by Jeremy Martin-Weber
This post made possible by the support of EvenFlo Feeding
Six times now I have seen my babies experience the sweet bonding power of breastfeeding with their mother. Six times I have marveled at their connection. Six times, in spite of the struggles that accompany the breastfeeding journey, in spite of the pain, the latch issues, the horror of mastitis, the mystery of blebs, the touch fatigue that comes with nursing every couple hours, I have watched these nourishing moments of intimacy with a mix of appreciative awe, compassion for the struggle, and jealousy.
Even though I understand and accept the natural way of things, that women are equipped both with the ability to grow and nourish a baby inside their body and the ability to nourish that baby outside their body, and that men – how should I put this? – aren’t; even though I know this to be a fact of the human experience, I see the connection between them both before birth and after with a twinge of envy.
Especially with our first, I even wondered if I should just accept that my chance to bond with my baby would come… later. Probably months later. Hopefully no more than a year or two. It’s even harder when the baby obviously prefers their mother. We had one of those. I tried not to take it personally. I decided to be present and patiently wait for her to come around, and she did. Eventually.
We’ve all heard just how important it is for babies to bond with their mother, and we also hear how important it is for kids to have both parents involved in their lives as they grow up (for those who happen to have two parents). This implies that it’s essential for both parents to bond with their little ones. So how does the non-breastfeeding parent get started, especially when it seems that their babies only seem to need one parent: the one with the leaky boobs?
Because the breastfeeding parent naturally needs to spend more time with their baby than their non-breastfeeding partner (babies eat all day, after all), it can be very helpful for them to take deliberate steps to help the other parent connect with their baby. Even though it may be easier to just do everything yourself, and indeed, our culture still encourages moms to think that they should be able to do it all, so there is a level of responsibility and personal pride that comes along with not needing your partner to help at all (and guilt if you don’t do it all), that kind of attitude only serves to speed up your own burn-out and to hinder your partner from being an equal parent. It requires intention to share the responsibility of caring for a baby. Here are some ideas to get you started based on some of the helpful ways that Jessica encouraged me to bond with our babies:
- Invite your partner to join the snuggle.
I never wanted to intrude on the intimate moments when Jessica and our baby were cozied up on the couch, mouth to boob, staring into each other’s eyes. It was so magical, and I didn’t want to break the spell, or distract them from their moment. A simple invitation from the breastfeeding parent is enough to change it from an intimate moment with that parent and the baby to an intimate family moment. Your first family portrait etched into all 3 of your memories. You’ll be working on intentionally welcoming each other into all sorts of situations for years to come (like when you’re on the toilet, or when you thought you were going to have a private intimate moment with just your partner), so why not get started right away? I had heard enough about sacred motherhood and the importance of the baby bonding to its mother that I needed an invitation to be a part of it. Maybe your partner does too.
- Offer for your partner to burp the baby.
Inviting your partner to burp your baby after nursing is a great way to get them involved and give yourself a little break from the constant skin-to-skin contact from that cuddly hot water baby. Sure it may seem easier to do it yourself since you’re right there but if you share the experience you might have a chance to get up to pee, or just to stand up and stretch. And if your baby can’t go without that skin-to-skin, invite your partner to lose a layer or two. For your partner, burping their baby is an opportunity to unlock that natural baby-holding sway. Pretty soon they’ll be practically dancing (it happened to me, and I’m not much of a dancer). And you can enjoy the sight of them bonding together.
- Share the other baby care responsibilities with your partner.
Once you’ve shared the responsibility of burping the baby, you’re ready to encourage your partner to take on other baby related tasks, like bathing them, dressing them, and cleaning that umbilical cord. Of course, there’s no reason for the 3 of you not to share those special moments together too.
- Share the secret of diaper changing fun.
In many ways, diaper changes represent the last stand of traditional parenting roles. Guys willing to do all sorts of things for their wives and children still draw the line at diaper changes. What those dads miss entirely is that changing a diaper doesn’t have to be about changing the diaper at all. It’s a necessary task that provides the opportunity for special parent-baby time. Most anything can be turned into a game, and any event can be a bonding moment if that is the intent. Diaper changes can either be a disgusting obligation, or play time with your baby! Pee and poop, or fun and games. It’s time to let your partner in on the secret. You may have to model it like Jessica did for me. But once I understood it, I was hooked on diaper changing fun.
- Encourage your partner to hang out with their baby
There is definitely something special about mother & baby time. But the part I used to downplay in my mind is that there is also something very special about babies connecting with their other parent. Encourage your partner often to hold your baby, their baby: to babywear, to cuddle, to take a nap together, to hang out in the rocking chair, etc. Bonding happens through time spent together. Your partner needs some of that time too!
- Spend a little quality time with your pump
This isn’t a necessary one and it is totally possible for bonding to happen without any participation in baby feeding- until introducing solids, invite your partner in on that fun for sure! But if you’re going to be pumping anyway to return to work or to have the occasional bottle for you to go out, this could be one way to give your non-breastfeeding partner the chance to participate. I loved every opportunity I was provided to give our babies a bottle, and, for my partner who gets overstimulated by touch very easily, sometimes it was just to provide her a break from all that physical contact that could get a bit overwhelming. You determine how often it will work for you – whatever the frequency, it’s such a special opportunity for your partner to connect with your baby.
- Ask for help and then back off
Sometimes our greatest enemy is ourselves. This is so true when one partner claims ownership of certain responsibilities. Our natural tendency is to want to make sure that the job is executed up to our standards, even when we “allow” others to do it for us. We want to control the outcome. We micromanage. We say too much. We follow too closely. We watch incessantly. We are ready to jump in (or take over) at the first hint of hesitation. And we get stressed out, anxious, and even angry, when things don’t run by our definition of “smoothly”. This approach to letting your partner help does the exact opposite of building up their confidence. It may discourage them from even trying to be involved. And you may end up resenting an uninvolved partner that you had a role in creating. For your partner to really bond with your baby (and by “your” I mean theirs and yours), you have to really want your partner to be involved. That means you have to get out of the way. They may not do things exactly like you do, and that’s ok. Give them space, provide information when necessary, trust that they have their own parenting instincts, that they will ask you when they can’t figure things out, and that they will find their own parenting groove.
- Enjoy the view and tell your partner about it
Jessica has told me through the years that she loves seeing me with our kids. She loves it when they’re babies, and continues to love it as they get older, all the way up to high school! She says that the way I interact with our kids makes her love me even more. Somehow me bonding with our children brings us closer together as a couple. And it’s sexy. Not that my interactions with my children are sexy, but that she thinks I’m sexy when I connect with our children. And hearing her say how much she appreciates the view, I mean, my efforts, boosts my confidence and encourages me to keep at it.
Jeremy Martin-Weber is the proud father of 6 inspiring girls, and is 20 years into a love story with his partner, Jessica Martin-Weber.