Being a dad can be an exciting and also a challenging time. We have put together a few things to help guide you through this journey. If you feel you or your partner need any extra support through anything, please reach out to your GP or Health Visitor and we will do our best to offer support.
Feeding time is the perfect time to bond with your baby. Never leave your baby alone when feeding them. Do not use props to hold the bottle in place as the baby may choke.
Hold your baby close, sit them slightly upright in your arms and support their head. Brush the teat against the baby’s lips and allow them to open their mouth to take the bottle, avoid forcing the bottle into the baby’s mouth. If they are refusing the bottle this could be a sign that they are not hungry. Take time to wind your baby throughout the feed (as described below). This may allow the baby to remove excess or trapped air that was making it uncomfortable to continue feeding.
Signs your baby is full include:
- Mouth tightly shut
- Turning head away from the bottle (or breast)
- Relaxing hands
- Falling to sleep near or at the end of feeding.
Making up feeds is important to ensure no harmful bacteria is in your baby’s milk. Guidance on how to make up formula feeds is located on the packaging, including powder to water ratios. You should:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and use sterile bottles and teats
- Boil 1 litre of fresh water and leave to cool for no longer than 30 minutes
- Ensure the area you are using is disinfected and pour the required amount of water into the sterilised bottle
- Add the required amount of formula to the water (whilst the water is still hot)
- Put on the lid and shake the bottle to ensure all the formula is dissolved and it is well mixed
- Test the temperature before feeding your baby, this is done by putting some of the milk on the inside of your wrist
- It is important to discard any unused formula and make fresh each feed.
All bottles much be sterilised before use - some methods are cold water sterilising with solution or tablets, boiling or steam sterilising.
If your baby is being breastfed there are still many ways that dads can be involved in feeding. Recognising baby’s feeding cues early and taking baby to their mother for a feed can help prevent distress and enable a better attachment to the breast.
Feeding cues include:
- Baby putting their hands to their mouth
- Turning their head (rooting) to find the breast (or bottle)
- Stirring, being alert and starting to become restless
- Mouth open, licking lips or sucking motions.
Dads can wind baby after they have had their feed, this is important to bring up any excess air they have ingested to help prevent discomfort and sickness. This is done by holding them upright and gently patting or rubbing their back. Remembering to support their head.
If mother is choosing to express some of their milk, dads can then feed their baby this milk either by bottle or through cup feeding. Cup feeding is often preferred by breast feeding parents as it is considered the most similar route to the breast, so not to confuse baby between bottle and breast. Cup feeding is done by holding baby slightly upright, supporting their head, and resting the cup lightly on the baby’s lower lip. It is important to go slow and not to pour the milk, but to allow the milk to rest at the rim of the cup, allowing the baby to sip the milk.
Skin to skin
Skin to skin is not just for mothers, fathers can do this too and it is just as important. Skin to skin is time spent with your baby where you will lay your baby on your bare chest and having baby in just a nappy also, cover the both of you with a blanket to keep warm. Lay with your baby for as long as you want to, but ensuring you have this time regularly will help bond with your baby and support your baby’s development. There are many benefits to skin to skin, some are listed below.
Benefits of skin to skin for dad:
- Bonding with your baby and building that relationship
- Feel more confident as a father
- Decrease cortisol levels (stress hormone) reducing stress and anxiety.
Benefits of skin to skin with dad for baby:
- Builds bonds and feelings of security
- Can help regulate baby’s heart rate and temperature
- Support baby’s development also reducing cortisol levels in baby.
Bathing and personal care
Bathing your baby is also a great way to bond. Run the bath and check the water with your wrist or elbow to ensure it is not too hot, mixing the water well will avoid any hot patches. For the first month plain water is best - avoid any lotions and oils. Place baby in the water ensuring to support them at all times; you may want to use a sponge to wash baby with. Take baby out of the bath and gently pat them dry, remembering all the creases. You may want to try some baby massage at this point - if your baby has any trapped wind or colic this can especially help.
Nappy changes must be done as soon as possible after your baby has opened their bowels as leaving a dirty nappy on baby can increase the risk of nappy rash. Using a barrier cream can help prevent nappy rash. Remember to talk, smile and interact with your baby whilst changing their nappy as it can help bonding and also aid your baby’s development.
Play, reading and communication
Play is an essential part of your baby’s development and starting from a young age is essential. Reading to your baby is one way to bond with your child and help their learning. Hearing you speak will enable your baby to learn sounds and rhythms to language and looking at pictures can aid visual development.
Talking with your baby and also singing to them will help develop their communication skills, language and understanding, as well as help your baby recognise you and build that relationship.
Tummy time Is important for babies, and you can start from birth. When your baby is alert and awake, place them on their tummy - this helps strengthen their head and neck muscles. You should never leave your baby on their own during tummy time and always monitor them. Initially short periods of time are recommended, and you can build up to longer periods as your baby grows. Putting toys in front of them and interacting from the front can help encourage babies to lift their head and engage their muscles, later used for mobility such as crawling.
Benefits of tummy time:
- Physical development including core, head and neck muscles
- Boosts brain development
- Bonding experiences and chance to play and interact with your baby.
Dad's mental health
Looking after yourself for a healthy happy baby, family health and happiness is key. You may feel sidelined as the attention is on mum and baby, but your role is crucial. A strong male role model is important for a child.
Having a new baby is stressful. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Lack of sleep, adjusting to a new experience and supporting your partner’s recovery add to stress.
It’s possible that you feel your partner has less time for you as she is focusing on baby.
Feelings of having to step quietly around the house and perform well at work to provide for the family are common. All this whilst having less sleep!
However much you wanted to be a dad this can still be hard. So it’s important to reach out if you’re struggling, and chat to family and friends.
Just like new mums, new dads can have feelings of anxiety or depression.
Look out for:
• Feelings of inadequacy, overwhelming feelings of stress
• Feelings of loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, loss of pleasure in things you normally enjoy
• Feeling tired all the time
• Unexplained anger.
If you’re feeling any of these things it's important to get help professionally, as well as speaking to family and friends. Speak to your GP or Health Visitor.
It’s important for your baby for you to seek help, to enable you to be the best dad you can be. Your bond with your little one will make them feel safe and secure and enable them to tackle life's challenges well.
Your baby will learn from your attitude to life and is likely to imitate this in their own future relationships.
For more information on how dads can be affected by and supported through post-natal depression, please visit:
Supporting each other
To be able to provide a baby with the loving, emotionally warm and responsive parenting, parents need to look after themselves. A happy mum and dad make a happy baby.
Mums are particularly vulnerable after the birth and will need strong emotional support from family, friends and especially their partner.
It's ok to feel a sense of loss for your pre-baby life. You and your partner are adjusting to a novel experience.
The tiredness can be immense and affect your coping abilities. Your partner will be healing from the physical and emotional aspects of pregnancy and labour and needs time.
Midwives, Health Visitors and your GP will all want to make sure that mum and baby are thriving, and at this time extra care and reassurance are needed. It is easy for mums to feel they are constantly being judged.
There are lots of things dads can do and fathers play a vital role in bringing up baby. Babies need dads to be healthy and happy to help mum and baby to feel healthy and happy too.
If anyone in the family is struggling to cope – you, mum or baby – then it is really important that you get support from family or friends. And your GP or Health Visitor, who are experienced professionals, are uniquely placed to help you.
It is ok to ask for help - many people find parenting hard and there is nothing to feel ashamed of.
For further information, visit the NHS Information Service for Parents: www.nhs.uk/start4life/signups/new 30
Feeling low, anxious or depressed
It is important to remember that mum may be having low feelings. Many women suffer from low feelings after the excitement of a pregnancy and birth and following hormonal changes.
Mood swings and tears - ‘baby blues’ - are pretty normal. Most people feel down and tearful some of the time, but if mum is feeling this all the time help may be needed.
Admitting you are feeling depressed and anxious can be hard. Your partner may need your help to feel strong enough to do this.
Some things to ask yourself are:
• Does mum feel that she is having difficulty establishing a bond with baby?
• Is she feeling tearful and low?
• Did mum and baby become separated at birth or immediately after?
• Does mum feel tired all the time?
• Where there any difficulties or complications in labour?
• Does mum feel a lack of support/unsafe?
• Is mum behaving in an odd or bizarre way, or in a way that is out of normal for her?
• Insomnia? Not able to sit still? Is she getting mixed up or worrying excessively?
If any of these behaviours become apparent and go on for a few days, get some help from your GP, Midwife or Health Visitor.
Smoking can have many effects on your baby, one of which is the association of smoking and an increased risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Therefore, keeping baby in a smoke free house is the best way to reduce this risk. However risk of SIDS is still increased in some instances such as co-sleeping if either parent smokes.
Another effect smoking can have on babies is the increased risk of hospital admission in the first year of life due to respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia. As your baby gets older living in a smoky house can also increase the risk of your child developing asthma, infections such as ear or chest infections and allergies.
It is important to recognise that thirdhand smoke is also a factor to remember, as particles given off from smoking can linger on surfaces such as clothes, hair, and furniture. Whilst it is always advisable to quit smoking for both you and your baby, if you decide to continue then it is important to understand how you can help minimise the risks as much as possible to help protect your baby from the risks of smoking, these include:
- Don’t share a bed (co-sleep) with your baby if either parent is a smoker
- Smoke outside and avoid smoking inside
- Don’t let visitors, family or friends smoke inside either
- Don’t smoke in the car - if you need to then pull over and smoke outside of the car
- Wear a dedicated overcoat when smoking outside that can be removed when you come inside
- Wash your hands thoroughly when you come inside after smoking
- Try to avoid contact with your baby for around 30 minutes after smoking.
If you are considering stopping smoking, there is lots of help and support that you can access. Some top tips include:
- Contacting a health professional to offer support such as health visiting team, GP or stop smoking advisor
- Inform your family and friends you are going to quit so they can help support you
- Have plenty of distractions ready for those moments when you feel you need a cigarette
- Change your routine so that times when you would normally have a smoke is filled with a different activity
- Consider the use of nicotine replacement therapies to help you slowly wean off the effects of nicotine
- Keep reminding yourself why you are stopping.
Whilst many people consider swapping smoking to e-cigarettes, there is still little evidence on the effects of these on your baby, therefore it is still advised to avoid using these around your baby and in the home.
You the daddy https://youthedaddy.co.uk/
Fathering together fatheringtogether.org
Everything for Dads https://www.everythingfordads.com/the-everything-for-dads-podcast
Fathering together fatheringtogether.org
Dad tips from the Institute of Health Visiting https://ihv.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/PT-How-can-dads-get-involved-FINAL-VERSION-19.6.20.pdf
Dads united https://www.dadsunltd.org.uk/
Dads info because dads matter www.dad.info
CDC (2021) Signs your child is hungry or full, available at: Signs Your Child is Hungry or Full | Nutrition | CDC [Accessed 18 October 2021]
La Leche League International (2020) Cup Feeding, available at: Cup Feeding - La Leche League International (llli.org) [Accessed 18 October 2021]
NHS (2021) Bottle feeding advice, available at: Bottle feeding advice - NHS (www.nhs.uk) [Accessed 18 October 2021]
NHS (2019) Stop smoking in pregnancy, available at: Stop smoking in pregnancy - NHS (www.nhs.uk) [Accessed 22 October 2021]
NHS (2018) Washing and bathing your baby, available at: Washing and bathing your baby - NHS (www.nhs.uk) [accessed 20 October 2021]
Pampers (2020) Tummy time: The ultimate guide, available at: Tummy Time: When Should You Start? | Pampers [Accessed 20 October 2021]
The Lullaby Trust (2021) Smoking, available at: fact-sheet-smoking.pdf (lullabytrust.org.uk) [Accessed 22 October 2021]
Tommy’s (2020) 10 steps to your quit plan, available at: 10 steps to your Quit Plan | Tommy's (tommys.org) [Accessed 22 October 2021]
UNICEF (2021) Skin-to-skin Contact, available at: Skin-to-skin contact - Baby Friendly Initiative (unicef.org.uk) [Accessed 20 October 2021]