Your mutual homing in triggers neural growth that creates a new sector in both your brains that's dedicated to each other. It's a powerful and complex biological process so subtle you may not even know it's happening, but we guarantee it is.
If you're nervous or even overwhelmed, don't sweat it; babies know just what to do. They settle their little body into your arms and mesmerize you with their warm, sweet smell. Be patient if your little guy's still crying from his rude entry into the world, and enjoy the fact that it means he's doing just fine. Just take in this incredible moment and the sight of the exquisite human you helped create.
Once your baby is born, his flexible skull may have been temporarily reshaped into a conehead from traveling through the birth canal, and his color may be a shade of purple. He might also be covered in white stuff (called vernix). All of this should quickly go away as he's checked out and cleaned up. You can go over to the warming table and put your finger on his hand and he will grab it.
You may feel emotionally overwhelmed, or, based on the experience of many dads, you may not. Regardless, you've both just taken a big step on the path to bonding and appreciating how much your baby means to you, and vice-versa. After what you just witnessed, you'll begin to understand your baby is truly the most amazing creation on the planet.
If guys were in charge, baby wrestling would be the next big sport. At one day old, a baby lying on your lap will start to do a pull up if you let him grab onto your pinkies. At several weeks, they start lifting their heads (which are half their body weight) and at a few months, they can rip out a fistful of your chest hair with one hand and rearrange your nose with the other.
"My 8-month-old little girl, sitting in my buddy's lap at dinner, grabbed his placemat with a glass, heavy plate and utensils on it, and just whipped it out and left everything on the table." - Proud Dad
While missing the attitude she will muster as a five-year-old, your baby can learn to stick her tongue out by mimicking you. Just keep slowly sticking yours out until she does; she was born with an instinct to mimic and can do it within days of being born.
Take her on tour with your childless friends; they will be impressed.
You get home late, stressed out after a bad-boss day at work. The baby is fussy and moms had it. Life sucks, right? No, because on this night, she falls asleep on your chest, sleeping like an angel listening to your heart lay down a thumping backbeat. For those moments, nothing else matters. Life doesn't get much better.
Keep your baby safe with this dad's approach (pictured): he is not going to roll over on his baby, have his baby roll off and fall or get stuck between him and some cushions, and there are no blankets or pillows that can compromise his baby's breathing.
Babies are born suckers and if you stick your finger in their mouth, you will get an idea of the force your little one employs when he's breastfeeding.
As long as it's clean, your finger is always ready to use to calm your baby, or just play. Be careful when he gets teeth, babies bite.
Babies seem so fragile and delicate that you might think they'll break if you hold them wrong. Actually, it's their dumb and fearless nature that gets them into trouble. At 9 months, they'll crawl anywhere and everywhere, and they'll climb bookcases and climbing walls like monkeys in tribute to their primate ancestors.
She will arrive built to get what she needs by using her cry, cuddles, coos and smile. Her initial focus with these capabilities is to form an enduring bond with you and mom. Your baby will get you hooked on oxytocin surges; just their smell sends feel-good endorphins to your brain's reward center. Plan on succumbing to the demands of your little drug pusher.
We know from experience that your baby will grab hold of your heart, provide you with a new source of strength, and add dimensions to your life that are presently unimaginable. The reason we sacrifice so much for our children is that they offer us the best life has to give.
Fatherhood is about sacrifice and dignity: our children bring out the best in us as men, and the pride and fulfillment we experience by doing this challenging job feeds our souls.
- Listen to you sing and like it
- Totally buy your brand of politics
- Love your favorite sports team
- Never complain when you beat him at poker
- Suck both of his big toes at the same time
"I used to dip her big toe in ice cream and then she would pop it in her mouth. I looked around and she had attracted a crowd of admirers. Such talent." - Dad
Each neuron will connect through synapses to an average of 15,000 other neurons, which multiplied by 100 billion neurons, creates about 15,000,000,000,000,000 (15 quadrillion) connections. There are many, many possible combinations, which is why she will be so entirely unique and fascinating.
Even though her brain is forming synapses at a furious pace, less than 20% of these neural connections will have been made at birth. So, when she arrives, she still has about 1.2 quadrillion synapses to go. In her first year, as these connections grow and thicken, her brain will triple in weight.
For the first weeks of your baby's life, just be curious, watch, and notice. How does he act when getting sleepy? When is he most alert? Does he cry loudly or softly? Is he sensitive or feisty? Play, talk, and sing to him; how does he respond? Spend lots of time face to face; he is naturally attracted to yours and you can see how he reacts. These early observations will get you started on decoding your baby, as well as help you develop habits that will keep you two connected for decades.
With all that's going on in his head, your baby will not be a passive creature waiting for you to shape his destiny. After your baby's born he will have an innate curiosity about his new world and a drive to engage and connect with you. He will "talk" to you with a cry, open-eyed looks of curiosity, a wrinkling of his eyebrow in discontent, a faint reddening of his face indicating stress, looking at you to get your response, or looking away as in "I'm tired. No more."
Appreciating that your baby comes with his own basic personality traits already in place will enable you to focus on him for answers rather than looking elsewhere. You will also learn to trust your instincts in figuring out what he needs from you, making your interactions with him more productive. In the short run, this will help you guide your baby towards better sleeping habits, and enable you to calm him more effectively.
The debate over nature (our genes) vs. nurture (how we are raised) in shaping us is over. Science has made it clear that we are born with unique characteristics embodied in our genes that are tempered by our parent's care, as well as our broader environment. Your responses can moderate or strengthen your child's inborn traits. One lesson: a baby who talks early will get lots of verbal interaction, which enhances his cognitive abilities, but the child who talks less actually needs the interaction more.
A connected and involved dad will help make their child healthier, happier, more emotionally secure, productive, resilient, ethical, safer, nicer, and also supports the creation of positive relationships, self-control, and the ability to take the initiative. It has also been found that a father's close relationship with his daughters helps strengthen their feelings of competence and sense of femininity, while one with his sons is a major factor in combating problems with conduct, delinquency or substance abuse.
Of all the powerful dynamics in the life of a father, your lead role in teaching your baby to play has got to be one of the coolest.
Research has found that despite the obvious advantages moms enjoy in terms of baby appeal, 6-month-old babies choose dad when it comes to playtime. Fathers (perhaps due in part to maturity issues?!) are naturally designed to be a baby's playmate and the best brain development toy possible.
Tickling, flight lessons, peek-a-boo, and wrestling all come naturally. Playing is also bonding at its finest: dads create radiant smiles and infectious belly laughs, sometimes with just a wink.
While your baby won't know what to think of you in the beginning, as the weeks go by she'll learn mom is a pillar of calming protection while dad is more playful, physical, and often full of surprises. While mom will most likely want to cuddle her when she is fussy, you will more likely lift her into the air.
When she hears your voice, she's likely to raise her shoulders and eyebrows in anticipation of excitement or start kicking her legs in an invitation to have fun.
It's dad's job to roughhouse with your giggling baby. It looks to mom like you're just having a blast playing, so remind her you're really helping your baby grow in terms of:
- Motor skill development
- Combining emotions, thinking & physical action
- A sense of achievement when they 'defeat' dad
- The life lesson that you don't always win
- Ability to take risks
The one solid way mom picks up the baby is great, and so are the nine different ways dad does it. Moms tend to fall into a pattern, and dads are all over the place, which is the way nature designed it.
Your adventurous role as a dad complements mom's protective mode, and that combination is what turns out well-rounded children. Even if you choose to flip traditional roles, you will still bring a different experience that adds value to who your child becomes.
- After several months, you can take him into the bath with you, and it's a blast when he figures out how to splash.
- Strapping her to your chest in a front-facing baby carrier enables her to fall asleep or look out at all the wonders of the world you'll want to show her.
- Take her to see your friends (the weirder ones will add more stimulation to your little one's mental development!).
- Talk to your baby: tell him about your day, or what he might be when he grows up. He will find everything you say fascinating, and when he starts babbling back, you'll become best buds.
- Feed your baby with a bottle. Many dads report the night shift to be an almost magical time with their baby.
Ultimate Bonding: Skin-to-Skin
This is the nuclear fusion form of bonding: with your baby in a diaper only, take your shirt off and lay her on your chest. This skin-to-skin contact will maximize the generation of oxytocin in both of you; due to its impact, we can assume Cave Dads did this a lot back in their day.
You can start at the hospital, especially if mom had a C-section and you get your baby for the first hour.
Continue at home. Even if you have a short paternity leave, work long hours or travel a lot, find time for skin-to-skin. Those first six weeks are when it works best, and the more the better.