In the early days, babies feed A LOT, and we all know that breastfeeding is a fantastic way for mothers to bond with their baby. This can sometimes leave Dads/partners feeling left out! Some parents choose to combine breastfeeding with formula feeding, or with expressed milk to be fed from a bottle, to give the other parent a chance to bond with baby. However, introducing formula carries risks, and introducing a bottle without need can cause problems, such as nipple confusion, bottle preference, and low supply. Thankfully, there are lots of ways the non-breastfeeding parent can bond with their baby, without causing any disruption to breastfeeding.
Other baby cares
A lot more goes into looking after a baby than just filling their tummies. They need their nappy changing, they need to be bathed, dressed, cuddled, played with etc. Changing nappies might not strike you as a bonding moment, but it can be. It means 1:1 time with your baby where you are contributing positively to their wellbeing. Everything you do to care for your baby will help you to bond with them.
Skin to skin contact
Mothers are encouraged to have skin to skin contact with their baby as soon as they are able to after birth. Not only is this great for bonding, but it also helps to regulate your baby’s heart rate and temperature, helps stimulate milk production, and can even increase weight gain! Having skin to skin contact as the parent who isn’t breastfeeding also brings all of these benefits, and gives you to opportunity to relax with and get to know your baby. You can do this by placing your baby on your bare chest for a cuddle, covered with a blanket to keep you both warm, or by taking a bath together.
Read to them
You’re never too young for a good book! Reading aloud to babies helps them to acquire better language and cognitive skills, as well as providing an opportunity for you to snuggle up and spend time with your baby. The bonding effects of reading to your baby can be particularly helpful for parents of preterm babies in special care.
Wear baby in a sling
Baby wearing has been been practiced for centuries all over the world, but has grown in popularity in western cultures in recent years. Carrying your baby in a sling increases your levels of oxytocin- the hormone of love and bonding, promotes healthy attachment, and increases independence.
Cuddle up with mum whilst baby is feeding
You can still be involved with breastfeeding, even if you’re not the one doing it! Snuggling up with mum and baby means that you can have all the joys of being close to baby and having eye contact too. Mum might also appreciate having someone to support her arm if baby is having a long feed!
Baby massage is not only a great way to connect with your baby, it has also been shown to be beneficial to your baby’s health and development. More about baby massage can be found from the National Childbirth Trust here.
Sing to baby
You can even start this before your baby is born. From around 23 weeks gestation, your baby is able to hear sounds outside the womb. Singing to your baby whilst your partner is still pregnant will help them to recognize your voice. Once your baby is born, singing can be a great way to bond with your baby and to soothe them.
Cofeeding- for same sex couples
If you are a same sex couple, it may be possible for both of you to breastfeed your baby. This information on induced lactation and adoptive breastfeeding is a good place to start to find out how to make this happen.
How else can Dad/the non-breastfeeding parent help?
Breastfeeding is often hard work in the early days. The biggest thing partners can do is to be supportive . Listen to your partner, fetch her drinks and snacks when she’s stuck on the sofa, take over the household chores, learn about how breastfeeding works and about normal infant behavior so that you can really be there for her. Breastfeeding is not a one-woman job. It takes team work, support from partners and/or extended family and friends. The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers offer a fantastic online course for partners called ‘Team Baby‘ which will equip you with all the knowledge and skills you need to support your partner in her breastfeeding journey. This course can be found here.