Being a first time dad is a bit like being a first-time driver. You know what all the buttons and pedals do. You know the wheel turns. But the first time you try to do it, you’re probably going to be pretty clunky and clumsy. And you’re almost certain to make a handful of mistakes. To get good at it, you have to make a lot of mistakes. Millions, perhaps. And yet it’s the consistent effort applied over time — the practice — that leads to mastery.
Numerous studies show that dad creating a solid attachment bond with bub in the early days increases the wellbeing of the whole family. The research shows family functioning improves and relationship satisfaction between partners goes up.
Involved dads influence more than just family function and relationship satisfaction. Researchers from the UK investigated dads’ interactions with their three-month-old babies and found that by age two, the littlies with the most engaged and interactive dads were doing better on a range of cognitive tests than the ones whose dads were less ‘there’. Mental development was enhanced by the presence or absence of an engaged father.
Here are 7 things you can do to boost your brand-new baby’s wellbeing – and that of your family:
We already know that skin-to-skin contact is great for mum and your new baby. But dads can do it too — even if you’re covered in manly chest hair. That physical contact releases bonding hormones in your baby and in you, and it makes you more positively crazy about your baby.
Work on your baby talk
For decades, scientists have known that mums often speak in a more sing-song, high-pitched voice when talking to their babies. You may call it ‘baby talk’. (We used to call it ‘motherese’, but these days we’re more inclusive so we call it ‘parentese’.) And for a lot of us guys, it can be a bit off-putting, and not many dads do it. Perhaps don’t start off when you’re in public, but have fun with your baby by trying some baby talk out. Watch their reaction. Talking to bub in this kind of sing-song voice opens up the engagement and delight your baby feels. And when that kiddo smiles at you, you’ll have to hold yourself back from trying to eat him!
The world is teeming with data that shows that dads are more likely to play with their kids than mums. Of course, mums play. But dads do it more, they do it more naturally, and they tend to do it with more rough and tumble fun. You need to be careful when your infant is new, but as she grows, this rough and tumble fun should become a staple part of your relationship. It helps with bonding, and it creates an understanding of risk, limits, consent and more. And it leads to endless giggles and laughter that you’ll cherish for the rest of your life.
This is the bit where you can integrate all of your best attributes as dads. You can play, sing, talk in funny voices — and channel your very best choo-choo train or airplane to get that food into our child’s mouth! And, yes, you can keep your cool when food ends up on the floor or all over you.
When you spend time with a baby, time stands still and you get to completely immerse yourself in the moment. Once they’re in that warm water, kicking their legs, splashing, and laughing their heads off while they smile up at you, you’ll be a goner; completely smitten and lost in the moment.
Most of the tips in this article encourage you to be actively involved with your new baby in some small way. They demand you do something. This second-to-last idea goes entirely the opposite way. Sometimes, when you’re with your baby, do nothing but stare. Soak it all up. Breathe in that brand new baby fragrance. Feel the softness of his hands as he grasps your pinky when you put it in his palm. Take in the perfection of his skin, the tiny lips, and the wide-open, trusting eyes. Engorge your eyes on the little tufts of hair on his head and the stilted, jerky movements he makes as he tries to make sense of his surroundings. Bask in the breathtaking miracle of the tiny wonder you’ve helped create and bring into the world. If you want to feel like a dad, sometimes it’s best to stand in the majesty of the moment — even if it’s in the lounge room while you’re in your undies — and consider the potential of the little life in front of you.
Love your baby’s Mum
Hopefully your relationship with your little baby’s mumma is rock solid. Put her first. Be there for her. Support her. Think about how you can help her. In some strange way, this will build more bonding into your relationship with your baby. But even if your relationship’s not solid, take a step back and realise that this child is half you and half her. Acknowledge the good that’s in her, because it has likely passed through to your child. You can’t love the child without loving the part that she has played in your child’s life right now.