Long established gender stereotypes have historically led to new dads having very little involvement with their newborn baby’s nighttime feeds. For centuries, the role of a father has been to be the breadwinner, to go to work and provide, to put food on the table. And his ability to do that would be significantly hampered by staying awake throughout the night, so the excuse goes - and let’s not forget that in centuries gone by, there were no such things as breast pumps!
Thankfully, society’s view of gender roles has changed dramatically and is still evolving today. Dads are increasingly expected to take a more active role in the day-to-day care of their children. More importantly, however, more and more dads want to be involved.
Today, dads have never been better equipped to play a significant part in their newborn’s nighttime feeds and further evolve the role of a father.
Engaged dad, happy baby
The positive impact that an engaged father has on his child is well documented. There is almost an endless line of academic studies showing that children whose dads are present and involved in their lives show better cognitive function, enjoy and perform better at school, develop stronger and healthier relationships as adults, and are less likely to be incarcerated, among many, many other positive outcomes.
Many of these studies focus on the impact an engaged father has on a child a little later down the line - school age, early teenage years and early adulthood. However, there are very real and significant benefits seen in the early stages of life, too.
According to a study published by National Council on Family Relations in 1991, children whose dads were actively involved at one-month-old scored higher on cognitive function tests than those whose fathers were less involved or entirely absent. Meanwhile, another study published in 1995 showed a similar impact on preterm children when they reached the age of three if their father played an active role from birth.
It’s clear, therefore, that taking at least some of the night feeds not only gives mum a well-earned rest but presents a wonderful newborn bonding opportunity for a dad and his baby resulting in a direct, positive impact on their development in the months, years and decades to come.
Lockdowns and silver linings
It could be argued that the nighttime feed is one of the last remaining aspects of parenting where a dads’ involvement is still relatively limited. Policies like Shared Parental Leave have failed to have the desired impact on gender equality at work and at home, with the government estimating take-up is between 2% and 8%. It means new families have remained somewhat trapped in those traditional roles.
However, the role of a father has been evolving over decades, and the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated that shift dramatically. While lockdowns, redundancies, furlough and working from home presented unprecedented challenges for almost every household in the country, they also offered dads an equally unprecedented opportunity.
Covid-19 gave many dads more time with their families than they’ve ever had before. And it showed - the DaddiLife Dads in Lockdown survey, conducted in June 2020, revealed that 76% of dads believe they had been more involved in the day-to-day childcare and parenting since the beginning of the pandemic.
It was a particularly special time for dads who had children during the pandemic; a more time-rich and in-depth newborn bonding experience than most have ever had. The pandemic has freed many dads of the shackles of traditional gender roles.
Free of the constraints of commuting and getting up to go to work each morning like their fathers and their fathers before them, there is an empowering belief in their ability to be even more involved than they already are, and take on some, if not all, of the night feeds.
That’s not to say dads cannot have a significant role in the process if their partner wants to breastfeed without a bottle. Getting the baby up and ready for the feed, changing their nappy, swaddling them and rocking them back off to sleep still offers wonderful newborn bonding time while taking a significant amount of pressure and work off the shoulders of mum.
There’s something wonderful and unique about feeding your baby at night. It offers dads something very rare; the chance to be close - both physically and emotionally - with their newborn baby, totally alone and free from distraction. It’s these moments that you’ll remember and want to cherish - moments you may want to reflect on as you complete your baby memory book.
At 2am, it’s just you and your baby. No background noise from the TV, no hustle and bustle of everyday life outside the window, no endless scrolling of social media. It’s just you and your baby, looking into each other’s eyes.
The age of the nighttime dad is here.