From the first bout of morning sickness to the inaugural fluttering kick, mom and baby are connected. So much so that you might find yourself idly singing to baby, or choosing meals based on what's best for her. But is your partner feeling left out? Here's how dads can bond with their unborn baby, and how his early closeness benefits everyone in the long run.
First off, know that talking to your belly isn't just frivolous fun. As Laurel Wilson, B.S., International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) explained to Fit Pregnancy, humming, singing, and chatting to your baby are acts of prenatal bonding that help create a "peaceful pregnancy experience." And that peacefulness is really important, because it nurtures your baby's health by reducing harmful feelings of stress.
But there's more to prenatal bonding than chemistry, because connecting with a new baby also helps prepare both moms and dads for the coming adventures of parenting. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), when parents bond with their babies while they're still in the womb, the benefits are seen well into toddlerhood. But for fathers, bonding is often more of a challenge than it is for moms.
"Dads absolutely feel less connected to the baby because unlike the mom, we don't feel baby growing and moving inside us," explains Dr. Jay Warren, host of the podcast "Healthy Births, Happy Babies," and creator of the prenatal bonding course Connecting with Baby, in an email interview with Romper. "We don't experience our bodies changing day-to-day throughout the pregnancy, which reminds us that we are parents to a new life coming forth."
Don't worry, though. By working a few simple practices into the family schedule, you can help a father-to-be experience the joys of pregnancy right along with you while building a healthier, happier environment for your baby.
1. Say Hello & Goodbye
By early in the second trimester, all five of a baby's senses are engaged, and actively soaking up the world, Warren explains. Basically, you've got a little person in there.
"Say hello and goodbye to the baby in mama's belly just like you do to your wife, because baby is conscious and listening, and you want to acknowledge their presence just like you would if they were outside the womb," says Warren.
Next to mom's, dad's voice is the second-most recognizable to newborns, says Warren. So it only makes sense to help them associate your tone with someone caring, loving, and kind.
2. Talk About Your New Baby
Talk, and talk, and talk some more. An important part of prenatal bonding, for VeryWell Family, lies in imagining the future, so be sure you pick out that baby name together, and spend time discussing your hopes and dreams. What's your baby's sign? Where will she go to college? Who will she grow up to be?
Pillow talk like this isn't just idle dreaming. It's becoming a parent, through bonding.
3. Read A Bedtime Story
Feeling dad's love and protection is nurturing for both mom and baby, and nighttime represents a wonderful opportunity to bring the family closer together. For a fun prenatal bonding experience, Warren recommends picking up Dr. Seuss's Oh, Baby, the Places You'll Go!: A book to be read in-utero.
"Your baby is conscious in the womb and they are having an experience of the world right now, through you. They are listening to you. They are learning from you. So consider during your pregnancy what you are saying to them and what you are teaching them," says Warren.
4. Celebrate Father's Day
This one comes from my personal experience. When my baby got my partner a Father's Day gift, he took it to work with him, excited to get a jump-start on his collection of adorable kid presents. Friends, if you're pregnant in June, be sure to make Father's Day an event.
4. Sing Lullabies
Dad can also sing lullabies to his new baby each night. "You're going to be singing to them a lot at bedtime soon enough, so you may as well get them used to it," says Warren.
As a bonus, listening to dad's singing voice is sure to de-stress you, too — or at the very least, make you laugh. Remember that what your baby wants most is a peaceful, loving place to grow.
5. Play "Follow The Leader"
OK, so maybe they can't exactly throw a ball around, but there is one game you can play with your baby while they're still in the womb. Warren calls it "Follow The Leader," and here how it works:
Next time baby is moving around, have dad pat the spot they kick, like a kind of answering knock. Keep that up for a while, and then have dad pat your belly in a different spot, and see if baby knocks back. It's a game that lets them know dad is there, and eager to communicate.
6. Share Your Ultrasound
According to a 2007 study collected inThe Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, mother's attachment to their infants increases dramatically after an ultrasound. And guess what? Ultrasounds are great for dads, too.
Seeing that precious image on the monitor can help fathers understand this pregnancy is really happening, and encourage them to imagine their new life as part of a family, according to an article in The Men's Studies Press.
7. Take A Prenatal Education Course
According to a 2007 study, prenatal education classes relieve new parent anxieties, which might be why infants in the study had a lower incidence of "unexplained crying" after birth. Or maybe it was the bonding — which the study showed prenatal education might help facilitate. As Warren explains, a study of prenatal bonding techniques also showed decreased crying, as well as decreased incidences of postnatal depression.
Additionally, if dad is feeling on the outs during your pregnancy, there's nothing like a birth class to help him understand his crucial role as a support structure, and later, as a partner in birth.
8. Rub Mom's Feet
Whatever mom needs during pregnancy, dad can help along the journey. Shopping for crave-worthy foods, rubbing your feet, or taking over the house chores are all ways he can reduce your stress and feel useful at the same time — and he is useful! You started this baby together, and you'll raise her together.
In the meantime, that stress reduction goes a long way. As Warren explains, "[s]tress hormones cross the placenta so if you are feeling stress during your day, your baby is also feeling stress ... it's important not only for your health, but for your baby's growth and development that you manage your stress well and calm yourself at the end of a stressful day, so that your baby experiences that resolution of stress as well."