Whilst one in five (22%) mums say they feel like they’re a true ‘parent’ as soon as they see their positive pregnancy test, it seems that dads are left waiting in the wings a little longer. According to a new study from Aptamil Advanced Follow On Milk, most dads (69%) admit to feeling like they gain official ‘parent’ status when they’re able to feed their child – and 87% found that their bond with baby also developed as a result. We caught up with psychologist Emma Kenny to ask her how parents can feel more present when feeding their baby and what role shared feeding can have in father-baby-bonding.
Q: Why is there so much focus on mother and baby bonding, rather than father and baby bonding, when a little one comes into the world?
A: The emphasis of research has always been on the mother and the baby, because that is probably, and primarily, the most important relationship that a baby will encounter. Whilst there are some tiny, atypical percentages to this, for the most part, statistically it’s women who give birth to and nurture those babies in first months. This is due to the feeding regime and the fact that chemically our brain is hardwired to release oxytocin during feeding, making it an overall experience.
The act of feeding calms the mother down whilst soothing the baby, however, this is not a typical male reaction. When men release oxytocin, it in fact makes them playful. You don’t need someone particularly playful with your baby, you need someone soothing and calming so the mother is designed for that - that’s one of the reasons.
Stereotypically research is based around the mother and baby relationship as it tends to be mothers that raise the vast majority of children and this is where researchers have the most access. Of course, the role men play is also really important, but the mother and baby bond is something that a female is biologically hardwired for, so women shouldn’t feel guilty that partners may be left out at the beginning. Secondly, it’s encouraged because secure attachment is formed with the parent, which is important, particularly with the female parent in the early stages of life. Finally, more important than anything, I think the focus on bonding takes place because – even in the very modern day where we have women being career minded and men being a lot more metrosexual – many still retain the female doing the prime share of the caregiving, and the male sometimes works different hours to accommodate this. It means that, whilst you work effectively as a family, the primary emphasis still remains with the female in most circumstances.
Q: What role can shared feeding have?
A: Anything that makes parents feel like they’re a member of the same team and where they feel that they are taking responsibility for something they’ve both made a decision over, helps reduce stress, makes them feel like they’re collaborating, and makes a more harmonious environment.
Q: Why is feeding a way dads can bond with their baby?
A: Any time that a father can have with a new-born baby is going to be pertinent, and progressive, to that relationship. Sharing in the feeding journey is just one of the ways that a father can develop a connection with baby but there are also countless others – such as experiencing skin to skin contact, singing to their baby, talking to their baby or simply doing anything that encourages that relationship to grow.
Men are incredibly important in relationships with babies, particularly based on the experiences they’re going to have with primary role models when they grow up, giving a sense of balance to those relationships - an example would be a behaviour or action that is seen as male or female. The more positive relationships you have with your primary caregivers, the more likely your secure attachment will be.
Where dads can share in the feeding journey, it helps create a moment of calm, a quiet time where the baby and the father can fully engage with each other. Dad can start looking at how the baby is hardwired, with all this amazing communication and information that he may not notice without taking a pause and enjoying one-on-one time. This also allows baby to follow his eyes, and vice versa, and start imitating facial expressions.
Q: What can parents do to feel more present when feeding their baby?
A: When you’re feeding the baby, you should feel, and be, completely present. Turn off all the screens - don’t have your mobile phone with you, or have the TV on, and simply sit with your baby. You can do this in complete silence, or with some lovely relaxing music on, or some lullabies – whatever you prefer to do, just ensure the music feels very baby-centric and soothing.
You can then just use that space and time to take some deep breaths, to listen to what’s happening around you, to notice the facial expressions of the baby, to listen to how the baby sounds when they’re feeding, to just engage in that very present moment and informal mindful practice.
Informal mindful practice, much as formal mindful practice, reduces stress, helps us feel a lot more relaxed, and makes us feel that we’re really living. Because, often with future focusing, we’re worried about the past, whereas this brings us to a position where we really feel like we’re connected to the here and now and allows us to fully focus on baby’s needs.
Q: Why is feeding a baby something to be cherished?
A: Feeding your baby should be seen as an opportunity to stop. In a world where we are too busy, where work life balance is so short, where childhood is unbelievably fleeting – it’s gone in the blink of an eye, sitting down and being present with your baby, and feeding your baby, as an opportunity to just be still. And that’s a very unusual experience in our world these days. And you can utilise this really effectively and efficiently: you’ll benefit, your baby will benefit, and, of course, it’ll teach you as a parent that the world doesn’t end when you simply stop and be still for a short while. In fact, you’ll be soothed, you’ll be less stressed, and baby will be happy – so it works in lots of different ways positively.
Q: Tell us about the Aptamil Advanced Follow On Milk ‘Share the Moments that Matter’ campaign.
A: It’s been brilliant working with Aptamil Advanced Follow On Milk as part of the ‘Share the Moments that Matter’ campaign because, I feel we underestimate the pockets of opportunity where we can truly communicate with our baby, without thinking about everything else going on in the world.
We’ve looked at how to bring mindfulness into feeding, reminding parents that they are a team. This campaign also helps to bring back, some of what I would consider, the good nature and positives in parenting, to the experience of the baby.
When participating in mindful feeding you are able to think about how you can use lullabies and poems and storytelling and facial mimicking and mirroring in those moments of feeding, so that you can genuinely connect and bond with your baby, whilst also feeling like you’re having a little bit of a moment for yourself as well.
Raising a baby can tough, it can be challenging, but it’s massively more rewarding. Thinking about how you can utilise that perfect pocket of opportunity to just truly engage with your baby, won’t just help you feel better as a parent, but it’ll make your baby feel more securely attached and can make your whole routine of feeding be something to look forward to. It also just nudges parents to remind them the things they probably loved when they were little, such as having a parent tell them a story or singing them a lullaby, are still things that make children and babies so happy today. The crux of this campaign has been taking a step back and reminding ourselves we sometimes need to switch off, to zone into our baby, to zone out of the collateral of the world around us and to truly feel present in the world that we can create in those feeding moments.