June 19, 2019
11 Ways Childbirth Educators Can Encourage Bonding Between Fathers/Partners and Their Newborn
By: Sharon Muza, BS, LCCE, FACCE, CD/BDT(DONA), CLE | 0 Comments
Having just celebrated Father’s Day in the United States, this is a good time to remind childbirth educators and other birth professionals how they can encourage and support a connection and bond between the father or nongestational parent and a newborn. So much of childbirth education is discussing the role and responsibilities of the birthing person, but for those who have a partner, male or female, that person plays a critical and important role in the life of the newborn. As educators, we should be sharing information that can help establish a connection and bond with the father or nonbirth parent as well. Hearing some ideas in childbirth classes can help the other parent feel prepared and excited about their new role.
In the early days and weeks after birth, the birthing person spends a lot of time with their newborn, getting breastfeeding/chestfeeding well established and recovering from childbirth with their babies by their side. Fathers and partners often can feel left out or excluded because of frequent nursing sessions and the comfort that babies get from being close to the birth parent. The following tips provide many ways in which the father or other parent can also establish a bond with their babies.
1. Early interaction
Connecting partners and their newborns early in the first hours can help cement the bond between with the child. Dr. John Klaus and Phyllis Klaus, in their book, "Your Amazing Newborn" state that when a father is given the opportunity to play with his newborn in the first hours after birth, and make eye to eye contact, he spends considerably more time with his child in the first three months than fathers who did not have this intimate connection in the first hours. When the birthing person gets up to take their first shower, this is a wonderful time for the father or other parent to share this early bonding time with their newborns.
2. Skin to skin
The benefits of skin to skin with a newborn are well known; temperature regulation, stress reduction, stabilization of blood sugar, release of oxytocin (the love hormone), comfort and security. Nonbirth parents can and should have skin to skin time with their newborns as soon as it makes sense to do so. Getting settled in a comfortable chair, with their shirt off, a naked baby on their chest and both of them covered by a cozy blanket is a wonderful opportunity for both of them to benefit from the oxytocin release that will occur. And is there really anything better than the smell and touch of a just born baby?
3. Singing to baby
Penny Simkin has written on Connecting the Dots here and here before on the benefits to singing to your baby in utero, and then using that familiar song once baby has been born to calm and sooth the newborn. Fathers or the nonbirth parent can choose a special song or two and sing it to the baby frequently during pregnancy, and then that can become the special song to sing to the baby on the outside. A wonderful opportunity for connection and bonding between the two.
4. Bathing with baby
New babies love nothing more than taking a bath safely cradled in the arms of a parent. While most newborns don't require frequent bathing, having the parent take a bath in body temperature water with the baby on their chest is a wonderful way to relax and bond. The baby feels secure and comforted and the parent can enjoy a relaxing bath while focusing on enjoying time with their newborn. Remember, safety first! Always have another adult available to hand the baby off to when entering and exiting the tub. Babies are slippery when wet.
5. Paternity/family leave
While the United States is hardly known for its generous leave for parents after the birth of a baby, both mothers and fathers are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off in the first year after the birth (or adoption) of a child according to the Family and Medical Leave Act and still have job protection. Fathers and partners can plan to utilize this benefit and even consider using some of this leave when (and if) the birth parent returns to work, taking the opportunity to be the primary parent for a period of time. Planning ahead for this leave both from a financial and workload standpoint would be helpful.
6. Reading to baby
Fathers and partners can make time every day to read to their baby. Certainly, when very young, the baby is not understanding the words, but nevertheless, newborns and young infants are fascinated with the sound of human voices and are very comforted by being held close and listening to the voice of their parent, safe and familiar. In the beginning, it is not even important what is being read, just that time is set aside to do so. Read your favorite novel, magazine or newspaper if you like! As the baby gets a bit older, you can start reading more age-appropriate books with pictures that are attractive to infants.
Babywearing offers a great opportunity for fathers and partners and babies (even newborns) to connect and bond. Most babies love to be worn, and when a parent does so safely it is a chance to further strengthen the bond between a father or nonbirth parent and their child. Additionally, wearing a baby makes it easy to be out in public or doing tasks and chores around the home, or even working, depending on what type of job the parent may have. There are many types of carriers on the market and families should always make sure they are using a carrier safely and responsibly, and that it fits both the parent and the baby well.
Fathers and partners can find ways to get their much-needed exercise in while also spending time with their baby. When their baby is very young, taking the baby for a walk, in a baby carrier or a stroller, is a great way to get out and burn some calories while being with their child. As the baby gets older, putting them in a child seat on a bike, using a jogging stroller, or a bike trailer, is another alternative allowing the parent to pick up the pace. Consideration should always be taken to follow the instructions and age/weight guidelines that come with the equipment to prevent injury to the child.
9. Establish returning home rituals
Returning home from work after a long day offers parents a chance to connect with and bond with their baby. Parents can have a clear transition from work to home and take a deep breath before getting ready to be fully present with their baby when they walk in the door. Have a special ritual of greeting, welcoming the child into your arms and taking a few minutes to reconnect after a day (or night) of separation can make for a lovely opportunity for bonding and easing back into being home with those you love.
10. Parent-child traditions
Parents may want to continue traditions and special activities that they did with their own parents when they were children or consider starting some new ones of their own. Going to the donut shop for Sunday morning goodies, Friday night family movie night, attending certain community or religious activities and sporting events all offer quality time for children to further connect with their parents.
11. Parenting - not babysitting
One of my pet peeves is when I hear parents (both mothers and fathers do this) talk about how the nonbirth parent is "babysitting" or "watching" their children. In my mind, a partner no more babysits their child than the birth parent does. They parent their child and sometimes that means being alone with the child and sometimes that is jointly with the other parent.
It can be easy to forget, especially in the sometimes chaotic first weeks and months of welcoming a baby, that the nonbirth parent or partner has a lot to offer to their new child and it benefits both the parents and the baby to establish this connection and enhance bonding early and often. What are you doing in your childbirth classes to educate about the importance of the connection between the partner and the newborn? Share in the comments below.
Klaus, M. H., & Klaus, P. H. (1998). Your amazing newborn. Da Capo Press.
TagsParenting Childbirth education Newborn Bonding Father's Day Fathers Sharon Muza