A new dad can often feel like an observer when the baby comes along – a third wheel or playing second fiddle to mum in terms of bonding with the new arrival. Whatever cliché you use, it can be a lonely and unsettling time for a nervous dad amid such seemingly natural love and bonding between mum and baby. This is normal so don't be disheartened, but do keep making an effort with your child and you'll find you can discover ways of bonding that even mum can't replicate. Be inventive and stick with it – the rewards are endless and are as important for you as they are for your child.
Skin to skin
An undeniable difference between a new mother and father in terms of bonding with the baby is the physical contact that comes from a mother feeding her child. Don't miss out, though, because you can do something just as intimate by simply cradling your newborn on your chest. And don't be shy – get that t-shirt off and have a cuddle. The scene may not merit appearing on a black and white poster, but it will get you close, both physically and mentally.
If the traditional roles of mum at home and dad at work are very much in force in your household, then you may well feel justified in leaving the night duties to your better half. However, try and force yourself out of bed at least a couple of times a week to develop a bond with your child that shows, in very real terms, that you are there for them. It will also go a long way to maintaining the sanity of your partner.
Take a bath
Like skin-to-skin cradling, taking a bath with your baby is great way to bond through intimate contact. It can also really help to calm your baby in the bath and increase their enjoyment of getting washed. Bath-time can be stressful for both parties, so by rolling your sleeves up and stripping down you can show you're both in it together.
It sometimes seems that mum spends every waking minute with your new baby, so for everyone's sake, send mum out with her friends for even a few hours and spend some quality alone time with your little bambino. You'll feel closer when you're with him when he first does something new, cracks a smile or points at your favourite player on the TV.
Send him to sleep
Being able to calm and soothe your baby will be an undeniable pleasure for you – not just for the peace and calm that instantly rains down on your home, but for the knowledge that your child is able to be ultimately relaxed around you. Adapt your favourite songs into a more nursery rhyme format and sing them to him. Later, you'll be able to reminisce with him about how your accapella version of “London Calling” never failed to get him to sleep.
Send in the clowns
Making your baby laugh or smile for the first time will be a high water mark in your early fatherhood, so try, try and try again. You'll be surprised at how naturally acting like a fool will come to you, and soon you'll be pulling faces and making farting noises in the most unsuitable of places. Don't be disheartened by those false, wind-induced smiles - when it's real, you'll know.
Yes, it does exist – baby massage is a simple, gentle rubbing routine that can help to relax and calm your baby. Go to a class, buy a book, or seek instructions online. Everyone loves a massage, so get involved at an early stage with your baby.
Do something new
Take him to see the ducks, the sea, some trees, or even just a new kitchen utensil. It will be the first time he's done it, so you can always say you were there “the first time”. Trivial as it sounds, these are the little details that involve you in your child's life and create a shared history and a bonded future.
Involve him in your day
Want to spend some time with your baby but have to do the dishes? Buy a harness and take him with you. Same applies to most household jobs, so by strapping him on, you'll both be spending time with him and involving him in your life.
Speak to him
It doesn't matter that he doesn't understand, chat to your baby and you may find he responds more that you expect. It can be cathartic to speak to someone who can't understand – getting things off your chest. He will get to know your voice even more, and soon when you enter the room he will instantly look around for dad.
It may sound obvious, but rather than always rocking or cradling your baby in a crib or one of the many rocking gizmos available these days, pick up your child and hold him. It can be scary at first, especially for a new father who has limited experience with babies. Just do it gently, securely and with as much confidence as you can muster. It will soon become second nature.
Get your hands dirty
Babies create a seemingly impossible amount of mess – from dirty nappies to reflux – so don't just be there for the good times, but learn to enjoy the worse ones too. Knowing everything about them will help to enhance your bond, and you will learn quickly how to change a nappy and burp your baby.
It's never too early to start bonding with your baby, so as soon as your partner hits you with the good news, get bonding. You may feel like a fool speaking to a bloated female stomach, but if you do, your unborn baby will learn to know your voice before he's even born. Treat him as a member of the family and play him music and crack the odd joke. Go easy on the dirty ones, though.