Updated: Aug 17
There are variations of normal when it comes to the paternal bond and connection a father feels with their newborn. Some find that it develops over time, while others feel that it's more immediate.
As a doula, I have experienced fathers who grieve this immediate bond and wonder if they're 'normal' for not feeling that instantaneous connection with their infant. Unlike the maternal bond that is developed through pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, the paternal bond is developed through interacting, caring and playing. This isn't to say that all mothers immediately bond with their infant. Similar to the paternal bond, there is a wide variation of normal for the maternal connection with her infant which can be impacted by newborn separation after birth, birth trauma or lack of support (to name a few). Often, bonding happens gradually over the baby’s first year of life as both parents respond to their baby's needs and build feelings of closeness and connection.
There are major hormone shifts in both parents after becoming parents. In the gestational parent, this happens during pregnancy, labour and right after birth. While for fathers, this hormone shift happens in the immediate postnatal period. Research has found that their is a major drop in testosterone levels in fathers, which never return to pre-birth levels.
This shift is thought to draw their attention from mating, to parenting.
The hormone oxytocin (aka the 'love hormone') is also released in fathers when they feel attached and connected to their little one. In studies where fathers were given oxytocin they showed an increase in active play and interaction with their babies. What this study showed is that bonding is created through paternal interaction with their infants.
Here are some tips for dads to foster this bond with their new baby:
Dr. John Klaus (doctor of paediatrics and researcher) and his wife Phyllis Klaus, in their book, "Your Amazing Newborn" state that when a father is given the opportunity to play with his newborn in the first hours after birth, and make eye to eye contact, he spends considerably more time with his child in the first three months than fathers who did not have this intimate connection in the first hours. The perfect time for fathers to do skin to skin and share early bonding is after the ‘golden hour’ or once mom has got up to have her first shower after birth.
Skin to Skin:
The benefits of skin to skin with a newborn include; temperature regulation, stress reduction, stabilization of blood sugar, bonding, comfort and security. These same benefits happen when baby is skin to skin with fathers too! It's important to prioritize skin to skin with mom while she’s adjusting to breastfeeding, but whenever it makes sense for dad, he should get skin to skin with baby too!
Whether its baby wearing, taking a bath with baby or infant massage, these will all help foster that bond. According to researchers, eye contact between a baby and adult causes both parties brain waves to fall into sync. Researchers believe this mental sync may be the first step towards improved communication between parent and child in adulthood. Don’t underestimate the power of touch or making eye contact with your infant!
Reading to baby:
Even though your newborn is not understanding the words, they are engaged and comforted through the familiar sound of your voice. This can start becoming a routine, that as your infant grows, they will look forward to and continue to bond through this time of connection.
The bond that both you and your partner have with your baby is unique and different to support your infants development. Be confident in all the ways your baby needs you for different ways. Your presence, connection and interaction matter.
References: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30165061/ Bonding with your newborn: What to know if you don’t feel connected right away. ACOG. (n.d.). https://www.acog.org/womens-health/experts-and-stories/the-latest/bonding-with-your-newborn-heres-what-to-know-if-you-dont-feel-connected-right-away
Feldman R, Gordon I, Schneiderman I, Weisman O, Zagoory-Sharon O. Natural variations in maternal and paternal care are associated with systematic changes in oxytocin following parent-infant contact. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Sep;35(8):1133-41. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.01.013. Epub 2010 Feb 12. PMID: 20153585.