In the middle of the night, I paced the floor for hours with my firstborn. Her crying went through me like a knife and I was convinced that I was the only one that could soothe and help her.
One night, exhausted and in a deep sleep, I was disturbed by my husband getting back into bed. I woke with a start; “The baby! Did she need me?!”
“It’s ok” said my husband “ I’ve soothed her and she’s sleeping quietly”.
The calm baby in the Moses basket beside my bed proved he was right! He had heard her before I had and answered her needs.
I was flabbergasted and if I’m honest, a bit jealous. How had he managed to soothe her so easily?
Even in 2023, I still see new mums taking on the workload of the early years. Often under the misguided conception that women are biologically ‘made’ to be the primary carers.
Without realising it, they often do and say things that de-skill dads and reduce their confidence in themselves as capable baby carers. Yet research proves that men are every bit as ‘biologically’ set up to provide baby care after birth as women!
If breastfeeding, mothers are, of course, going to the sole provider of the baby’s nourishment. This, along with the pregnancy and the birth, can give mothers a head-start in feeling bonded to their baby when they’re first born. There, are however, still many ways that the non-breastfeeding parent can be heavily involved.
Not only is the dad’s involvement in the early months of a baby’s life helpful to both parents’ well-being, but it also has a great benefit to the baby’s development.
In a study, published in the Infant Mental Health Journal, researchers from Imperial College London, King’s College London and Oxford University, found that when fathers were more engaged with their babies at three months of age, the children performed better in cognitive tests at two years of age.
When Dad regularly spends time holding his baby, especially with skin-to-skin contact, this not only accelerates the maturing of the baby’s brain but reduces stress, improves the quality of sleep and enhances the immune system.
Laying a baby skin-to-skin on Dad’s chest increases oxytocin levels in both baby and Dad. This ‘love’ hormone that plays a role with mothers bonding with newborns, also spikes when fathers hold and play with their newborns.
By allowing Dad to settle the baby and creating a better sleep pattern, both mother and father are likely to get better sleep, reducing the risk of postnatal depression.
Leading Melbourne paediatrician, Dr Daniel Golshevsky, said;
“[Babies] are going to have a more rested mother, which means you are going to have more success when it comes to breastfeeding and a generally happier environment,” he says.
Recent studies have also shown that if you’re suffering from the baby blues (yes, dads get them too), baby massage can be one of the best ways to improve your mood and increase your bond with your baby.
One-on-one time with Dad, could have a benefit of the baby’s long term emotional development. In an article entitled, Could fathers be the missing link in baby sleep?, Australian paediatrician, Dr Daniel Golshevsky, says;
“[Dads] have no idea how much you will benefit from being more involved in the newborn period. Studies have shown a demonstrable physiological response in the amygdala [emotional centre of the brain] of dads who are heavily involved in the newborn period brain that makes them more emotive and a deeper thinker.”
Having a more involved dad from a young age has also been associated with with fewer cognitive delays, better school readiness, a decrease in tantrums and aggressive behaviour, and lower rates of depression.
Studies have shown that spending one-on-one time with the baby causes Dad’s testosterone levels to decrease, making him more empathetic, soothing and allowing a more intimate bond between the two of them.
Hayley Alloway, who studies endocrinology in fathers at Memorial University of Newfoundland said;
“Having time where the man is responsible for direct physical interaction with an infant—not just being in the room, but actually providing care—has the biggest influence on his hormonal levels changing,”
It’s important to remember that Dads might develop a bond with their baby in a slightly different way to mums - by communicating, caring and playing, as well as nurturing. As the baby develops and can smile, laugh and babble, a true two-way relationship starts to develop.
So it seems that research shows being more ‘ hands on’ with young babies is better for the whole family and most importantly, for the baby's future wellbeing. How could you factor in more ‘Dad time‘ with your baby?