Bonding with your child is critical for their wellbeing, and your own. Dads who are actively involved with their babies from the earliest stages are more likely than others to raise kids with better attachments, higher levels of connection and better wellbeing.
“The baby is more supported, more likely to be resilient, more likely to do well at school,” says Dr Coulson, psychologist, author and founder of Happy Families. “The interesting thing though, is that when dads are actively involved with and connected with their children, those dads experience increased life satisfaction, they have higher levels of wellbeing, they tend to do better at work.”
While some dads-to-be might feel an intense attachment over the ultrasound image of their unborn child, many men worry when that feeling of connection doesn’t come instantly or instinctually.
“That's okay, for a lot of dads it doesn't happen immediately… don’t sweat it if it doesn't,” Dr Coulson says. “The challenge of trying to connect with a baby during pregnancy is that the baby is still inside mum, that's kind of obvious, but it needs to be stated because we need to get our expectations right.”
Although having kids wasn’t ever set in stone for Thomas Giles, he was “over the moon” when he and his partner found out they were expecting.
“With most things, once I'm doing something I like to learn a lot about it, so as soon as my partner was pregnant, I started reading, I did the antenatal classes, but still it was a bit of a mystery because it was also not happening to me,” Thomas says. “It still didn't feel super real until I was feeling the baby [bump] one day and I got kicked, and it was like, ‘oh wow’.”
But bonding might not be one big moment of realisation, rather, the result of the many small things you can do each day to feel a bit more connected to your baby and the pregnancy process.
“You [need to] start to invest in the relationship that you have with the baby in the same way that you would invest in any other relationship where you wanted to form a strong connection,” Dr Coulson says.
Here are some ways dads can bond with their baby before birth.
1. Get stuck into the resources
One of the best ways to feel involved is to be informed. Find resources that help you understand how to be the best parent you can be, what milestones are ahead for your baby and how to support your partner during pregnancy.
Dads aren’t always included or engaged in antenatal care and information might not be handed to you or tailored to your needs. It helps to be proactive and seek out the right resources.
Some good options for dads-to-be include:
If you’re feeling left out, let your partner know and discuss how you can become more involved.
2. Support your partner
“The way that a man treats his partner as she goes through this period, and then after it, can have a tremendously impactful power to connect the entire family,” Dr Coulson says. “When she feels reassured, when she feels supported, when she feels more connected to him, then it's easier for dad to be connected.”
Taking responsibility for certain tasks — whether that’s research, setting up the nursery, taking notes at appointments or picking up more jobs around the house — can help ease the load for your partner and get you working as a team.
3. Interact with the baby
Your baby’s hearing starts developing after about 25 weeks in the womb and they can learn to recognise people’s voices and sounds.
“Bizarre as you might feel, you could connect with the baby by starting to have little, short conversations with bub [or] by singing to the baby, making sure the baby is hearing your voice a lot,” Dr Coulson says.
At around 25-26 weeks, your baby will start kicking and can move in response to a hand being rubbed on mum’s belly.
4. Talk to other dads
Whether it’s mates, family members or connecting with dedicated dads’ groups in your community, it can help to talk to other men who are or have been, in the same boat as you. Sharing your thoughts and feelings and hearing their experiences can offer reassurance that you’re not alone. You can also pick up some tried and tested strategies for connecting with your baby.
Thomas Docking was inspired to start the Dads Group after spending time with other dads and their kids just before his first child was born.
“I could listen to them and ask them questions, I felt like these guys have gone through what I’m about to go through and that was comforting for me,” Thomas says. “I know every father can feel isolated, lonely, scared, and freaked out in some way, as the baby approaches, whether they admit it or not.”
5. Look after your mental health
Becoming a parent is an exciting time but it also brings huge change. Having a baby involves plenty of things that impact your mental health such as poor sleep, stress and potential financial pressure. Looking after yourself is incredibly important for caring for and connecting with your new baby.
“You’ve got to put yourself in a situation where you can have good connections and if you don't do that, if you're tired and stressed, if you're using alcohol and other drugs and it's causing any level of dysfunction or inability to maintain healthy relationships with others, you're not going to be able to have a good relationship with that baby,” Dr Coulson says.
Up to one in 10 dads experience postnatal anxiety and/or depression and it’s important to be aware of the symptoms so you can seek support as soon as possible.
- Mood changes like feeling sad, low, anxious, overwhelmed, short-tempered, irritable, angry or unmotivated for more than a couple of weeks
- Behaviour changes like losing interest in things you used to enjoy, becoming withdrawn or disconnected from those close to you
- Physical symptoms like nausea, inability to sleep or oversleeping, loss of appetite or low energy
If you’re showing signs of postnatal anxiety or depression, speak to a loved one and your GP.
Support is also available at:
- beyondblue on 1300 22 4636
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- PANDA on 1300 726 306
- MensLine on 1300 789 978