Ideally, having a baby is a joyous time. But realistically it can be very challenging. It’s not uncommon for dads to find it difficult to adjust to the arrival of a baby and the radical changes this can bring. Especially when you’re a first-time parent. But with a little time, that new dad bonding with baby will come effortlessly.
There’s very little that can prepare us for parenting. No diploma or degree could possibly match up to the real experience itself!
It’s all about jumping in with both feet, being real with ourselves and others, being open to learning on the job, and just doing the best we can.
Our expectations affect how we adjust to life as a new dad or mom.
Maybe the reality of being a parent didn’t seem that real until the moment actually arrived. And arrive it did in a rather dramatic and profound fashion! Perhaps the birth didn’t go according to the plan or maybe there were complications. Or maybe you saw this miracle unfolding in front of your eyes, and are now trying to be actively supportive while actually feeling quite daunted.
Perhaps you didn’t anticipate the fact that your freedom to come and go would be quite so curtailed. And that you’d be so exhausted all the time.
Maybe you’re finding it a strain to juggle your work with home life on top of endless broken nights. Or perhaps you’re experiencing the weight of the financial and emotional responsibilities of parenting and are even feeling a little bit overwhelmed by it all.
At the start, focus and attention is naturally to be more centered on mom and baby and this could result in your feeling that your needs are being overlooked and are unimportant.
And while you may try to seek physical intimacy to feel better, your partner may not be ready. She is also navigating new parenthood. Be aware that your feelings could be heightened at this moment and there could be some misunderstandings and possibly over-reactions to the apparent lack of interest.
Try not to assume that she doesn’t care about you, or that you’re not important to her anymore. Acknowledging your own thoughts, taking responsibility for them and doing something about them will help you to accept and enjoy your baby more.
The New Daddy Blues
We’ve all heard of postpartum depression and the baby blues with reference to mothers. Is there such thing for fathers? Yes, male postpartum depression is a very real thing. According to research, up to 10% of new fathers could experience a degree of baby blues or even clinical male postpartum depression.
While most of the focus has been on women, little consideration has been given to you, the new dads, who could be also having similar experiences. Odd as it may sound, you could feel simultaneously empowered and disempowered. Empowered because you have this new love. And disempowered because you’re feeling vulnerable about being responsible for this new being.
Canadian researcher Anne Storey found that new fathers’ testosterone levels drop radically, by up to one third, after childbirth. Testosterone affects energy and mood, so this can result in feeling a little down. These lowered hormone levels, however, can also be beneficial, increasing your tolerance and helping you to feel calmer.
Be honest about how you feel
Try not to hide away and bury your thoughts and feelings as this could be disempowering and destructive. Left unaddressed, they may damage your relationship and your experience of fatherhood. Some low feelings will naturally move on in time, but it’s important to recognize when they’re not and to do something constructive about them.
Meredith Small, author of Our Babies, Ourselves: How Culture and Biology Shape the Way We Parent, says, “Bonding is not instantaneous, but a process—a relationship that grows from being together over time.”
It’s good to be honest with yourself and acknowledge your current thoughts. You may have a case of the baby blues or your feelings could mean something more serious, like male postpartum depression. You don’t have to feel guilty or ashamed about them. They’re perfectly normal.
But, even though you wouldn’t wish them to, they could be negatively affecting your behavior towards your baby and your partner. So it’s a good idea to take responsibility for them and address them. Another dad wanted me to pass on his best advice to other fathers going through a rough patch: “It won’t last forever. You will get through it.”
So how can you get through the rough patches quicker and with less anxiety and get on with the fun task of dad bonding with baby? Here are some suggestions:
Talk things over with your partner
Be real, talk to your partner; it’s more than likely that she is also feeling some anxieties and concerns about parenting, and will be relieved to be able to talk things over positively with you. A good partnership allows you both to be honest and real with each other in expressing how you each view the problem or situation: no shame or blame – just good communication. Both points of view need to be respected and acknowledged as being different but equally important. By putting your minds together the two of you can work together to bring about improvements a lot faster.
… Or talk to someone else
If you’re reluctant to share these thoughts with your partner, perhaps not wishing to burden her, or for some other good reason, then try writing your feelings down or sharing your thoughts with a trusted friend, family member, GP or health professional.
It can be very helpful to talk with someone who is not so closely involved and is able to see things from a different perspective. This gives you a way to express them and also to look at them more clearly and objectively. It’s important that your feelings are acknowledged and heard in some way. Bottling up feelings and concerns can lead to prolonged blues and even possibly clinical depression. Airing your concerns and dealing with the root causes of being down can enable you to see things differently and shift your mood.
How to Bond with Baby Through the Ups and Downs
Cuddle with your new 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. It also encourages the release of the ‘feel-good’ hormone oxytocin in both of you, which helps with the bonding process.
Have some fun together just enjoying each other’s company. You can’t really play with a newborn, but they’ll pick up on your playful energy. Make up silly songs for swaddling or changing diapers. Pick out a dad-friendly baby carrier or take baby out in the stroller to enjoy some outside time.
Sit and talk to your baby. She loves to hear your voice. Try some baby yoga exercises, easy movements that you can combine with some little swings and lifts. She’ll begin to understand that dad = activity and fun!
Take the night shift
This is when you get baby all to yourself. Have a couple of bottles on standby, and be mentally prepared that you’ll be your baby’s source of comfort for the night. Before bedtime, try infant massage to help both of you relax in a loving way. You’ll be amazed at how wonderful you feel afterwards.
Get involved in the practicalities of baby care. Share some of the tasks, such as nappy changing, feeding, bathing and dressing your baby. This would greatly help your partner, giving her some ‘baby-free’ time out, as well as deepening your relationship with your baby.
Make silly faces
Even small babies can find silly faces entertaining. And it’s just another way to bond. As baby gets older, try a game of peekaboo, and you’ll be the hero for sure.
Take baby for a walk
Grab the baby carrier and head out for some fresh air. Walking in nature clears your head and exposes baby to wondrous delights to his senses. Or meet up with other dads for some time outdoors together.
Take care of each other
Look after each other – good parenting is team work! 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, a walk, a trip out – anything that feels right and can be managed child-free.
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!
It’s the hardest times that can teach us the most valuable lessons. All your kind and loving efforts to change the situation will be rewarded, and once you’ve bonded and the love flows freely between you both, that special dad bonding with baby connection will change and enrich your life forever.