How to Get Involved: Pregnancy and Beyond
Many expectant fathers mistakenly believe that their role in their child's life doesn't really begin or matter until he or she is about two years old and is walking, talking and can play interactively. However, the father-child bond can begin the moment you learn your partner is pregnant and only increases in importance and impact when the baby is born.
Women have an obvious advantage when it comes to bonding with their unborn baby. They are able to feel every twist, kick and hiccup for nine long months, while you are limited to feeling those kicks through her belly and watching her go through morning sickness, hormone roller coasters and childbirth. So here are some ways you can begin to bond with your baby before he or she is even born:
Learn as much as possible before the baby arrives - attend prenatal appointments and childbirth classes, read books, and watch DVDs. Be proactive in your self-education.
Seek out mentors in other men who have children and know what you're going through. Ask your own father, uncle(s), brother(s), friends, or professional colleagues what you can expect, how involved they were with their children and what they regret and what they appreciate.
Discuss any concerns, fears, or apprehensions about fatherhood you have with your partner. She will most likely appreciate your honesty and willingness to communicate and share your feelings, and together you can work through your anxiety.
Once the baby is here, your role takes on even greater importance. Studies have shown that babies understand the difference between you and mom as early as three months old. With the exception of breastfeeding, dads can do everything moms can do for their newborn.
Talk to, hold and touch your baby. Don't be afraid to get involved because you feel clumsy or nervous; moms go through a learning process with the first baby and so can you. The more time you spend with your baby, the more comfortable you will become.
Pitch in with the unpleasant tasks, such as diapering and soothing your baby when he or she is cranky. Resist the urge to pass off your baby to mom when play time is over. Not only will she appreciate help in the trenches, you will deepen your bond with your baby and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Designate the evening bath or morning feeding as your special duty. This will not only give mom a break and a chance to take a shower or sleep in, it is the perfect opportunity for you to bond with your new baby.
Offer to get up in the middle of the night as much as you can. Of course, if mom is breastfeeding, she may have to get up for nighttime feedings. However, if it's just for a diaper change and soothing back to sleep, volunteer your services. You can also grab a bottle of expressed milk for a nighttime feeding.
Play with your child in your own way - you do not have to act like a surrogate mom. Moms and dads naturally interact with their babies in different ways, and this is a good thing. Dads tend to be less attuned to their children than moms, which teaches the child to ask for what he or she needs or wants (as opposed to mom who tends to anticipate needs or read subtle signs more intuitively).