Bonding with a new baby is critical. But when the baby’s bond with the mother is very strong, dads may feel as if they are less important in the baby’s life.
Jade Elliott spoke with Dr. Neal Davis, pediatrician and medical director of pediatric community-based care for Intermountain Healthcare, on this episode of the Baby Your Baby Podcast. Dr. Davis said a dad’s interaction with newborns and children as they grow up is critical in child development.
The strongest bonds start with a father’s interactions with the mother, Dr. Davis said.
“This cannot be overstated: The most fundamental way that dads can create that early bond with their babies is to be a supportive, healthy partner for the mother,” he said. “The relationship with the mother over time is connected to a dad’s ability to engage positively with the child.”
Data show that dads bring a different approach to interactions, from their voices to their choices of play, that help babies develop and grow, Dr. Davis said.
Yet some dads encounter barriers to engaging with their child. Mental wellness can be a challenge, be it depression – experienced before or after the birth of a child – lack of sleep, or financial stresses. Some infants and toddlers may cry if they’re not with their mother, which can be discouraging.
It’s important to recognize that children go through different phases and attachments, Dr. Davis said. “Dads staying engaged, nurturing, and active with children matters, because phases and attachments change.”
Dr. Davis provides these tips to help new dads bond with baby:
-Put the phone down! Texting, talking, or scrolling disrupts meaningful interactions with children.
-Go outside, take a walk, and explore the bigger world together. Look at trees, smell flowers, sit on the grass. This could ease the initial emotional reaction of the child’s attachment to mom.
-Attend well-child and medical appointments.
-Understand the child’s development phases, and be flexible. For young children, dads can make funny faces, animal sounds, or sing; turn on music and dance; wrestle or play chase.
-Read books together. This could mean finding a tiger in a picture book, roaring together and chasing each other around like tigers.
-Be patient, be engaged and be yourself.
“Dads are different than moms, they’re going to parent differently than moms, and that can be very good for the child to pick up on nuances from a different parent,” Dr. Davis said. “There are no perfect parents, and we’re all trying and engaging with children the best that we can. Just keep on going.”
Click here to listen to our dads and postpartum depression podcast mentioned in this episode.
The Baby Your Baby program provides many resources for all pregnant women and new moms in Utah. There is also expert advice from the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare that air each week on KUTV 2News.