Bonding with your baby isn’t just a ‘mum’ thing. It’s true that mums have a bit of a head start because they are the ones growing the baby and they have all sorts of amazing hormonal changes that prepare them to birth and breastfeed and nurture babies. However, new research suggests that expectant and new fathers actually experience biological and hormonal changes that prepare them for parenting too.
Anthropologists Lee Gettler, Christopher Kuzawa, and colleagues at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, Philippines worked with a group of about 600 men participating in the survey. They measured morning and evening salivary testosterone levels in 2005, when the men were about age 21, then again in 2009. This research, which tested men’s saliva for testosterone levels reported that new fathers showed a 30 percent decrease in testosterone. The study authors speculate that the drop in testosterone seems to be a biological adjustment that helps men shift their priorities when children come along.
While high testosterone levels have been linked to aggression, extroversion, and risk-taking, drops in testosterone have been linked to fathers’ responsiveness to their children, Other research shows that the hormones prolactin and cortisol (both connected with pregnant women) rise significantly in the three weeks before birth is due. It seems that being near your pregnant partner and the effects of her pheromones, triggers hormonal changes in expectant dads. Then, when your baby is born, cuddling and playing with your little one will elicit the release of hormones like prolactin, the hormone of tender nurturing, oxytocin, the love hormone, and beta endorphins, feel good hormones that are also known as the hormones of pleasure and reward. This means that the more you interact with your baby right from the start, the happier you will feel so the more you will want to play – and the better your relationship with your baby will develop
The good news (in case you are worried that playing with your baby will make you less ‘manly’) is that these lower testosterone levels won’t affect your libido – they are still within normal levels. You could see it as though every nappy you change, every cuddle you share and every game of peekaboo that has you and your baby chuckling with delight is an emotional investment in your baby’s wellbeing and his trust in you.
Here are some fun ways to bond with your baby – right from the start!
Talk to the bump! Research has shown that babies can distinguish between their parents’ and strangers’ voices from 30 weeks in the womb—and the same study found that if dads speak to a baby before birth, the newborn will recognize his father’s voice. So talk—or sing—to that bump and your baby will know you as soon as he hears you on the ‘outside’.
Pop him in a pouch: Carrying your baby close in a baby carrier is a great way to keep him happy as he hears your heartbeat and your deep voice. You can take him out for a walk while mum rests (warning: dads carrying babies get a lot of positive attention from strange women). Or, just go about your business – walk the dog, rake the leaves or vacuum – your baby will love the movement and you will get brownie points for being a master baby calmer!
Bath together: Bathing a tiny slippery baby can be a bit daunting at first. An easier way to manage bathing is to get in the bath or shower with your baby. When you have had a good play, pass him out to mummy to wrap him in a warm towel and cuddle him dry before a feed. Learn baby massage: Massage is not only good for your baby’s health and development as well as his sleep patterns it’s also a great way to get to know your baby’s non-verbal language and boost your confidence. An Australian study of infant massage and father-baby bonding, found that at 12 weeks old, babies who were massaged by their fathers greeted their Dads with more eye contact, smiling, vocalising and touch than those in the control group. To learn how, check out Pinky McKay’s baby massage DVD
Try the colic waltz: Although it’s much more fun to play with a happy baby, when it all goes ‘pear shaped’, Dads are often the best baby settlers: you don’t smell like breast milk so if baby has a bellyache, he can relax without snuffling round for more mummy milk; you have big strong arms to lie him along (with his legs straddled across your arm and a bit of pressure against his belly). Or snuggle him against your chest with his head tucked under your chin, and hum as you walk – the vibration and deep noise you make will help him calm in no time.
Just do it!: Even though you may feel a bit anxious about your baby care skills, especially your ability to calm your tiny, crying baby, just give it a go! And don’t be intimidated by your partner (Ladies, lock up that mother lioness and step back!). Although your lady may seem more confident than you about baby care, she will take time to find her groove too. The more you participate in the care of your baby, the better you will get to know your child and the more your own confidence will grow.