Eight-day-old Tabitha is calm at the beginning of her visit with me, but as I undress her she starts to rev up. At first her hands shake, then her chin trembles and her face gets red. Her face now "clouds over" as she stares out into space. (See SOS "Sign of Over-Stimulation.) When I persist with undressing her, she starts to cry. I lean over Tabitha and softly call out her name. "Tabitha can you calm yourself down?" The baby clearly hesitates a moment when she hears my voice but then starts to cry again.
I finish the undressing and lay her back down on the table to listen to her heart sounds. She clouds over again when the stethoscope touches her chest, and once again begins again to cry. Dad scoops her up in his arms just as Mom mimics my earlier action by leaning forward to softly call her baby's name. I am witnessing one of the lovely adventures of early parenthood, the tug-of-war between parents who both are wanting so passionately to bond for their new baby.
Remembering what he learned about the "Rebooting Zone," Dad rocks her a moment which clearly comforts the baby. Mom presses on with her insistent, soft, sing-songly voice. Dad finally sighs with a smile as he hands the baby carefully over to his wife's arms. "Mom always has that magic touch."
Today's fathers are often (and preferably) involved in the decision to plan a baby, participate in the OB visit, help select the baby's new doctor, and often attend the well baby visits. Expectant parents anticipate that they will feel some competition with the mother-in-law who arrives at the child's birth, the older sister who stays a week to help out, or the doula who shows up for a shift or two. But as new parents they do not expect to feel competition between one another as they strive to care for their baby.
Research on new parenthood suggest that this competition is normal and, in fact, can fuel the attachment process of a parent to his/her child. However, if these feelings are not understood and appreciated for what they contribute to the developing parent-child relationship, such competition can undermine the parent's relationship with one another.
"I love to see you both working so hard to get to know and to care for your new baby," I say. "Some new parents even confess to a little competition with each other during the first few days of their baby's life."
Dad jokingly "complains" that "Mom has the breast which always trump what I can do!" But Mom quickly explains that "But Dad can swaddle and comfort Tabitha like nobody else!" Knowing this struggle is normal and healthy can actually bring couples closer together in these first precious days.
Babies quickly learn to attach to both parents and by their behavior "say" I know the difference between mom and Dad. How lucky is any newborn whose parents finds themselves in this tug-of-war (with themselves and each other) to be the best parent they can each be!
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© HUG Your Baby 2009