Becoming a parent is an incredibly exciting time for many new fathers but it is also a time of huge change and responsibility. It’s not uncommon for fathers to feel overwhelmed or daunted by the prospect of caring for a tiny baby. Some new fathers may even feel excluded or ‘unneeded’ during the immediate time following birth and may feel they have no specific role (especially if their partner is breastfeeding), viewing mothers as the most important caregiver and preferring to take a more passive or secondary role themselves.
But fathers are just as important to their new baby as mothers are. When fathers get involved in caring for a new baby right from birth, they can make a vital contribution to their children’s development. Babies need their fathers, just as they need their mothers, to love them, to be interested in them and to respond to their needs, making them feel valued and loved.
Fathers interact with infants in different ways to that of mothers. Fathers tend to be more playful and exploratory with their babies than mothers whose interactions are often more protective and nurturing. These early interactions between both a father and mother directly impact the way in which the baby’s brain will grow and develop but in slightly different ways. Research has shown us that sensitive, supportive and involved fathering, from birth has been linked to a range of positive outcomes in babies, toddlers and children and in particular on a child’s language development, school readiness and positive self- esteem.
The important thing for fathers is to get involved and it doesn’t matter in what way. It can take time for new fathers to feel closely involved with their baby and that’s ok but daily ‘hands on’ experience together will help to forge a strong healthy relationship. Its not about the time you spend together each day but the quality of the interaction’s that you share. It could be as simple as talking with your baby at a nappy change, taking your baby outside in a sling to explore the world, trying an hour of skin-to-skin (lying with your baby chest to chest) or singing your favourite song while gently rocking the baby.
Infant massage is a wonderful one-to-one experience for new fathers to try with their babies and can be especially useful in promoting bonding where fathers are separated from their baby for extended periods due to work or relationship breakdown. Massaging a baby has great benefits for both fathers and babies as massage helps with calming and relaxing the infant, enhancing growth, improving infant sleep and for father’s massage helps to develop sensitivity to the baby and understand their needs better, helps to build a father’s confidence in handling and caring for their baby, and can even help lower a fathers own stress levels.