We talk a lot about the bond and attachment between mom and baby and how important that is for baby and mom’s mental health and social and emotional growth. But what about the bond between dad and baby? Research is showing that it is just as important, and in many ways, even makes a greater impact on a baby’s development and dad’s engagement later on.
The Importance of a Daddy/Baby Bond
Pregnancy is viewed as the transition period into fatherhood. A recent study suggests that a father’s relationship and commitment to his unborn child and partner during this critical transition into fatherhood can significantly impact and set daddy on a trajectory of more involvement with his child for years to come.1 This study has also found that dads involved during pregnancy tend to have higher employment and take greater responsibility for the baby as the child grows up.1 And this is especially true of low-income dads.1
It is important to know that daddy’s interaction with the baby has amazing benefits later on with social and emotional growth and even academic skills. We now know that a baby’s early social interactions strongly predict future language and academic skills. Some studies show that daddy’s interaction with baby is an even stronger predictor of these things than mommy’s interactions.2 The more daddy interacts with babies, the higher they score on language, literacy, and academic assessments in preschool and elementary school!2
Some moms believe it’s because daddies tend to give 100% of their attention to the baby while playing with the baby, whereas mommies tend to multitask. Whatever the reason, the research is amazing and a great reason to keep daddy involved as much as possible in the early care and interactions with the baby.
How Soon Can Dads Start Bonding?
So, we know it is important daddies are present and vested during pregnancy. But how soon can the bond between dad and baby begin?
We do know that babies can hear in utero. They can perceive sounds very early before their ears are even formed. The inner ear begins to form around 18 weeks gestation, and babies often show signs of being able to hear sound in utero before their outer ears form.3 There’s the swishing of the amniotic fluid and the repetitive sound of the baby’s and mommy’s heartbeat. At 27 to 29 weeks, they can hear some sounds outside their mom’s body, like your voice. At full term, they can hear at about the same level as adults.3 Babies perceive all these sounds and listen long before they are born, so this is the perfect time to start talking, reading, and singing to the baby.
How Can Dads Start Bonding During Pregnancy?
Researchers believe that babies can hear muffled outside sounds as they often react to loud noises and demonstrate familiarity with certain voices after birth.4 Pregnancy is an excellent time for daddy to read books to mommy’s belly. This helps daddy form a bond with the baby and start a habit of healthy interactions. Daddy can also sing songs and tell stories. I knew a dad who played the banjo to mommy’s belly every day during pregnancy, and when that baby was born, he loved the sound of daddy playing that banjo! He would turn his head and look at the banjo and move his arms and legs excitedly.
It is a good idea for daddies to take a parenting class at a local hospital, YMCA, library, or recreation center. There are often baby massage classes or basic baby care classes that teach how to change a diaper or give that first bath. These classes are great for gaining a little bit of confidence for a first-time dad so that when that little baby comes along, daddy feels confident and informed. It may also be helpful for the daddy to spend time with another baby before his baby arrives. Maybe there is a niece or nephew or friend’s baby to practice on. Just holding a baby builds confidence and will allow daddy to feel more relaxed when he holds his little bundle for the first time.
How Can Dads Continue Bonding After Baby Arrives?
Daddies, don’t be shy about singing to your baby as you put her to sleep, saying nursery rhymes as you change diapers, and making up stories as you feed her lunch. Use high-quality language, not baby talk, encourage eye contact, and pause between sentences to give your baby a chance to respond. This will helps your baby understand the pause and flow of a conversation. When you pause, they know it is their turn to make noises. Respond to her noises and have an exchange back and forth. This is so good for the language centers of the brain.
Moms, You Need to Hand Over the Reigns Sometimes
In 2015, Zero to Three surveyed parents about their perspectives on development, and the findings from daddies might surprise you.5
- 90% of dads report that being a parent is their greatest joy.
- 85% of dads say being a father is the best job in the world.
- 73% of dads say their lives began when they became a dad.
- 62% of dads want more information on how to be a good dad.
- 84% of parents believe that children are better off when both parents are involved.
- 64% of moms and dads agree that dads don’t get enough credit for their involvement in raising and caring for young children.
This study showed us that dads do see the value of reading to their children.5 46% of dads report that they read to their children more than their dads read to them. 40% of dads would like to be more involved with raising their children but feel their partner interferes with their involvement. So, dads are ready and willing! Moms, hand that board book over! Have a glass of wine and let daddy do the bedtime routine tonight!