Ways Dads (Or Grandmas) Can Bond with Babies without Bottles

When my first son was born, one of the biggest hurdles for me establishing a great nursing relationship was this notion that the best/only/most important way to bond with a new baby was for loved ones to feed the baby a bottle.

Of course, when a new baby is eating every 90 minutes, feeding is a huge part of life. But there are many hours in a day and many ways in which loved ones can connect with a new baby that don’t involve a rubber nipple!

All of these bonding ideas would work great for any loved one to help care for a new baby. I want to focus this piece around fathers, though, because according to the text Counseling the Nursing Mother,

“one of the strongest influences on the breastfeeding decision for many women is that of the child’s father.”

The text emphasizes that fathers want to be involved and view feeding as an important interaction. The books says that often, the “belief that bottle feeding is a means of paternal involvement” outweighs a couple’s knowledge about and desire to breastfeed.

The text cites some research that found fathers felt like they weren’t the “main parent” or “insignificant” if they weren’t feeding the baby.

A study published in the March 1997 Journal of Human Lactation found that fathers want to establish their own relationships with their babies, but often don’t know how to do so. Because my husband was so supportive of me breastfeeding our children, I have 50 months’ worth of examples of ways dads can significantly participate in parenting a baby.

1. Wear the baby. My husband learned how to use a wide variety of baby carriers. The Bjorn was our “gateway” carrier. It was very easy for him to figure out as a new dad running on 90 minutes of sleep per day. We’ve since progressed to wraps, slings, soft-structured carriers, external frame carriers…I think we have 12 baby carriers.

If my son wasn’t nursing, my husband would put Miles in the carrier and sway, walk him around the block, march him up and down the stairs…anything to extend our son’s sleep a few more minutes so I could rest.

2. Change the baby. New babies pee and poop and spit up through countless diapers/outfits every day. Nobody loves this aspect of parenting, but–especially in the beginning–it’s a significant part of the job. Because I was recovering from a cesarean, my husband actually had no choice but to take on this role. I’m not actually even sure what meconium diapers look like, because he handled all of these.

3. Talk to the baby. There is nothing quite so sweet in my memory as my husband telling our son about our house, our neighborhood, and our stuff. I heard all our little inside jokes coming across to our baby, like, “do you hear that neighbor’s dog? Mommy and Daddy hate that dog because it barks all day and all night! Someday it will bark when you go out in the yard to play.” Not feeling creative or chatty? Go ahead and read to the baby. New babies don’t care about Eric Carle. Even reading the newspaper aloud is great.

4. Take on night detail. My kids didn’t/don’t/might never sleep. Nobody knows as well as my husband that there are truly 24 hours in a day, and babies need to be parented through all of them. When my kids were up at night, they were up for hours. Often, I’d nurse the new baby, but then my husband would take over the parenting, changing a diaper if necessary, dancing around the hallway to soothe the baby back to sleep, turning on the white noise for the baby, giving the baby a 3am bath if necessary…all of the stuff apart from physically feeding the baby.

Sometimes, we slept in shifts, so my husband sat with our son in the rocking chair and they watched train documentaries together.

5. Burp the baby. There’s no reason dad can’t snuggle up close to mom, too, while she’s nursing the baby and then be the one to burp the baby. Dad can also get very involved in the nursing session by making there mom has enough ice water, snacks, and burp cloths.

6. Fart the baby…or just give a massage. Folding a baby in half or bicycling his knees until he farts is pretty much the best thing ever. Dads can do this several times per day if they want! Or just google some infant massage techniques, rub lotion into baby’s skin, generally stroke and cuddle their baby, who will love every second of this touch.

7. Take care of the household. Especially when combined with “wear the baby,” this task can mean the difference between a nice day and one spent starving, wandering around in dirty clothes and collapsing onto dirty sheets.

Everything in our house seemed to fall to pieces (or more accurately pile up in mountains) when our babies were born, but if my husband tossed in some laundry, ran the dishwasher, and shoved a frozen lasagna in the oven, our lives felt more joyful. That gave us more time to enjoy our babies!

Apart from these ideas, anything anyone does around the house or to engage with the baby is important and significant. Dads can do so many things to support their family’s breastfeeding relationship and, in the process, become close to the new baby and even closer to their partner.

How did your baby’s father bond with your breastfed baby? Leave us a comment to share some ideas!

1 comment to Ways Dads (Or Grandmas) Can Bond with Babies without Bottles

  • Tami

    I love this list. Thank you for creating it!
    Infant Massage is an awesome way for non-nusring parents to bond with their babies but often Google doesn’t give great advice. I teach infant massage and would love to suggest that non-nursing parents could seek the advice and support of a certified infant massage instructor.

    (I use the term non-nursing parent as many families have two mamas, one who will be nursing and the other who will not.)

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