From the moment you both found out you were pregnant there has been a building of excitement about meeting your new baby. Half you. Half him. As the months ticked by your excitement grew. Baby arrived and you find yourself around the clock feeding and changing nappies every minute of your waking (and sleeping) day. You may have been completely in love at first sight, or it may have taken you a while to fall in love, but your close proximity to bub, and your genius body's hormones have worked to boost your oxytocin (your love hormone) to mammoth heights, along with baby Brain kicking in. You are primed to live and breathe baby. What you cannot understand, is why with all his displays of excitement leading up to bubs arrival, he now suddenly seems less.... 'present'.
Why does everything else seem more important to him than his baby?
I gotta be honest. It can be really, really frustrating that just as you are completely immersed in your new baby, your partner is working on that house project, or working extra hours or having beers with mates. He seems disconnected. And it can have you feeling incredibly isolated too. The question is WHY??? Does he not love the baby? Is this too hard for him? Does he not know what to do? Does he love ME less?? While your hormones are surging on a massive roller coaster of highs and lows, any number of questions will roll through your mind as to why he seems to be distancing himself from you both? Or not 'stepping up' to this role how you imagined. And chances are you haven't asked? Or perhaps he hasn't had an answer? These early years can be really trying on a couple as you navigate all the new changes in your life. Both internally (your own inner self) and externally (there is an entire new human in your house and life). Communication can be so hazy, and answers so unclear, even to the person directly involved. Sometimes we just don't seem to know why we are behaving the way we are...so different to what we were pre-baby.
The answers are not clear cut. No 'expert' book will be able to tell you exactly 'why' to any question, not about your baby, your partner or yourself. We are all unique individuals with a huge sack of 'life' that impacts our behaviours and responses to such a massive change as becoming a parent. But there are some shared basic scientific facts about how our bodies work that will have some influence. I am no scientist, and will not speak in scientific terms (bonus for your baby brain), but lets outline a few basic hormone facts that can help you understand why he may not appear like he is embracing you and bub, (quite the opposite it seems), and how to either accept this and find peace, or help bring about change if you as a family desire this.
Oxytocin is the love hormone key to bonding you (and dad) to your baby
We will begin with oxytocin, because oxytocin is right at the core of all the internal stuff going on with you. All of you. Oxytocin is your love hormone. Your happy hormone. It is important in the initiation of labour, of breastfeeding, and surges through your body (and your baby's) in MASSIVE quantities in your post partum days (and beyond). It is influenced both by internal happenings, but also boosted (or not) by external influences. All that cuddling of bub, all that skin to skin contact, and positive, supportive love that surrounds you will boost your oxytocin. Or, if you have experienced a difficult time, perhaps traumatic labour or hurtful family, or little support, or stress due your bub being ill or premature and separate from you, or so many other less clear cut reasons, you may find your stress levels rising, and your oxytocin inhibited. To dumb down the science, there is a see-saw effect with oxytocin & adrenalin (stress hormones). When stress goes up, oxytocin goes down. (You see how scientific my explanations are) Generally as a brand new mum though, we are boosted with pretty high doses.
Hormone surges with the arrival of your baby, including oxytocin are not exclusive to just mum and bub. Dad too is impacted, and both nature and nurture roles will influence his behaviours (just like you). Dad however, is not just looking at the see saw effect with stress & oxytocin. But we will look here first. His body too is very much prepared to be boosted by oxytocin surges through love and touch, but just as much influenced by outside factors. To begin with, he likely will have less physical contact with his baby than you as mum will. Or with you for that matter. His skin to skin boosts may drop and the loving attention his partner once gave him seems to be cut off completely as it is solely focused on his baby.
He may be worried about his baby, or how he will manage as a dad and know what to do. While there is considerable support out there for mum's as they enter this new and immense transformation in their life, there is not so much for dads. Often they find themselves winging it a bit too, and of course they want to do well. They want to support their baby and partner who they both love immensely, but many are unsure how. Self doubt, insecurities and worry can happen to dads too. They are just less likely to get together with their buddies or mum and talk about it and work through it. For many men, silent suffering seems to be a favourite, and this stress will lower his confidence and oxytocin, and possibly manifest in him keeping his distance. Keeping busy. Working late, renovating, even hiding from his worries with his mates at the pub.
Testosterone surges will inhibit the release of oxytocin
A second, and very important hormonal see-saw is in play for Dad's. (There are many chemical things going on behind the scenes actually, but we are keeping this simple, remember)
Testosterone is another hormone that has a very important influence on oxytocin levels. As testosterone goes up, oxytocin goes down. Testosterone fluctuates throughout the day, everyday. So you can imagine with the pride and love as he becomes a father, the surge, as he, the 'alpha male' is congratulated and he watches on as everybody dotes on how perfect his baby is. How amazing his woman is. His cave man pride bursts, and with it his testosterone. His primal response to protect his wife and baby kicks in, only in todays world there are less wild animals and food and weather conditions to concern about- he does not need to go hunting buffalo and preparing the cave before winter sets in, but he does feel a need to work harder, fix what needs fixing round the house, brag a little to his friends. And as his testosterone surges, it inhibits his release of oxytocin, the love hormone that connects him with his baby. It is frustrating maybe, but important to remember that this testosterone boost is born of his love for his baby and partner. It's kinda like he's 'nesting', caveman style.
What to do (and why) to boost his oxytocin? Or not???
Before we start, it is important to recognise that we are a modern society, and not all families fit in the traditional 'male-female' roles anymore. There is an increasing number of stay at home dads, and career women who magically juggle their profession and their family. Not all mum's want to be stay at home mum's for years, and returning to work is very important for their happiness too. There is not always a mum and dad, but same sex couples too, where one parent will choose to stay home with the children, and the other will return to work. There is no right and wrong to how a family runs, and no business of anyone elses either and not for others to judge. What is important to remember is:
As long as everyone in the family is happy, then they have found the right answer. FOR THEM. (We are each entitled to our own story, right.)
The key to you all being happy is COMMUNICATING! Preferably BEFORE frustrations and resentment begin. But if they are already there, maybe take into account some of the reasons he may be seeming distant, and find the right time to connect and speak. Calmly.
Both males and females have both oxytocin surges, and testosterone surges. Depending on your family dynamics, you can work on boosting both of these.
Often in a family unit, one parent will increase oxytocin while the other boosts testosterone. (And this may not be the traditional Mother-Father expectation if eg. mum is in fact the career woman or dad wants/needs to stay at home. This does not make one less of a man or a woman. It's hormones. It's your family and if you are both happy, then you are doing it right.
If you and/or your partner are finding yourself unhappy with how things are going, and you can resonate with some of these 'distancing' tactics, it may be time to have that conversation and think about what you can do. Here's a few pointers:
Give him the encouragement and space he needs to grow as a dad
As we transform from Maiden to Mother, or mother again, a combination of real changes happen within us, and with that we tend to become hyper vigilant with our babies(particularly the 1st time for most of us). The very fact that we are 24/7 on call feeding and changing and settling and learning their ways and being completely in love and obsessed, not to mentioned often quite anxious and sleep deprived (and possibly a little irrational), can all culminate to us unintentionally blocking or pushing dad away initially. Don't be hard on yourself. You are not alone if you do this. I was certainly guilty, and many mum's are. It is perfectly normal and natural and hard to resist.
It is important to remember that this is likely all new to him too. Even if he has had kids before, your baby is a new little human and each is different with different considerations going on around him. Dad will likely look to you for guidance as the 'expert' on all things baby. (Which of course you are. Both of you. Expert of YOUR baby) He may not say it, but is likely feeling insecure in what to do. So if he is passing bub back to you at first cry or sign of a nappy change, or you are immediately taking bub back at these events, try to take a breathe, release your own need to care for bub, and give him the encouragement he needs to give it a go. (Bonus points if you hold back from pointing out to him the nappy is too loose or the pants on back to front). It will be ok, and he will not learn without making his own mistakes. He will not try again if he feels like every attempt is not as good as yours. Give him gentle encouragement, and try asking him what he needs to make these little steps easier for him. Pretty soon he will make bigger steps, and with that, both your lives become easier.
Speak with him and find out what he would like to do more of so he can bond with bub while you are the primary carer in feeding and daily activities. Maybe bath time or the 10pm feed could become his special routine. Maybe he could learn to massage bub and incorporate this in the evening routine. He may not have as much time to spend in the day with bub, but find out what he would like to do to make that time quality. And help him achieve it. And praise him lots for his efforts. Dad's need praise and support too.
Boost his oxytocin
Oxytocin generally peeks a little later in Dads, around 4-6 months old, about the time that feeding slows down a little, and bub engages and smiles and begins to play. You can however help boost this and 'kick in' the oxytocin release much earlier. A number of studies have shown that fathers who are more engaged with their babies in those first few weeks tend to still be more engaged with their babies 5-10 years on. That connection is wired for the long term.
"Fathers who take leave, especially those taking two weeks or more, are more likely to carry out childcare related activities when children are young."
Fathers' Leave and Fathers' Involvement
Now just because it's the 'love hormone' does not mean you are ready to give him a 'lovin' kinda boost, if you know what I mean. Most mums will not be ready for that at all. But Dad will probably be feeling a little left out right now as he has instantly been demoted to number 2 in your priorities (or 3 or 4 depending on how many kids you have). So remember to give him a kiss and a warm hug hello and genuinely commit some time to him each day amidst the chaos. This may end up being a half hour or more after he gets home as you are juggling a bub at bath or feed time, but take those few minutes to show him he's still important, and that you are grateful he is home. And let him know how much you love him when you see him making such an effort with his baby. This only needs to take a few minutes and can make all the difference to his enthusiasm after a long day. (This is something that I forgot to do A LOT, and it was much later when we began communicating more that I realised how important it was. I was too deep in my own bubble of love and overwhelm and chaos to see what was right in front of me)
Quality contact time with bub is so important too. Perhaps he could actually have the bath with bub. Or a warm shower. Skin on skin, one on one time, relaxing in warm water. So many benefits. Consider letting him do a feed, expressing if you breastfeed, but even mums who formula feed often forget to include dad. You know how special this makes you feel, staring into your bubs eyes, connecting and just soaking in each others love. What a beautiful gift to let them do this together too. Plus it gives you a break for one feed a day.
Studies have shown that co-sleeping with babies also boost oxytocin in Dads. In the same bed, or even the same room, but with bub in such close proximity so often, and in such a relaxing loving time of day tend to have their oxytocin boost.
Help him prepare
Often this miscommunication occurs because to put it simply, most of us are in no way prepared for what happens next. You know, the pregnancy and labour is supported all the way, then we take this tiny human home, and we THINK we know how it's going to role out.....but time and again I hear, "we had no idea what we were up for" or "no one prepared us for this". If bub has not yet arrived, plan ahead with a post partum plan that is tailored to both of your wants and needs. Talking about your fears and expectations before hormones are at absolute peak can help to open your communication and build your support network in place. This new life transformation is for the long term, so taking the time to prepare is crucial to ease unnecessary stresses.
If bub is here, and you are feeling the struggles and unsure what to do, consider booking a post partum session with a postpartum doula who can help you work together to find what works for you. Building those foundations in the very beginning will set up the right environment so your family cam bloom for a lifetime.
To learn more about Post Partum Plans, consider one of our workshops, or one on one sessions, aimed at supporting you. 'Post Partum Planning Workshop' and 'Partner Preparation for Labour' workshop. A gift that involves you spending time together, connecting, and helping him to prepare for his role to support you and bub for life.