Infant Massage: Daddy Bonding Time

Baby getting infant massageBreastfeeding is more than a nutritional transaction. Breastfeeding is a bonding experience for mother and child.

Fathers need their bonding time with babies as well. In my family, that time was bath and massage time. After my husband would give our babies an evening bath, I would breastfeed the baby then he would give the clean, tired, well-fed baby a massage. Baby massage is a perfect activity for fathers.


Benefits of Infant Massage

  • Calming, leading to better sleep
  • Touching, leading to better bonding
  • Soothing, relieving colic


Prepare

When? Choose an unhurried time when both you and your baby can relax. Make sure she isn’t hungry or restless. We found after bath a great time for massage.

Where? Both you and your baby should be comfortable. Since he will be stripped down to his diaper or without any diaper at all, make sure the room is warm enough. Lay a towel, blanket, or sheepie down in front of you on a bed or on the floor (if it isn’t too hard). Just make sure you can reach the baby easily. My husband always did massage on the bed because our babies were so relaxed afterward that they often fell asleep for the evening.

Gaia natural baby massage oilWhat oil? There are so many choices. Just be sure that you test whatever oil or product you choose on a small patch of the baby’s skin to see whether your baby has any sensitivities. It’s much better to check first than to find your baby all pink and blotchy because of allergies. I liked the smell of apricot oil on the baby. ByNature.ca also sells a mineral oil-free baby massage oil from Gaia Natural Baby.

What to do? This is the heart of the matter, and this is where I am going to send you to the experts. You don’t want to be to vigorous with your massage, and there are specific techniques that are helpful with, for example, digestion. There are a lot of books and videos on baby massage, but I see no particular reason to part from the classics.

Frédérick Leboyer, Loving Hands: The Traditional Indian Art of Baby Massage (1976). The first and by far most influential birth and baby book I ever read was Leboyer’s Birth Without Violence. Loving Hands continues that gentle approach to parenting to encourage loving touch. Now available in paperback as Loving Hands: The Traditional Art of Baby Massage.

Vimala Schneider McClure, Infant Massage (1978). Another classic drawn from experience with south Asian massage has been revised over the past 30 years and is still in print. The author is the founder of the International Association of Infant Massage, and revisions of her book have been influenced by the experiences of infant massage teachers.

To all of the fathers ready to bond with your babies, I wish you the best on your baby massage adventure. It’s a beautiful time to spend with a baby.

Image © Dmitry Naumov | Dreamstime.com

My Husband Learned to Be an Attachment Father

My husband is an attachment father. We definitely both have our strong points, but there are ways in which he is the more nurturing of the two of us. When he became the at-home parent seven years ago, we tested our assumptions about his nurturing even further.

Being an attachment father does not necessarily mean being an at-home dad, but, since this is how we have practiced attachment parenting, this is where I have made my observations. U.S. Census shows that 17-25% of children 0-4 years old have at-home fathers. Rebel Dad has crunched and analyzed at-home dad statistics even further.

My husband was definitely an attached father before he was an at-home father, though, so I’ve been wondering what distinguishes attachment fathering from attachment parenting. Attachment parenting works much better when it includes attachment fathering, when the second parent is also involved enough to be wise and sensitive to the child’s needs.

Research confirms the commonsense assumption that children are better off when their fathers are involved. In his article “The Astonishing Science of Father Research,” Jeremy Adam Smith summarizes research into whether fathers are as essential as mothers and how to get fathers more involved in parenting.

Research on attachment parenting specifically shows that physiology is not the determining factor in nurturing. Dr. William Sears, the well-known pediatrician who advocates attachment parenting, writes in “Bonding with Your Newborn” that

studies on father bonding show that fathers who are given the opportunity and are encouraged to take an active part in caring for their newborns can become just as nurturing as mothers. A father’s nurturing responses may be less automatic and slower to unfold than a mother’s, but fathers are capable of a strong bonding attachment to their infants during the newborn period.

On Dr. Sears’ own website, he tells the story of how he realized that he could (and should) learn more about his own children in order to communicate better with them. He learned to become an attachment parent. From this beginning much of the recent writing on attaching parenting, including attachment fathering, has emerged.

In my family, how have these seven years with my husband as attachment father while primary caregiver and at-home dad worked out? Multitasking is still a practical (perhaps even a neurological) impossibility for my husband. He does everything one thing at a time even when he does a bit here and a bit there. When he is distracted by the half-done task, I think he has a more difficult time stopping and listening and understanding what our children need. But, by force of will (rather than by nature or habit) he does usually manage to prioritize children’s need for sensitivity over the task at hand. Attachment doesn’t necessarily come naturally, but it still comes. I see this in the short interviews below.

Micro-interview with attachment parented 11-year old.
Do you notice a difference in the ways your father and your mother respond to you?

Yes, Daddy puts up with a lot more than you do.

Short-ish interview with attachment father of two.

Is attachment fathering any different from attachment parenting?

To me attachment parenting is compassionate mothering. I always figured I had to think myself inside a mother. It’s hard to put myself inside another man’s head, so I don’t really know what they would do. I always tried to think of what a mother would do.

Practically speaking, there are some things a father can’t do. An attachment mother would breastfeed. An attachment father has to figure out a way to comfort the child. I’m trying to think of times when you were teaching and I was out in the hallway or when I started taking the children to the grocery store on my own. Those are situations when you have to remind yourself not to ignore your child crying.

What is attachment parenting, then?

It’s the type of parenting that never leaves the child in any doubt that they are safe. That’s what gives them the confidence later.


Resources

Mothering.com, Dad forums.

William Sears, “Becoming a Dad: Dr. Bill’s Story,” Ask Dr Sears.

William Sears, “Bonding with Your Newborn,” Attachment Parenting International.

Jeremy Adam Smith, “The Astonishing Science of Father Involvement,” Mothering.com, June 19, 2008.

Dave Taylor, “My Journey to Becoming an Attachment Parenting Dad,” AP Parenting blog. A divorced single father who is dedicated to attachment parenting.