How dads affect newborn babies

Some fathers assume their role only really kicks in when their babies are weaned, but new research shows you can make a major positive impact right from the start. Find out how to give your baby a flying start.

Q: When can babies first recognise their dads?

In the womb – at about week 22. Deeper male voices are easier to hear than female voices. So, when that bump starts growing, time to get acquainted.

The dad pregnancy timeline

Q: Do dads and mums respond differently to their newborns?

No - not fundamentally. For example, there’s ample research showing that a crying or smiling baby raises the heart rate and blood pressure of a dad in exactly the same way as a mum.

Q: Do babies respond differently to their dads?

Breastfeeding obviously makes a difference, and there are other ways the newborn baby starts to distinguish dad from mum - larger hands, different smell, feel and voice, facial hair.

The biggest myths about dads

Q: How can a father strengthen his relationship with his newborn?

More touching, cuddling, talking, eye contact – and, basically, more time. In one study, a group of fathers of one month-old babies were given training in baby massage, and encouraged to apply it; another group was not. Two months on, the massaged babies greeted their dads with more eye contact, smiling, cooing and reaching and showed fewer avoidance behaviours than the control group.

Baby's home: what's next?

Q: What impact does this have on babies?

When fathers are highly involved, their babies interact equally with both parents and more easily with strangers. For example, one study showed that babies of 12 to 14 months who had fathers who played an active, independent and consistent role in childcare were more sociable than babies with more distant fathers – both with their own parents and with outsiders.

Q: What impact does this have on fathers?

Just as you’d expect: when dads cuddle, touch and talk to their newborns, they want more. For example, one study of premature babies found that the sooner the fathers held them, the sooner they reported feelings of warmth and love.

Q: What is the longer-term impact?

A strong father-baby relationship makes for a better adapted, more confident, more sociable and brighter child…

  • Several studies suggest the quality and quantity of baby-father contact has a direct impact on how secure children feel growing up. There is also research showing that toddlers and young children who spend more time playing with their dads, are more likely to be sociable when starting nursery school.
  • Babies with strong attachments to their dads tend to have fewer behavioural problems later on. In fact, some studies suggest this relationship might have an even greater impact on the behaviour of pre-teen children than the mother-baby attachment.
  • Substantial father involvement from at least the first month after birth promotes better language development and better cognition skills (suggested by higher IQ scores) among toddlers and young children.

Boost baby brain development

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Guest Tuesday, 21 April 2015