How Dads Can Soothe Baby with Father Nursing
I need some advice on how my husband can help soothe my baby. I have a six-month-old, and I can’t leave her for more than an hour without her getting really upset.
Sounds like you are a very sensitive and compassionate mom, but that you’re also on the verge of “mommy burnout.” Your story reminds me of one day when I said to Bill, “I don’t even have time to take a shower because my baby needs me so much.” Dr. Dad astutely diagnosed early burnout and put a loving sign on my bathroom mirror that I shall never forget: “Martha, please remember that what our baby needs most is a happy, rested mother.” It wasn’t enough for him to just advise me to take better care of myself, but he had to carry through by coming up with daddy-comforting tools that gave me a rest, that baby enjoyed, and that strengthened the father-baby bond. Using these tools are especially important if you have a combination of a sensitive and compassionate mother and a high-need baby who naturally prefers mother comforting because that’s what Baby is used to. Try these tools:
“Nursing” also means comforting.
Yes, only mothers can breastfeed, but fathers can also “nurse.” While in America “nursing” is perceived to mean only breastfeeding, in many countries “nursing” means any form of comforting that works. We learned this as early as 1982 when lecturing in Australia on the benefits of breastfeeding and how to comfort fussy babies. One night our host offered to have her mother look after Erin, then nine months of age, in our hotel room while Bill and I enjoyed a much-needed date. As we were leaving the hotel room, this loving grandmother said, “If Erin cries should I ‘nurse’ her?” Bill and I looked at each other startled, wondering how this 60-year-old grandmother was going to “nurse” our baby. Then we realized that “nursing” also meant “comforting.” Yes, a little humor is part of parenting.
1. Encourage dad to try the neck nestle.
One day on one of my near burnout moments I said to Bill, “I’m exhausted. I need to take a nap. Here, you take her.” At that point, I realized if I hovered over the father-nursing pair, I would be tempted to quickly intervene rather than let Bill and Erin work it out. You’ll be surprised how dads can come up with these goofy comforting techniques that are uniquely male, work, and give you a break.
From a distance I watched Bill experiment with a bunch of ways to comfort crying Erin, and I saw him use what he later called “the neck nestle.” Bill snuggled Erin’s head into the groove between his jaw and chest and gently pressed her head against his voice box on the front of his neck.
Babies hear not only with their eardrums but also with the vibrations of their skull bones. I also noticed him singing the following monotonous and calming song to the tune of “Lullaby”:
Go to sleep, go to sleep
Go to sleep, my little baby.
Go to sleep, go to sleep
Go to sleep, my little girl.
Wow, it worked like a charm! The neck nestle works much better for fathers because of the lower-pitched and higher vibrations of the male voice.
Remember, babies enjoy novelty. You’ll not only be amazed at how well this new way of “nursing” works, but also how it motivates your husband to get more involved and experiment with more male techniques of baby comforting.
2. Try the warm fuzzy.
Have dad drape your bare-skinned, but diapered, baby over his bare chest. Place baby’s ear over his heartbeat. The rhythm of his heart combined with the up-and-down rhythm of the breathing movements while rhythmically patting on baby’s back will often soothe a fussy baby.
3. Enjoy a father-daughter dance.
Naturally, you have been rocking and doing the mother-baby dance with baby since birth, now it’s time for your husband to learn how to do the father-baby dance. Again, because babies love novelty, they usually enjoy the different rhythm and holding that fathers do. Encourage dad to hold baby safely and securely, perhaps even in the neck nestle, and dance to a rhythm that works for both, accompanied by gentle humming and even daddy songs.
4. Daddy babywearing.
On our website AskDrSears.com we discuss all the benefits of getting baby used to being worn in a carrier early on. Dads usually prefer a sling-type carrier that doesn’t have all the straps and gadgets that must fit perfectly in order to work. I would always hang a baby sling on a hook next to our door that was fitted for baby and daddy. All Bill had to do was slip on the sling, insert baby, and off the babywearing pair would go for a walk out in nature, and out of hearing distance from mommy.
Of course, there are times when your mother’s intuition tells you that baby wants/needs (same thing for a baby) only mom. Listen to your baby’s cry signals. When your mommy’s brain tells you that you need to take over, follow your instincts.
And, most importantly, avoid falling into the “let Baby cry it out advice” of “I’ll let him try to work it out for ten minutes.” Only you know when to intervene or when to let the daddy-baby pair continue to work it out. Start now, before separation anxiety sets in, which is around 8 or 9 months. Seeing a man nurturing a little baby is really an admiration turn on for most moms.
Martha Sears, RN
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”