of the best ways.
This is because babies are happiest when connecting skin-to-skin with mum or partner. Babies temperature, heart and breathing rates will be more consistent skin to skin, and their blood sugar more stable too. It’s amazingly powerful. In addition skin to skin also allows baby to get familiar with your scent and your heartbeat becomes a soothing beat for your baby (they’ve spend all that time in utero with the constant soundtrack of mums heartbeat - it’s hugely familiar and soothing). Spend time bonding, lounge around, lean back on the sofa and let baby rest on your chest skin to skin while you're watching TV for example.
#2 - Baby wearing
According to American Academy of Pediatrics research, baby-wearing “promotes parent-infant attachment and the baby’s development.” It also helps baby feel comfortable and safe - like the touch, cuddling and skin to skin above. You can do this skin to skin, or fully clothed when out and about! Getting a soft wrap to start with (thinner in the summer and thicker in the winter can be a good idea). If you want to try out some slings and carrier (and you like in and around York) then head to the York Sling Library where you can learn all about different slings and baby and toddler carriers and loan one too, in a ‘try before you buy’ way (as there are so many options, and finding a comfortable one for Mum and partner is a great idea). Having you baby in a sling or carrier is a lovely way to get outside and go for a walk with your baby, or let you freely move around the house with baby if you’re not planning a tv session.
#3 - Baby Massage
Babies respond to touch, it’s the simplest and most effective way to communicate to babies they are loved, respected, secure. Daily baby massage is a great way to bond with your baby. What's more, researchers are finding that massage can promote better sleeping, relieve colic and constipation, and even enhance a babys immune system, motor skills, and intellectual development too. And a it’s a brilliant and simple way to soothe and relax your baby too. Baby Massage is best done when your baby is quiet and happy (you won't want to try it on a really fussy baby, or just after a big feed) , and often it can become part of your bedtime routine (should you have one) to help them to relax before bed.
To gain more confidence in baby massage, and learn a complete routine of developmental massage (which can help them to later on to sit and to stand up properly), and to learn techniques for specific ailments (constipation, windy/gassy baby, teething, colic) then attending a Baby Massage Course can be brilliant. You can find out more about the Baby Massage courses that I run in York (that mum, dads , partners, grandparents) can attend with baby here.
#4 Get yourself and baby moving
Babies are used to movement because when they were still in the womb, mum was always moving around, giving them a gentle rocking. Babies therefore feel soothed by swaying movement and they also grow to have fun with it as well. This is something that Dads and partners can do with their baby once they are earthside, you can sway, so dome ‘Dad dancing’ , or even get baby to giggle while you're moving her or him around. Add in some singing or a nursery rhyme and they’ll probably love it even more. Movement also helps increase baby's muscle tone and trains baby's proprioceptors (ie babys sense of self in relation to space).
#5 Go for a walk with your baby
Babies love fresh air, and a change of scene can be good for everyone - partner and baby. It will let you clear your head, get you out in nature (good for everyone) and you could even meet up with another Dad/partner mate if you want to. Plus it could give Mum a little pocket of time to herself too. So taking your small person for a walk can be a great idea. Using a sling or a baby carrier instead of a buggy or pram is also a lovely idea as it keeps baby close to you throughout the walk, and this can help to reassure baby through this closeness as well as being lovely for partner/Dad too. (see #2 Baby Wearing above). Just check that you have the right clothes (you and them) on so baby is the right temperature, and if it should be a glorious day then make sure baby is protected with appropriate sunscreen and a hat as babys skin is really sensitive.
# 6 Play games
Having some fun with your baby is great for you both. Making silly faces, play peek-a-boo and singing nursery rhymes and songs (even just ones you totally make up) can be so much fun for you and for baby too. Laughing together as baby gets older can be so special, and seeing how they connect to you and copy what you do it so joyful. Maybe you set aside regular time each day for baby, whether it's after work or in the morning, so as baby grows this special bonding time becomes part of your day.
New dads and partners can often be a bit worried about hurting their babies, but just try to relax and use your instinct (yes you have this too, not just Mums). It’s important to hold them safely in a way that’s appropriate for their age and developmental stage, you’ll soon learn that they’re not as fragile as you might think. Attending a baby massage class can help Dads / Partners feel more confident in handling and playing with their baby, as well as having fun and bonding together too.
#7 Be a Key Part of the Bedtime Routine
Bedtime routines can be really helpful for many babies and many parents (but not all, like everything baby and parenthood related we’ll all do it differently). It can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like it to be. It often involves a bath, maybe a gentle soothing baby massage, reading a story or singing a lullaby. So partners can decide which part(s) they’d like to be part of. Having a routine can help baby to learn that that when Dad/partner says its bathtime, it's will be bedtime soon too.
#8 Help With Feeding Baby
Some partner can feel left out when watching the closeness of breastfeeding. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests there are ways that partners you can help with feeding though - bringing the baby to Mum for feeds, for burping the baby after the feed, and cuddling and rocking the baby to sleep afterward - these can all be great ways for partners to connect with a breastfed baby when you are not doing the actual feeding yourself. As I mentioned in the introduction It’s not just though feeding that bonds are created - it’s through closeness, touch, words , gazing into baby’s eyes, warmth, being involved and interacting with baby - just like any other human relationship. And you can do all of this without a bottle (if that’s what you hope to do). Take a read of ‘Why Breastfeeding Matters’ by Charlotte Young for more all about this and why feeding doesn’t need to be a shared thing. If you decide you do want your partner to feed your baby too, either expressed breastmilk or formula then it’s suggested that you wait at least 6 weeks before introducing a bottle to baby, to avoid nipple confusion (which may then make your breastfeeding journey harder).
# 9 Singing and Talking to Baby
Singing and talking to your baby helps to establish you as a constant, reliable presence in their life. You may already have been doing this is bump before your baby was born, so simply continue it. If you havn’t then start now. It doesn’t really matter what you say, just have a chat - the important thing is that you are interacting. Singing or talking gently while cradling and rocking your baby and looking into their eyes can be a wonderful way to bond. You can read a book, make up a song or a bedtime story, use funny voices and make funny faces too if you like. And of course you can continue this all through childhood too, all children love stories.
#10 Learn To Soothe Your Baby
When your baby cries you and Mum can take turns to comfort them. Walking around the room holding and gently rocking baby or swaying foot to foot can really help (as I said above, babies love gentle movement and find it soothing). You could also talk or sing softly to baby, showing patience (yes I know, this one can be hard with a really upset baby). Also try to let your breathe deepen and lengthen, taking slow full breaths. This will help you to feel calmer, and also babies respond to the breathing patterns of those close to them - so it can help them to relax too. Win - win.
A crying baby can be very trying but you will also feel a great sense of peace when your little one finally quiets or goes to sleep against your chest. It’s a good idea to share this task for both for your own and your partner’s sanity and to show your baby that mum isn’t the only source of comfort.
It good for mothers to allow their partners to figure out how to soothe and comfort the baby in their own way. Not worrying if baby cries more when your partner is trying to console them (unless it’s food they want and if you are exclusively breastfeeding that’s something only mum can provide. But there are many reasons baby wants soothing). Your baby loves and needs both parents, their crying is a signal that they are sensing something different and new and they are adapting to it.
#11 Start Your Own Ritual
It can be so lovely to encourage your partner to start their own routine or ritual with your baby. It could be bath time, bed time or playing, singing or reading each day. Find a special time together that is yours. Alternatively it may be an out-of-the-house activity at the weekend like taking the baby for a walk with the dog on a Saturday morning, or to a swimming or baby massage class by themselves. Some sort of ritual that’s going to be their own - whatever they choose and like to do together. Partners may need help or encouragement with what that ritual will be, and if that’s the case feel free to help and encourage them to find something that can consistently be just for them. It also will give you a little bit of baby free time, and some time alone for Mum can be hugely beneficial to rest a little, and find a little bit of me-time to replenish themselves - hugely important.
#12 Paternity or Shared Leave
One of the major hurdles a lot of new partners can face in bonding with their new baby is how to actually finding the time to do so. If your partner gets paternity leave, then do encourage them to take advantage of it. Paternity leave can promote parent-child bonding. Longer paternity leaves are associated with increased father/partner engagement and bonding. It can mean that partners have more time to bond with a new baby, 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 paternity leave ends.
There is more information here on paternity leave and shared parental leave. Hopefully more and more partner will feel they can take this option if they would like to, and uptake rates are slowly growing here in the UK.
# 13 Do it together
You're not the “backup parent.” you’re an equal parent and a full, equal partner in turning a small, fragile bundle of fluid and bones into a loving, kind, healthy person. Partner are critical to every step of the process. Partners should be just as informed, involved and as in love as Mothers are. You need to dive straight in with both feet. Get involved in the practicalities of baby care, sharing the tasks, such as nappy changing, soothing, bathing and dressing your baby. As well as greatly help your partner and giving her some ‘baby-free’ time out, it will help to deepen your relationship with your baby. You are a parenting team, and parenting fails are easier to deal with, and parenting successes are sweeter to celebrate when your teammate is alongside you. Just like the ‘birthing dream team’ I talk about in my Hypnobirthing & Birth Preparation Classes, you need to be a ‘parenting dream team’ too.
And finally (but most importantly) - take care of each other
Look after each other, this is a time for understanding and patience. There are many ways to give and receive love and affection; its important for you both to plan some time together so that you can look after your relationship with each other.
While you’ll naturally have different needs at this time, it’s likely that you’d both benefit from having some time together where possible. Why not plan a date, or just a walk together or a short trip out – anything that feels right and can be managed child-free even for a short while. Remind each other in little ways just how important you’re to one another. Being kind and respectful to each other will help to keep a flow of love and good feeling between you. This strengthening of your bond together can greatly help you in dealing with those inevitable challenges along the parenting journey.
Take heart. However challenging or distressing this time is, it will pass!