Mums tend to take centre stage in the early days of a baby's life, while dads can often take a backseat. But research reveals that dads have special roles which are independent from the mother's, and just as vital.

"Dads might not give birth or breastfeed, but they have their own separate role apart from the mother," explains Richard Fletcher, fatherhood expert from the University of Newcastle.

Robin Grille, psychologist and author of Heart to Heart Parenting, says research shows men should play, talk, listen and laugh with their kids as much as possible.

"Dads need to come home and have dinner with their kids, play with them and spend weekends with them," he says. "Society needs to stop thinking about dads as just providers – they need to be emotionally and physically present."

Bonding with the bump
A soon-to-be father doesn't have to wait until his child is born to start the bonding process – daddies can connect with their babies before they're born.

"It's no accident that a baby inside the womb can tell his father's voice apart from everyone else's," says Robin.

"You don't have to put your head on the mum's tummy and sing," he explains. "Just be close to your partner when you can. Babies are intelligent, responsive beings months before they're born."

Being with baby
After bub is born, fatherhood expert Richard Fletcher says it's important for dads to spend one-on-one time with their infants, to learn how to read their cues.

"The point of one-on-one time is to really concentrate on what a baby is doing and try to picture what they're thinking," he says. "Are they bored, or interested in something? It's important to know your baby well enough to know what he wants. If you rely on your partner, you won't get that."

Start with "mutual gazing": a few hours after birth, a baby will start to mimic its parents, trying to connect by making eye contact. Every time eye contact is made, a cascade of love and wellbeing hormones wash over the baby, causing the emotional centres of the brain to grow. It means dads should talk to their baby by locking eyes and laughing, smiling and cooing.

"You'll see babies really staring intently at their dad's face. Now we understand they're locking on to dad and understanding what they are through how their father looks," Richard says.

*Toddler time *
A German study found dads who played with their two-year-olds in sensitive, supportive and challenging ways had stronger relationships with the same children between the ages of 10 and 16 – so rolling on the floor with your tot could result in a closer relationship in the teen years.

Another Australian study has found that a dad's parenting style has an impact on a preschooler's weight: it found that fathers who set clear boundaries with their offspring were more likely to have children with normal weight, while children of fathers who were permissive were more likely to have a higher BMI.

"Children are more likely to be obese if their dad is strict or lets them do what they want, compared to fathers who are warm and set boundaries," says Richard.

*Into the future *
Fathers have a distinct affect on both their sons' and daughters' transition into adulthood. By being a constant presence in their children's lives, they are role models for both genders during puberty.

"A father's emotional and physical presence is important from pregnancy onwards," says Robin Grille. "A dad's warmth and interest in his daughter means that she'll go on to have loving and enduring relationships with men. Often, when a father's absent or not affectionate, young women are more at risk of being promiscuous, as they're searching for that male love elsewhere."

"And if boys have a warm and trusting relationship with their father, it [makes for] respectful and loving men. You need a father's energy to usher a boy into manhood," says Robin.

Keep an eye on dad's mental health
Fathers of nine-month-old babies are twice as likely as other men to show symptoms of major depression, according to a US study.

Fatherhood expert Richard Fletcher says a father's mental health directly influences a baby's development. "If a father is depressed two months after a baby is born, the child is twice as likely to have behavioural problems at three-and-a-half years of age," he says.

It's also been found that depressed dads read less to their children at the age of one, resulting in a decreased vocabulary when their toddler reaches two, the study found.

Richard urges dads who are having problems coping with fatherhood to seek professional help.