I breastfed two children and they have always been very bonded to their father. Here are 10 tips that worked for us for dad bonding with a breastfed baby.
Dad bonding with breastfed baby – 10 tips
Dads don’t need bottles for dad bonding with breastfed baby
I often hear parents talk about how they needed to bottle feed so that the father could bond with their baby. I hear people cite it as their reason for formula feeding. People mention it as their reason for expressing (at great time and effort) when breastfeeding.
When I hear this it makes me a little cross. Can we stop promoting the myth that dads need bottles to bond?! The only people benefiting from this myth are the formula companies who put a lot of resources in to promoting this myth to undermine breastfeeding.
Before I get a ton of hate for the statements above, this post is not a formula bashing post at all. If you want to formula feed then I am sure that’s a lovely way to bond with your baby too. However, this post is aimed at families who want to breastfeed but want to make sure the father bonds as best they can with their new baby.
You might hear a lot about how giving the baby a bottle will help dads to bond but I’m going to tell you how it’s absolutely not necessary and there are loads of other things you can do instead.
Our story of dad bonding with our breastfed baby
I breastfed both of my kids. The first I expressed daily so my partner could give his son the bedtime bottle, with my second I didn’t. Both kids are equally bonded to their dad. We all found the second way much easier.
When you express you need to pump milk at the same time to relieve your breasts and maintain your milk supply. So it’s not like I got a break when Papa Ginge was giving Arlo his bedtime bottle.
Not only that but Arlo took more from the bottle than from me so I started having to express twice a day for that one bottle. One of those times was during the day when I was alone, generally holding a baby that I was breastfeeding. I struggled to figure out how or when to express the milk between his feeds.
I ended up with an oversupply issue from the pumping that led to blocked ducts, milk blisters and mastitis. Then at around six months my son started refusing the bottle anyway so we had to go back to purely boob feeds. He never took a bottle again, he breastfed for another two years.
On top of that it also meant we needed to buy bottles, a steriliser and I had all that washing up and sterilising to do. With my second we did none of that stuff and it was just way easier. No bottles or machines, no expressing. She is two now and is still breastfeeding on demand and has never once had a bottle. She loves her dad and many nights, she will ask for him instead of me at bedtime.
‘Baby only wants mom not dad’
Sometimes, I hear some men, using breastfeeding as a cop-out of why they can’t help their breastfeeding partners during the night. Statements such as ‘baby only wants mom not dad’, ‘the baby cried when dad holds her’, ‘he’s breastfeeding so I can’t help at night’, ‘the baby is breastfeeding so they won’t go to me’ are often muttered.
Let me tell you that breastfeeding doesn’t mean these things will happen and regardless of breastfeeding, you can absolutely help your partner – day and night. It just takes a little bit of effort to figure out what methods and strategies work for you and your baby.
Papa Ginge has always had a great bond with our kids. Despite me ‘natural term’ breastfeeding, he can soothe them as well as I can. He can look after them solo without any problems.
I don’t need to leave instructions. He might use different tools and methods to me but they are equally valid and I trust him to just get on with it.
Despite them both having been exclusively breastfed, they are very securely attached to their dad. There are a number of ways of things we did that I think helped with this.
Dad bonding with breastfed baby – top 10 methods
- Practical baby care; Nursing the baby was my number one job and everything else ‘baby’ was Papa Ginge’s job. So I would nurse the baby but then I would do other jobs like cleaning, tidying, meals, playing with our eldest child etc while Papa Ginge held the baby, burped the baby, changed the baby, played with the baby etc. If Papa Ginge was home then he did all the baby jobs. I was home on maternity leave so I was with the baby most of the time. I was already bonded. When Papa Ginge came home, he was the boss of the baby and he did not defer to me. This also had the side benefit of giving me a break from the baby and giving me some time to focus on my other kid and make sure he felt securely attached.
- Skin to skin; Skin to skin with fathers has been shown to have real benefits for babies. It’s not just for mothers and it’s a great way to bond with your baby as it releases a ton of Oxytocin. Just do it. You’ll love it.
- Bathing and co-bathing; Also a great producer of Oxytocin. Bath time in our house has always been daddy’s domain because it’s such a bonding time. Getting in the bath yourself can be really special too. (Although I still laugh every time I remember the time baby Arlo pooped in the bath with Papa Ginge.)
- Baby massage; This can help calm your baby and help with digestive issues. It’s also a great activity to help fathers bond. There are lots of techniques you can research online or YouTube tutorials.
- Baby wearing; Papa Ginge was a baby wearing pro. With our second I would nurse her, then go put my 3-year-old to bed and Papa Ginge would put the baby in the carrier and walk her to sleep. I would go to sleep with my 3-year-old for a couple of hours and when the baby woke again wanting to nurse my partner would bring her to me and we would bed share/breast sleep for the rest of the night.
- Rocking, pacing, swaying, singing and shushing; All of these are bonding. You are soothing your baby and giving them comfort and building up trust that you are a safe place and provider of comfort.
- Suckling; In some cultures dads let their babies comfort suck on their nipples but I’m sure that’s much too radical for any fathers here. Papa Ginge did let our kids suck on the fleshy part of his thumb though while he cradled them.
- Reading; Looking at little black and white board books with your baby can be a great way to bond. It’s also great for their development. It also builds the foundations for a love of reading.
- Night parenting; Help a breast feeder during the night. Change the baby so she can go to the toilet, have a snack/drink and make herself comfortable. If the baby doesn’t go back to sleep on the boob then take them and cuddle them while the breast feeder goes back to sleep. All this time helping isn’t wasted, its bonding time and you are developing a relationship with your baby.
- Taking the baby for a walk; Getting the baby out of the house for a soothing walk in the pram is a win-win. You get some exercise, they get some stimulation and hopefully a nap and the breast feeder gets a small break which she will be very grateful for.
Daddy baby bonding – bask in the mundane
Some of these tasks might seem mundane to you but they are a huge deal to babies.
They are so vulnerable in many of these activities (like their bare arse in the air during a nappy change). They are learning to trust you during these activities.
Remember, the first six months where you exclusively breastfeed are over in the blink of an eye. You don’t need to rush it, or interfere, it’s over quick enough as it is. Then daddy can take a lead on baby led weaning or whatever.
We live in a formula feeding culture (99.5% of babies are formula fed at a year) where the oft produced image of maternal/paternal love is a picture of a baby being fed by a bottle. However, there are so many other worthwhile and wonderful ways to bond with your babies.
Whatever you choose to do, this time will be over quicker than your realise. Try to cherish it through the sleep deprived haze. Breathe in that newborn scent and relish in it before its assigned to memory. I’m certain you will miss it when it’s gone.
Disclaimer: This post was first published in April 2017 and was last updated in July 2023.