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Fathers - your relationship with your baby

fathers; dads; play; learning; role;

When fathers are involved with their babies they do better in all sorts of ways later in life including better relationships, education, employment and health. 


Dads have a special and important role in their children's lives. You are vital to your baby even if he does not seem to respond to you much in the early weeks.

Every contact you have with your baby will help him develop and learn about himself and the world. This helps shape his brain for future success. When fathers are involved with their babies they do better in all sorts of ways later in life including better relationships, education, employment and health. 

Have a look at the topic Being a dad.

Understanding your baby

At the beginning babies do not know anything about their new world, but there are things that they can do straight away, and some things that they quickly learn how to do.

Here are some of the things your baby can do in the first few weeks:

  • Suck! When babies are born they can already suck to feed, though some need to practice this for a while to become really good at it. Some even suck their fingers or thumbs right from the start.
  • From birth babies turn their head when their cheek is touched so that they can attach to the breast or bottle for a feed.
  • He will soon start to watch your face when you are talking with him – many babies are doing this by 6 weeks, some a little earlier (perhaps by 4 weeks) and some a bit later (by 8 weeks).
  • Babies start to smile by 5-7 weeks, and laugh aloud by 3 months.
  • By 2 to 3 months his eyes can follow you around when you move. In the early weeks his eyes may look in different directions some of the time, but by 6 weeks they usually look in the same direction.
  • From birth babies open and close their hands and move their arms and legs, but they do not have any control over these movements.
  • By 6 to 8 weeks he will be able to lift his head for a moment when he is lying on his tummy.
  • By 2 months babies can kick their legs strongly when they are lying on their back.

Helping your crying baby

Even from the beginning babies are able to cry, and sometimes they cry a lot. There is more about this in the topics Fathers – settling a baby and Crying baby.
settling a baby

If your baby could talk, this is what she might say to you

When you are with me I like you to:

  • smile or gurgle back at me if I smile or gurgle at you
  • see if you can see what I am looking at and tell me about it – "That is the light."
  • don't get 'in my face' with toys, I see best if things aren't too close 
  • when I get tired or sick of something give me a break – you will know because I will look away, or close my eyes, or maybe cry
  • if you are helping me, perhaps changing my nappy or giving me a bath, talk to me while looking at me and tell me what you are doing – this helps me to start learning about the world.
  • Have a look at these topics about bathing babies on the Raising Children Network
    - Bathing a newborn 
    - Baby bath time.
  • if I am playing, maybe looking at and touching a toy, just watch and tell me what I am doing.  Let me finish with what I am doing before you do something else with me.

Hold Me

  • I like you walking around with me and showing me bright things and new shapes.
  • Holding me is the best way to help me when I am upset. I feel safe in your arms.  You could hold me in a C position under your arm, or over your shoulder.
  • I love being in a sling and you can do something else as well such as shopping, hanging out washing, or going for a walk. 
  • Make sure you support my head as my neck is not strong.
    support my head
  • It really hurts me to be bounced and jiggled around while I am very young. There will be lots of time for that later.

Talk or sing to me

  • I am learning to know your voice when you talk to me or sing to me. 
  • Can you remember any nursery rhymes from your childhood?  If you want to sing a rhyme but do not know any you can buy CDs of nursery rhymes, or watch Play School or even make one up.
  • I will love whatever you do – and you don't have to sing in tune.

Read to me

  • I love being close to you, hearing your voice and looking at the pictures.  I can see most clearly things that are about 20 to 25 cm away, and when I am very young I like to look at clear, simple shapes which are brightly coloured, and black and white patterns.
  • When you are reading, try to look at me as well as at the book. Point to the pictures and talk about the things I am looking at.
  • When you are reading aloud use your voice in many ways. I like to hear your different voices - loud and soft, happy and sad.
  • When you find a book I love, read it over and over and try to use the same reading voice each time so I really get to know it.
  • Have a look at the topic Reading with babies.

Bath me

  • I know you have L plates on but I love it in the bath and I love having a bath with my dad.  If you are not sure what to do ask my mum to give you some help until you get the hang of it.  And, by the way, my skin is sensitive and tender so make sure the water is not too hot for me.

Change my nappy

  • I know some dads do not like this but it is another way of doing something special with me.  Even if I am cranky, be calm and tell me what you are going to do so I can learn about my new world (especially when you are going to wipe me with something cold!)

Play with me

  • Any thing I do or watch that I enjoy is play.  So holding me, reading or singing, changing or bathing me are all types of play. 

Other things I like:

  • when you copy what I do with my mouth and tongue
  • when you do something that I might be able to copy - poke your tongue out and wait for me to do it too
  • when you give me a massage
  • when you give me tummy time on the floor or let me lie over your chest and push with my feet on the floor. This helps me to get strong muscles ready for crawling.
  • I can play best when I am not tired and even then I can't last very long before I need a rest or a change to something else. 

Move me

  • To move me around in the world you need lots of gear like slings, cots, prams, and car capsules and it can sometimes seem too hard, but I like moving around. 
  • It's important that I am safe in the car but sometimes I don't want to have the belt tightly around me, but you need to keep me safe even when it seems that I don't want to help. Make sure that the capsule is fitted properly in the car – I can't keep myself safe.
  • Going for a walk in the pram can sometimes help me feel calm and safe. I can also look at lots of new things.

Resources in South Australia – for dads as well as mums!

Parent Helpline 1300 364 100
- 7 days a week, for information about child health and parenting

Child and Family Health Centres 1300 733 606
- Call 9am to 4.30pm to make an appointment

Resources in Australia

Raising Children Network 'Dad's toolkit' The Raising Children website is produced with the help of an extensive network including the Australian Government.

Mensline 1300 789 978
24 hours a day 7 days a week for support for men and their families in Australia 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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