Whether you’re a brand-new dad or baby is still on the way, you might be feeling a little out of your element when it comes to bonding with your baby. After all, when baby doesn’t do much more than eat, sleep, poop and cry, how do you create that tight bond? And is it really that important at this stage?

Studies show that bonding with your baby has a huge impact on their mental and physical well-being. And babies come into this world ready to build a relationship with their parents. But many dads can feel overwhelmed since they may not have a ton of experience with babies. It might feel like mom, grandma or grandpa already has it all figured out while you’re struggling to know what to do.

Bonding can seem a lot more difficult than it really is. You’ll be surprised how many skills you already have that can make you a natural at taking care of and bonding with your baby. Try these simple suggestions to build on those skills and help create the father-baby bond in no time.

Ways dads can start bonding with baby during pregnancy

You don’t need to wait until baby is here to start building a relationship with them. But a common question we hear is: How can dad bond with baby in the womb? You can kick-start the bonding by using a few of the following suggestions.

Go to prenatal doctor visits

One of the best ways to start that father-baby bond before birth is to join your partner at prenatal appointments. You’ll be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat, see them moving on the ultrasound screen and hear development updates straight from the doctor or clinician.

If the visitor policy at your partner’s clinic has changed because of COVID-19 restrictions, you can always join the appointment by video or phone.

Take care of mom

Caring for your pregnant partner is caring for your baby. The more comfortable mom is, the happier baby is.

Also, ask your partner how you can help her, or offer to take on some new responsibilities to lighten her load. That might mean taking over some errands, scheduling a recurring date night or doing some baby-proofing chores around the house. Whatever it is, it’ll make you a more active participant in getting ready for the baby to come.

If you already have kiddos in the family, another way to help your partner is to offer to take over parenting duty for the day. Giving mom a break will help her relax. Plus, you’ll get some quality time with your kids before the new baby arrives.

Massage your partner’s belly

Gently massaging your partner’s belly can relieve discomfort and itchiness caused by the growing baby bump. And the bonus? Baby may start to know when their father is touching mom’s belly. Babies can sense touch from anyone, but they can also sense when touch (and voice) is familiar. And by 24 weeks into pregnancy, dad can usually feel baby kick – but the exact time varies.

Take time to learn about pregnancy

Knowing how your baby is growing and what milestones are ahead can help you feel more connected to your little one. For example, did you know that baby can make a fist at 12 weeks gestation? Or, that by 16 weeks they can hear your voice?

Make sure to learn what mom is going through, too. Being pregnant is hard. Part of a dad’s job is understanding the needs of mom and baby.

Talk to other fathers, attend prenatal classes, ask your partner how she’s feeling and talk to her doctor to learn all you can about the baby that’s on the way.

Prepare for the birth

When the big day arrives, you’ll play a huge role in the labor and delivery process. Being a part of planning and preparation can help you take on more fatherly responsibilities before baby is here.

For starters, help your partner make the birth plan. Together you can discuss the kind of birth experience your partner envisions. You might think through which hospital or birth center to choose, if your partner would prefer an unmedicated, “natural” birth or an epidural, and other important decisions.You’ll also decide who you want in the room with you and what you want to pack for the hospital.

Also, take time to learn how best to support your partner during labor and delivery. Attend prenatal classes, ask what your partner needs and reach out to friends and family who have been the support person for their partners.

Ways for dad to bond with their newborn from the moment they arrive

Now that baby is here, daddy-baby bonding time can hit a new level. You’re no longer limited to talking to your partner’s belly. But if you’re not sure where to start, try some of these tips.

Talk to baby

Babies can recognize voices as young as 1 week old. Make sure your voice is one of them! Talking to your baby strengthens language development, helping the part of the brain that understands language grow. They’ll start to pick up speech patterns and tone, which you’ll hear them mimic when they start baby talk.

So, talk to your baby throughout the day just like you would to any other member of your family. Chat about what you’re doing, things in your environment and anything else that comes to mind. If you’re not sure what to say, try reading to your baby or singing a song.

For an early start, dads can talk to baby in the womb. Babies can begin hearing sounds and voices around the 18-week mark. Are there any specific benefits of dad talking to baby in the womb? For one thing, talking to them early can help them recognize your voice sooner after they’re born.

Hold your baby close and connect through skin-to-skin contact

You may have heard that skin-to-skin contact is an important way to bond with baby. But it’s not just great for bonding, this kind of touch has many benefits for both you and baby.

Touch helps baby feel safer and can even help reduce how often they cry. Your body can also help baby regulate their temperature and heartbeat. This a natural ability that both moms and dads have. Skin-to-skin touch also provides tons of other benefits for baby, including improved mental development, reduced stress and possibly a lowered risk of obesity in the future.

For you, this kind of touch boosts the “feel good” hormones, endorphins and oxytocin. These create feelings of love, protectiveness and happiness. Plus, they can help reduce stress and boost your confidence as a parent.

Make eye contact

It sounds easy, but making eye contact with your baby is one of the keys to their early development. Studies have shown that regular eye contact can help babies develop stronger language skills by the time they’re 2 years old.

When do babies recognize their father or mother?

Babies can recognize their parents pretty early actually – as young as 4 days old. By making eye contact with your baby during feeding times, cuddle sessions and throughout the day, you’re helping your child memorize your face and learn to trust you. To help your baby get a good look at you, hold them between 8 and 15 inches away from your face while looking into their eyes.

Take part in mealtimes

It’s easy to feel like mealtimes are all about baby and mom, especially if mom is breastfeeding. But you can and should take part, too.

During the first month, newborns eat between eight and 12 times a day. An easy way to get involved with one of baby’s most frequent activities is to simply join in. Be the parent who carries baby to and from mealtimes. This will give mom a break and give you some prime cuddle time throughout the day.

You can hang out during the meal, too. If mom is breastfeeding, ask if you can help support the baby. If you’re bottle feeding, take turns feeding them.

You can also use this time to flex your cleaning skills. Bottles, breast pumps, bibs and everything else used during mealtimes needs to be sanitized after each use. Taking over this chore can give mom a chance to relax and remind you that you play an important part in making sure your baby is well taken care of.

Become the “Diaper Dad”

Taking over some responsibilities with your new baby can be a great way for you to strengthen your relationship. It will build your confidence as a great dad, and it will help your baby learn to count on you.

Consider taking over diaper duty. This is something you can do from day one, helping you share in the work getting you some quality father-baby bonding time.

Make diaper changing a fun event. A changing table can become a stage where you sing silly songs or make funny faces at your baby.

If being in charge of diaper changes doesn’t work for you, choose something else that does. Maybe you’re the dad in charge of the bedtime routine, maybe you’re the parent who soothes baby when they cry. You’ll find what works to create some father-baby bonding.

Show baby the world

Everything is new to babies. Being your baby’s guide to the great, big world can help them learn and grow, as well as develop a strong sense of trust between you and your child. Plus, having outings is just plain fun.

When your baby is brand new, you’ll want to be cautious about exposing them to new illnesses. Their immune system will be low for the first eight weeks or so of their lives. But as they get older – and receive their vaccinations – their world can get bigger and bigger.

Take your baby to places that were special to you as a kid. Maybe you have a favorite park or loved story time at the local library. Visit the zoo, museums and other places with exciting things for baby to look at. Or simply go on walks around the neighborhood, taking in the sights and sounds of home.

If you’re not sure where to start, check out local dads’ groups and parenting classes in your community.

Give mom time with your older kids

If you already have kids at home, adding a new baby to the family can make it more challenging to spend quality time with the older kids. Family dynamics change, making everything from how you introduce the new baby to your kids to one-on-one time with your kids more important.

One way to bond with your baby and help your older kids get the attention they deserve is to trade off time with your partner. Choose times when you’ll be alone with the baby while your partner spends time alone with your other kids. Alternate to ensure every kid gets to spend time with both parents.

Keep baby healthy

Being part of your baby’s health is a great way to teach them about a healthy lifestyle and ensure they’re getting the care they need. Choosing a doctor for your baby who can be by their side from birth to early adulthood can help guide you, your partner and baby through all the big milestones and everyday needs.

Join your partner in making the decision. Many different kinds of doctors are able to provide care for infants and beyond, including pediatricians, family doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and many others. Talk as a family about what kind of doctor is the best option for your child. Then, go the extra mile and schedule your baby’s first wellness checkup after they’re born.

Try not to worry: Bonding happens naturally

Remember, you were made to bond with your new baby. Though it can feel overwhelming at first, natural instincts will take over.

You might already be a pro at making silly faces or the king of dramatic storybook readings. You also probably know which chores you can take on to make everything a true family affair. With a little practice, you’ll have fatherly confidence, too.

If you’re worried that the bond isn’t developing between you and your baby, talk with your child’s doctor.

It’s important to know that feelings of anxiety and even sadness are normal for all new parents. And dads can experience postpartum depression, too. So, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor if you need emotional and mental support.

Life with a new baby can be overwhelming. Doctors can offer guidance and answer your questions so you can focus on being the best dad.