As new research unfolds, we’ve come to understand more about the important role fathers play in their children’s lives. For too long we used to believe that the real parenting was done by mothers, with fathers playing more of a supportive role. But it’s far more complex than that. Ideally, parenting is a shared responsibility between both parents taking an active role in their children’s lives.
Families are changing and not every household has parents of different genders. Whatever your family constellation, there are benefits for children in being exposed to caregiving which is kind, secure and varied.
10 Top tips on how to connect with your baby
- Get involved in your partner’s pregnancy and support them by going to ante natal appointments and for tests/investigations, especially ultrasounds.
- Consider your relationship with your own father. You may want to have the same connection with your own baby, or do things differently. Take the time to reflect on what was good and not so great.
- Aim to be present and at home for at least the first few months of your baby’s life.Even if this means saying no to a work promotion or opportunity, the seeds you lay now will be worth it.
- Make sure you have a say in the birth plan – this is your baby as well and your voice matters.
- Talk to your baby while they’re in the uterus – this way they’ll already know your voice when they’re born.
- Spend time simply ‘being with’ your baby and having fun. Mothers and fathers tend to play differently with their children – mothers having more of an educational focus during play.
- Read to your baby every day. Evidence is clear that children who are read to benefit in terms of literacy.
- Try not to defer to the mother as being the expert parent. It’s important for you all that you share the decision making around how you care for your baby.
- Give yourself time to get to know your little one. Bonding and emotional attachment can take time and not every parent feels a connection straight away. It’s normal to feel anxious and confused at first.
- Look after your own mental health. See your GP if you’re feeling depressed or anxious and talk about what resources are available to you. Sign up for support services like SMS4dads.
Learn what your baby is saying
You may find your baby interacts differently with you when compared with how they are with their mother. Differences will help your baby to learn about the world and be more adaptable.
If your baby cries when you’re holding them:
- Try to consider things from your baby’s perspective. Crying is the main way they communicate but they also use their facial expressions and body movements to send messages about how they feel.
- Try experimenting with different holding positions. Looking outwards often helps babies to focus on something which catches their attention.
- Go for a walk outside, place your baby in their pram or a pouch and use movement to soothe them.
- Give your baby a deep, warm bath and a tummy massage. Talk gently to them and let them know they’re fine.
- Be sensitive to your baby’s cues that they’re hungry, tired or just need a break in what they’re doing.
As parents we don’t need to aim for perfection. What’s important is we make decisions based around what will maintain a good relationship with our children. Be patient and kind, to yourself, as well as your baby.
Written for baby U by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse, July 2022.