14 Ways for Dads to be Engaged with their Breastfed babes

Written by Christie Haskell

“Dad needs to feed the baby so he can bond.”

We’ve all heard that, right? What the misleading misnomer, but more importantly, such an emotional Booby Trap, since it leads Babes to feel the need to supplement or pump, and if it’s not something she’s already doing, it can open the window to such an onslaught of struggles — but it can feel like not doing it is denying the father the opportunity to bond with his babe.

Fortunately, there are so, so many other ways that dads can be engaged in their babe’s lives, that we can tuck this certain idea away back in the archives of “unnecessary advice.” Feeding is only one tiny portion of a babe’s life and by no means one that anyone else has to take over to be a special, integral part of the babe’s life. If you’re looking for ways to help your baby’s father* to feel connected, or even just want a list of things he does with your baby to squash some well-meaning family or friends who keep suggesting that you’re hogging your baby by not busting out the bottles, I’m your go-to girl.

(*If ‘father’ isn’t the appropriate term for your relationship/situation, please feel free to insert your chosen term in it’s place as you read.)

  1. Take over bath time. Well, assuming your baby enjoys baths, that is. Otherwise it might be more comforting to be the one to dry baby off and dress him or her afterwards.
  2. Sing songs. Not only helps with language development, but I guarantee your heart will melt watching the baby’s father singing to their tiny love.
  3. Play with the baby, with toys or even just simple hand games. For more physically-oriented dads, infant play can involve helping baby learn how to track with his or her eyes, or holding a toy for the wee one to bat at.
  4. Babywear! Dad’s time with the babe is only limited to feeds, so strap that little person onto their father for a walk around the block, or even just while sitting on the couch. Bare-chest it for some beneficial skin-to-skin (or skin-to-hair, as it may be — tactical learning?).
  5. Tend to other needs. Diapers may not be exciting, but involving dad in diaper changes, dressing the babe, or anything else needed helps enforce that he isn’t merely a bystander.
  6. Attend any doctor visits or be involved and educated in any/all choices and discussions about the babe’s health.
  7. Learn body language, and help teach signs and of course verbal language as well. A dad who understands his baby’s requests through body language or otherwise will enjoy responding to early communication as well.
  8. Give baby massages. Not only can this help relieve tension (in dad as well as the babe) but it has a lot of health benefits as well.
  9. Read to the babe. It doesn’t matter what it is. Spoken language, versus recorded language, teaches language skills no matter if you’re reading the Wall Street Journal or Twilight (okay, that last one’s a “maybe”).
  10. Fetch and tuck in the babe at night. If you’re not bed-sharing, dad can wake up to the babe’s call and also help settle them back in. During the day at naptime, he can help send the little one to dreamland.
  11. Do the Daddy-Gas-Dance. Many men instinctively hold a baby belly-down across their arm, the head near the crook of the arm with the supporting hand generally around the infant’s belly. This is a fantastic position to help relieve tummy problems.
  12. Make ’em laugh. Dads are often masters of inciting infant laughter, whether it’s through weird voices, faces, or some other silly trick. If they manage to encourage that first laugh, they’ll remember that forever (and likely brag about it as well).
  13. Cuddle up for nap time. If bed-sharing, older babies can take naps with Daddy, or even sleep on his chest while he reads a book or watches TV. (Snuggling a sleeping baby is one of my favorite times!)
  14. Have him advocate for your breastfeeding. A dad who understands the importance of breastfeeding is less likely to feel that it takes anything away from him.

I’m sure there are many other things dads can do. What else do YOU do with your baby when not breastfeeding? Everything except feeding is something the father can do, especially if given the opportunity. Give him plenty of quality time, and let him really learn his baby too. Feeding time, while a great bonding time for Babes, is only a tiny part of the baby’s needs. I’m sure there are many things I missed as well that you all can tell us about. How do your babes’ fathers spend quality time with them, outside of meal time?

Brought to you by A Mother’s Boutique!

Image credit: Laura Slomkowski via Matt Phoenix Photography

Christie Haskell is a coffee and tea-addicted wife to Kyle and mother of two wee beasties — Rowan (7) and Aurora the Destroyer (2). She’s a true geek at heart and spends too much time playing video games and reading fantasy novels when she’s not typing her fingers off for CafeMom’s The Stir or her personal blog-love, DailyMomtra.

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27 Comments | Last revised on 07/11/2011

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27 Responses to 14 Ways for Dads to be Engaged with their Breastfed babes

  1. Katie says:

    It’s always made me angry when people told me that Dad needed to feed my babies a bottle to bond with them. All three of mine were exclusively breastfed to 6 months (all nursed past 12 months). While they did get occasional bottles, it was usually a grandparent babysitting while DH and I went out to stay connected so he wasn’t the one doing it. And you know what? He is tightly bonded to all three of our children and they all adore their Daddy. That has *nothing* to do with bottles.

  2. Jorie says:

    My husband was all for breastfeeding but he too had heard he needed to feed the baby to “bond.” Being there for our daughter’s birth, spending countless hours rocking, bouncing, and holding her, changing diapers in the middle of the night, burping her after a feed, and all the things he did hands-on with her from her first day of life ensured that he was definitely connected to our baby. When she was three weeks old, I gave him a bottle of expressed milk. Guess what? It wasn’t that special of an experience after all. He worried about her swallowing air, and that it wasn’t nice to give her a “sub” for her favorite thing which happened to be available. He has actually never enjoyed giving bottles (from then on, only when I was going someplace for say, the way overdue hair-coloring) but he is incredibly bonded to both our children and he has been from day 1. Taking care of the baby is the bonding part, and feeding is just one aspect of baby care.

  3. Jessie says:

    I think a great way to have dad bond with baby for the first few weeks after they are born is to have him sit with you during feedings sometimes. My ex husband and I would usually do this at nighttime or early morning before he would go to work for the first week after our daughter was born. We were usually both shirtless and as I breastfed, he would sit behind me and I would lean back onto him. That way he could see everything from my point of view and he could wrap his arms around both me and our baby girl and feel VERY apart of the experience. 🙂 I couldn’t breastfeed for long because I lost my milk after hemorrhaging 2 1/2 weeks after giving birth, so he got to feed her bottles after that.

  4. Laura Slomkowski says:

    Awwwww! This is a great article Christie. Bath-time was a favorite for Adam and Olivia, now with both of them being older they still enjoy getting in the bathtub with dad. 🙂 Neither of mine EVER had a bottle period, but honestly now, they prefer his company over mine.
    Btw that’s a handsome picture you’ve got there. 😉

  5. Michele says:

    I’m thankful my husband did all of these — it really is perfect bonding. I have twins so it was especially important to have that extra set of hands to give our kids attention.

  6. Anna says:

    My husband did pretty much all of these and a lot are now special ‘daddy’ things. Bathtime is daddy-time, as playtime in the morning with him. Mummy is not allowed to substitute! At 23months old my little girl is a HUGE daddy’s girl (and is still breastfed). My husband never once fed her a bottle and had no desire to do so. He did sit with us in the early days a few times and we all had a cuddle as she fed, that was lovely.

  7. I just told my husband about the anti-breastfeeding argument, and he said: “I’d rather bond by tossing the baby in the air!” (when baby’s big enough, of course)

    Can I just say, I adore my husband 😉

  8. Wendy says:

    We have three daughters and my husband has never had any problem bonding with them from the very beginning. How hard is it for a dad to just sit quietly and hold their sleeping or awake newborn/small infant? (hey he has even held the baby WHILE playing his video games!) Or to talk to/tickle and engage a 3-6 month old? Or to get on the floor, and crawl around and play toys with a 6-12 month old? I really loathe this excuse to introduce a bottle to a baby.

  9. Kris says:

    I’ve always liked to say that it’s Dad’s job to teach baby that love and food are NOT the same thing! Too many of us seem to think it is.

  10. Joye says:

    When my children were babies, their daddy would sit for hours in the recliner while one or two children snoozed in his arms. I was actually a little jealous–I could never simply hold my babies and have them nap in my arms. If I came anywhere near them, they’d want boobies. But Daddy could soothe them, give me a break, and help me establish nap and bedtime routines by swaddling and holding, an almost guaranteed magical sleepytime combination.

  11. Camille says:

    Great ideas! The time right after breastfeeding was my husband’s favorite time to bond with our daughter when she was a baby. He’d burp her, then play with her, then if she was tired he’d walk her around until she fell asleep. He was also a master of making her laugh. He got those first adorable little giggles out of her. =) She is a complete Daddy’s girl even though she was breastfed, so anyone who says breastfeeding babies can’t bond with their dad is ignorant. If she gets hurt or wants something, she runs to Daddy. And she is GLUED to him every day after work until he goes to bed!

    • Phil says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I am a new dad and cuddling my beautiful daughter skin to skin after she has breastfed is perhaps the purest most complete sense of happiness I have ever had. Nothing else matters in the world. Food doesn’t equal bond, regular doses of love and affection are far more important.

  12. Peter says:

    I think diaper change deserves it’s own slot in the list. It’s totally underestimated for learning to know your baby (yes, and vice versa). Change the diaper, give some massage, sing some silly songs, play “where is daddy?” behind their feet, teach body parts (they can learn such things much earlier than one might think), and so on. I enjoy the smell of some of the findings in a diaper as little as the next gal, but it’s such a small sacrifice for the lovely moment just you and your baby.

    I’m a bit surprised, schocked even, this article is needed. Never heard any crap about that fathers must feed to bond. I’m in Sweden. Might be a cultural thing.

  13. The doctor had my wife pumping pretty quick after breastfeeding wasn’t working as well as we’d hoped. Still I was able to feed her from the bottle quite often. WE had heard about some babies not taking to the bottle very well, but our daughter took it right away and never looked back.

    PLus, i’m definitely the comic relief to my wife’s “straight man” act. It will probably remain that way, which is why we have such a good bond now.

  14. Christie B says:

    I’ve heard mothers express that these things are a challenge when fathers work a daytime job and the infant does the (very normal) evening marathon feeding. The dad literally can’t hold the baby or play with the baby or do anything with the baby for the vast, vast majority of the time. I haven’t heard much that addressed these concerns specifically. For parents that hope to follow a more co-parenting model this can feel like a very counterproductive, poor start. What might be helpful in these cases?

    • Bettina Forbes, CLC says:

      Thanks for the great question! I would suggest that those “cluster feeding” times are a great time for dad to relax with mother and baby. Being “engaged” as a father can also be about experiencing, observing, and sharing in the wonder that is breastfeeding, and being physically close. A family snuggle time at that time, catching up on the days events, stroking the baby and being affectionate with mom and baby, can re-connect dad to family. When cluster feeding ends, dad can pick up again with bath, bonding, fun and bed time routines!

    • megan hartman says:

      During cluster feeds, my hubby cuddles next to me in bed, we relax & every 10 -20 minutes he takes the baby to burp. I call him the expert baby burper. I seriously can’t get the baby to burp & he aleays can. Lol it gives him an important job (our baby is UNHAPPY when he Can’t get his burps out!) Reminds me to burp baby frequently & gives me a 5-10 min break between.

  15. happypie says:

    Regarding pointer 14. My husband was sooo wonderful in this. Never made me feel like the baby was taking something of his away. I personally think its one of the most selfish things a father can do/say to his wife “Those are mine.” And we all know what im refering too. My girlfriends husband does this to her and I hate it and feel bad for her. Its only a moment really in the family’s life. Even if they breasfeed for 3 years. Its over so fast.

  16. Marius says:

    Why is the breastfed mentioned? My wife already avoids the internet because she had to have a c section, Prem babies more often end up on the bottle so babe is on the bottle? I think I lost the point after breastfed…

    • megan hartman says:

      Well I would guess then, that this article isn’t meant for you. It seems this article is written for families that breastfeed & are looking for advice on how to keep Dad involved. Funny you say you lost interest, yet here you are at the bottom of the article replying …?

    • Arly Helm says:

      Dear Marius: Breastfeeding is mentioned because it is the physiological way to breastfeed. Your wife may not have gotten the proper support to breastfeed, but breastfeeding is still normal. The article does not exclude anyone who, for whatever reason, has to accommodate individual challenges to the norm.

    • Hi Marius,

      The reason this article is focused on a breastfed baby is because often people feel like the dad misses out if he can’t feed the baby. The point was to show that there are many ways a man can still be involved with his child, even if his wife is the sole source of nutrition.

  17. erin elizabeth says:

    my husband was the ultimate swaddler! he made the perfect baby burritoes (mine fell apart) But more than swaddling, our newborn was best soothed when he and she snuggled skin-to-skin. It seemed to bond as well as nursing – and thank goodness she never rooted on him (probably because of all the chest hair!)

  18. aldous says:

    A good article. I am a proud dad who takes great pleasure in pretty much all of the above, and can say that it really does make me feel together with my little one.

    Just one point about the article though. My baby is my “baby”, not my “babe”. I find the term pretty offensive in the formal setting. “Babe” is generally used to refer to young attractive women, and as such I find it slightly disturbing using the term to refer to a baby.

    I recommend changing it. The term “baby” is much better.

    • Josie says:

      Actually, the word ‘babe’ has historically been a shortened, “slang” form if you will, of the word baby or babies. It’s only been in the last 50 years or so that ‘babe’ started being used as a term for attractive women – I would guess because youth is usually associated with attractiveness.

      So the authors use of the word babe is correct, and your being offended by it is a statement to the lack of proper English education in this country, and how much pop culture influences our lives.

  19. Garnet Fraser says:

    As a family doctor and father of three, I employ all of the strategies listed on this site but I find them to be inadequate. The mother of my previous children did not allow me to feed pumped breast milk. Thankfully, divorce gave me the chance to be an equal parent and allow me to bond adequately with those children. I currently feed pumped milk to my new infant and can attest that there is no substitute for the expression of pure love expressed in his eyes when I feed him. My baby cries less and burps more easily after bottle feeding in the upright position. He swallows more gas from the gaps around my partner’s nipple shield. Laying down for breast feeding also allows air to pass from stomach to ileum, where it cannot be easily burped back up. To discouraging fathers from feeding pumped milk is to ignore gender equality, which which may explain the emphasis on pink in your website.

  20. Pingback: Back to Basics: How to breastfeed - Attached Moms : Attached Moms

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