After coming home from the hospital, some dads may feel left out of family life and struggle to bond with their babies. In fact, a 2009 study found that 40 percent of dads felt that they had nothing to do after the baby was born. However, there are plenty of things new dads can do to foster their bond with Baby, help new moms to recover from labor, and be involved. Changing diapers is a given, of course, but we’ve outlined a few other ways new dads can be involved in their family’s life.
- Give the baby a sponge bath. Parents are advised to give babies sponge baths until the umbilical cord falls off (usually within the first two weeks). Sponge baths are a great way for dads to begin to establish their bond with and feel more attached to baby, while also giving moms a little time to rest and recover. This article from Johnson and Johnson gives you a handy step-by-step guide on how to give sponge baths. From our personal experience, you can never have too many washcloths during this period! (In fact, this is why we include an organic cotton washcloth in our Rad Dad Newborn Starter Kit.) We also want to warn you that this is not always a pleasant task, as many babies seem to hate sponge baths!
- Once Baby’s umbilical cord has fallen off, give Baby a regular bath. I will be honest, Mr. Rad Dad bathed our baby until he was 7-8 months old – basically, until he could sit up on his own. I wasn’t strong enough, especially in the early days, to hold the baby under running water and my hands and arms weren’t big enough to support his head and neck *and* bathe him at the same time. Also, if bathing the baby requires you to kneel down, remember that it is very difficult for Mom to bend down when she is still recovering from giving birth. Bathing is a much more pleasant experience than sponge bathing, and it can really help new dads feel more involved and have fun with baby at the same time.
- Read to your baby. Did you know that a recent study found that children develop better language skills when Dad reads the bedtime story? Reading to your baby is encouraged from day one, and it’s also a good bonding experience for Dad and baby. Even if it seems like there are only 30 minutes a day where your baby is awake and not eating, that’s still a little time where you can squeeze in a story! Check out our previous post on a few good dad-themed books to read to your baby, some of which have been included in our past boxes.
- Spend some skin-to-skin time with your baby, or just hold them as they are napping. Since newborns sleep almost all the time, one way for Dads to bond with their babies is to have some skin-to-skin time with the baby. The physical contact, the feeling of warm skin, and a beating heart is very soothing for babies. If you don’t like the idea of constantly dressing and undressing yourself and the baby, then simply holding the baby while they sleep works just as well. Trust me, as your baby gets older, they will never fall asleep in your arms the way a newborn does – so take advantage of this and enjoy while you can!
- Help baby with tummy-time. Tummy time is a great opportunity for dads to be involved from early on, especially as parents nowadays are encouraged to start tummy time as soon as they come home from the hospital. Tummy time is the practice of placing the baby on his/her tummy and practice lifting their head and exercising their neck, shoulders, body, and their eye muscles. Moms are encouraged to lie down and place the baby on her stomach or chest as early tummy time practice, but we would actually encourage Dads to do this as well. Doctors suggest starting off with 3-5 minute sessions, 2-3 times a day, although from our personal experience, we did this once a day during the first two weeks of our baby’s life, and usually stopped when he started crying. Read more about tummy time on WebMD here.
- Give baby a massage. Baby massage is not only a great way to bond with the baby, but researchers have found that it also promotes better sleep and relieves colic. Parents.com provides a good step-by-step guide on how to massage your baby.
- Rattles and Baby Paper are your best friends. Newborns aren’t very interested in most toys, but if you want to try to play with your newborn, they do react to toys that make sound. We recommend rattles, as they are also good for development and have a long shelf-life as toys, as well as Baby Paper, which is crinkle paper sewn into fabric. Babies LOVE crinkle paper. And make sure to have a camera handy to capture your baby’s first reaction to the rattle!
- Be involved with breastfeeding, especially if your partner is struggling to breastfeed the baby. Contrary to popular belief, there ARE ways that men can help with breastfeeding. If your partner is having trouble breastfeeding, you can sit with her while she’s breastfeeding, help her position the baby, check on latch, and you can attend sessions with the lactation consultant and read up on breastfeeding so you are well-informed to help in this aspect. If your baby is nursing like a champ, there are still ways you can be involved: washing the pump parts, bringing your partner water while she’s nursing, and making sure the remote and phone are nearby.
- Bottle-feed the baby. If you and your partner aren’t averse to it, bottle-feeding the baby pumped milk or formula is a very nice way for dads to bond with the baby – while also giving Mom a break! Nowadays, medical professionals recommend waiting four weeks before introducing a bottle to prevent nipple confusion, but do what you think is best for your baby. If your baby is having trouble latching at the breast or your partner’s milk supply is still coming in, it doesn’t hurt to supplement with pumped milk or formula in a bottle. Fed is best, after all!
- Take the baby out for walks. This can be done with or without your partner, but taking the baby out for a walk is a great way for Dad to spend time alone with the baby or for the entire family to get out of the house for a little bit and spend time together. Each new experience helps develop the baby’s brain, and you will be fascinated by how your newborn baby observes leaves, trees, houses, and takes in everything around them.
- Cook. If you don’t have any family members helping you out, cooking is one thing you can do to allow your partner more time to recover. Your partner is probably exhausted from giving birth, breastfeeding, pumping, and waking up at all hours (especially if she’s decided to exclusively breastfeed), so why not take one thing off her to-do list and do the cooking? Think about it this way: by making sure your partner has enough to eat, you are also ensuring that your baby will eat well! If you can’t or don’t want to cook, no judgment! There are also frozen meal and delivery options. Taking care of the food area, whether through cooking yourself or ordering out, makes one less thing for your partner to worry about. Less stress for your partner = faster recovery!
- Clean and do other chores. Speaking from personal experience and the experiences of other moms we spoke to, cleaning, sweeping the floor, washing dishes, doing laundry, shopping for groceries and other household tasks are all things that Dads can do in the early days that allow their partners time to rest and recover from giving birth.
- Take care of yourself. Last of all, it’s important to practice self-care during this time. You will be tired from shouldering many of the household tasks and taking care of a newborn baby during this time, and possibly working full-time as well, so make sure you get a little rest and time to yourself, too.
So, Dads, we hope that this list will give you an idea of how you can be involved, how you can help your partner recover, and how you can bond with baby after you and your partner bring your little one home from the hospital! Experienced moms and dads, do you have any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!