Crystal from Tulsa emailed me and asked:
“I am the new mom of a 3 month-old baby girl, Christina. She is the light of our lives, but my husband recently admitted that he feels left out. I am at home right now with Christina and am breastfeeding. Additionally, my husband hasn’t really been around babies. He’s really helpful, but has no idea how to interact with our daughter at this age. Do you have any suggestions to increase the “fun factor” in the daddy-daughter interactions?”
New babies, especially first-born new babies, change parents’ lives forever. A first child takes you on a journey like no other. There are so many new things to learn. Many times the new mommy is more prepared to take on the majority of the tasks related to caring for the new baby; in fact, some new dads are experiencing a baby up close for the first time. Most fathers, while eager to help, don’t have lots of baby experience gained through hours of babysitting as a teen, helping care for siblings, nieces and nephews, holding and cuddling friends’ new bundle of joy. Dads can think that the new baby is too fragile to play with and even if she weren’t, all she does is eat, sleep, poop and occasionally look around licking the air, right?
New dads need encouragement to develop that early bond with their child. That bond is extremely important in so many ways. Regarding language development, interactions with Dad provide baby with early experiences in different styles of interaction and play, pitch/tone of voice, expression of emotions through voice and facial expression, etc. Dads who are intimidated by interacting with their new baby should be told of their important role in maximizing baby’s communication potential and encouraged to try the following activities:
1. Make Extreme Faces for Baby to Explore: Newborn babies love to be swaddled and held close. Face-only exposure is a common position for a new baby; take advantage of that time to let baby explore Dad’s face. For example, after a diaper change or a bath, swaddle your baby and face him comfortably in front of your face approximately 8 inches away (for the first few months, babies can’t focus farther than 8-15 inches away). I like to sit with my back against the arm of the couch and knees up, back of baby’s head resting in my palms, his back supported by my forearms. Once face-to-face, make extreme expressions for your baby to discover. You can pair them with noises if you like, but this is primarily a game of noticing changes in the face. Nonverbal expression is key to recognize and use to be a strong communicator. Make a face like a monkey (e.g., big open eyes, oh oh rounded lips), then a big, genuine smile or open your mouth wide and pop it shut. Babies love watching you slowly stick your tongue out, then pull it back in. Dad will be surprised that junior often begins to imitate these actions rather quickly: geniuses these babies are! This interaction with a baby less than six months of age is really setting the stage him to learn how to move his face, imitate the facial expressions of others, turn take and make eye contact.
2. Move and/or Massage to Music: Who doesn’t love a massage? Well it’s great for babies too! After a bath, (put a diaper on so you don’t have an unexpected mess during the massage) get some baby-safe lotion and turn on some music or sing to your baby as you vary the pressure and rate of massage on your baby’s body to match the song. You can use any song or genre of music. For example, Dad can sing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and do gentle pressure slow finger tips in a upward motion from baby’s finger tips to shoulder as he sings “The Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the water spout.” Then, he can rub baby’s belly and chest in a sweeping circular motion (think wax on, wax off from Karate Kid in miniature motions) as he sings, “Down came the rain and washed the spider out.” You get the idea. My husband liked to sing songs he liked to our kids. With our first, he’d bounce him in his arms to the beat of the group “New Order”; not exactly a lullaby to most kids, but Tommy would smile, then fall asleep every time he heard it. This type of interaction exposes your new baby to differences in rhythm , repetition of rhyme, sound sequences and carrier phrases (i.e., predictable phrases that change few words).