How dads affect their 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?
Your baby starts to get to know you when they are in the womb! By about 24 weeks, your baby can hear sounds from outside, and that includes your voice. This means that for most of the pregnancy, your baby can hear you, and through that, is getting to know you and bonding with you. Once your baby is born, when you talk to her, she will recognise and respond to your voice from the times she heard it during pregnancy.
The dad pregnancy timeline
Q: HOW CAN A FATHER STRENGTHEN HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS NEWBORN?
By making sure you are as hands-on as you can be in daily care tasks like nappy changing, winding, bathing – these are all essential roles which also promote bonding. If mum is breastfeeding, you don’t need to introduce a bottle to build a relationship with your little one, there are plenty of others ways - cuddle them, talk to them, talk them for a walk, wear them in a sling, etc.
You can even sign up for classes you can enjoy together, such as baby massage or swimming. The important part is to be hands-on and communicating with your baby. 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 IS THE LONGER-TERM IMPACT?
A strong father-baby relationship impacts on the development of your child as they grow up:
• 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.