When a woman learns that she is pregnant, the first news flash to her closest friends and family burn like wildfire. From that moment on, she is acutely aware of how her body is changing moment by moment, even if it is the nausea that serves as the early reminder.
Fathers have no such bodily changes to mark the progress of the pregnancy. This isn’t a complaint; it is just a reality. Unfortunately, a dad can feel a little left behind as his excitement is more from her excitement than the changes that are (not) happening in his own body. Some dads feel guilty because they can’t seem to muster the same excitement that she bubbles over with on a daily basis.
One of the topics I like to discuss with new dads in my Connecting Fathers prenatal classes is bonding. There is plenty of research on how maternal bonds are deep and strong and forever. Much less is written about fathers and the timing of the bond created as he slowly becomes a dad.
Notre Dame recently conducted a study of the hormone levels of dads before and after the moment they hold their child for the first time. They concluded from the increase in certain hormones measured immediately after holding an infant for the first time that bonding happens in a moment.
The new reports may be a little overstated as the people from Dad’s Adventure also known as Boot Camp for New Dads teaches fathers not to be too disappointed if that bond seems to take some time to develop. Either way, the Notre Dame study seems to put some science behind the idea that a father’s life changes forever at the moment he first holds his child and gazes into those little eyes peering out at him.
It didn’t take science to measure the change. Watching a dad’s change in expression, literally lifting his chest and smiling from ear to ear is all the evidence most of us needed. I can certainly attest to the dramatic moment when I held my girls for the first time; it wasn’t just a game changer, it was a life-changer!
A father’s feelings are a wonderful thing but the interesting change that was also measured in this study had to do with his care giving in later months. It seems that the hormones also signaled an increase in his loving activity during the months to follow. Things really did change in that moment for the baby…for the better.
Bonding is a fascinating subject whether you study animals with their young, humans and their pets or infants and their parents. These bonds reinforce a feeling of love that propels actions of love that have the power to increase over a lifetime. Care giving, spending time together, sharing secrets and celebrations all come from these bonds.
Bonds that begin in a moment are increased by feeding, changing, comforting and interacting. The connections between a father and his daughter or son are strong enough to weather some of the fiercest storms that life may bring.
There’s no going from zero to one hundred in a moment of introduction to a father’s arms. There is a lasting and permanent bond that begins physically, emotionally and yes, even chemically, that will nurture and protect this relationship for decades. Some would say forever.