What to do when your baby only wants mom? Discover the 6 tips that will help with your baby’s attachment, give mom a break, and allow dad a chance to bond with the baby.
Infancy, for many dads, can be the stage from hell.
It’s not just about adjusting to caring for a baby, or dealing with sudden sleep deprivation. It’s also the stage when your baby can start to develop a preference for mom—and only mom.
Maybe your baby throws a fit when dad feeds her or puts her to bed. But of course, the minute he hands her back to you, she’s calm once again.
Any dad would feel crushed to experience this kind of reaction whenever he so much as holds his baby.
Granted, you may physically spend more time with your baby, especially if you’re home alone with her or, if you’re like me, work odd hours that allow you to be with her more often.
Or perhaps you breastfeed, giving your baby even more time to be with you (and less with dad).
Even if these reasons are valid, it won’t necessarily make dad feel any better. Plus, you likely want a break yourself, but don’t feel like you can, what with your baby getting upset without you around.
No wonder you feel like you have no idea what to do.
What to do when your baby only wants mom
My friend, you are in good company. Many moms, including myself, have wondered what exactly to do when our babies only want us, often at the expense of our partners.
Even though my husband took a lengthy paternity leave and woke up with me for nighttime feedings, our babies tended to prefer me, especially in the beginning.
Don’t worry—your baby’s attachment isn’t a sign that dad isn’t doing a good job, or that you’re stuck with a clingy baby forever. Your baby will likely outgrow this stage, and can do so even quicker when you apply the following tips.
You can also watch this video for a quick summary of the tips below:
1. Try a different time
Maybe dad typically gets home in the evenings at the end of a work day. Unfortunately, that could be right in the middle of the “witching hours,” that period at the end of the day when babies are inconsolable.
You can see why the witching hours exist. Babies are exhausted by that time from all they’ve experienced throughout the day, processing all they’ve learned. They could’ve skipped naps or are at their limit with what they can take.
You and I are no different. Our willpower, energy, and attention aren’t as strong at the end of the day as they are at the beginning.
You can see why your baby is more likely to fuss with dad at this time.
Instead of unloading the baby on dad when she’s more likely to fuss, try a different time.
Maybe it’s later in the evening during bath time when she’s more settled and ready for sleep. Or dad can use weekend mornings to take her out, allowing you to sleep in as well.
Pick activities that aren’t right after work or during the witching hours, and instead when the baby feels rested or refreshed.
2. Force it to happen
Any time my baby cried, I jumped right into action. I’d scoop him out of someone else’s arms, almost proud that I had the “magic touch” to soothe him. But as nice as it was to calm him down, I wasn’t allowing other people to do what I could.
Now I realize that I was better off giving other people, particularly my husband, a chance to soothe my baby as well. After all, how are dad and baby going to get to know each other when they have no opportunity to try?
So… force it to happen. Go out to dinner with your friends. Run an errand. Sleep in on weekends while dad handles everything else.
Sure, your baby won’t automatically calm down—in fact, she’ll be downright upset that you’re not there. But she needs these opportunities to bond with dad and spend time with him.
If that doesn’t convince you, consider this: each time your baby screams for you and gets passed back into your arms, she learns that perhaps she did have a reason to cry. That perhaps dad isn’t a safe person to be with, and that she’s truly only meant to be with you.
You and I know that’s simply not true, but by reinforcing that habit, your baby just might believe it. Allow your baby to know she can depend on daddy, too.
He can take her to the park or a walk around the block (time outdoors usually calms most babies down). Or he can even play with her while you cook in the kitchen, checking in from time to time when she gets anxious.
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3. Start with activities your baby likes
I’ve mentioned a few times already the importance of dad spending time with your baby. To make those activities even more successful, start with those that she already likes.
What does your baby already love to do?
Let’s say she loves going for a stroll in the neighborhood. She could be fussing with you all day, but the minute you take her outside, she’s calm and curious.
But now, instead of you taking her out, have dad do that activity with her. She still might cry, but he’ll have less of a battle with an activity she can’t help but love.
Another simple, regular activity is to have dad feed the baby. Even if you breastfeed, it might be helpful to pump a few times, just to give him an opportunity to feed the baby during an activity she needs and likes to do.
4. Have dad hold the baby with one of your shirts
If your baby can’t see you, then maybe she can still smell you.
Many babies are quickly comforted by scent, particularly your own scent. This could be from your shower gel, laundry detergent, or even the food you usually cook.
And since our clothes tend to absorb scents, using your clothes as a wrap can provide a familiar environment when you’re not around.
So have dad wrap the baby in one of your shirts the next time he’s alone with her. He could also simply give her your shirt to hold as she sits in an infant seat or the stroller. Your scent may just be what she needs to calm down once again.
5. Make your baby laugh
When we think of crying babies, we often jump to trying to soothe them. We coo, rock, sing songs, or otherwise try to calm them down from their hysterical state.
But what if dad tries to make your baby laugh instead?
Laughing is one of the best ways to release pent-up energy—often the same energy that crying releases. By making your baby laugh, dad can have more luck in getting her not just to stop crying, but to find him amusing as well.
Lucky for us, babies are easily amused—a funny sound or smiling face can be all it takes to make them laugh sometimes. Other times, dad can rely on physical play, like carrying her like an airplane or swaying her in his arms.
That said, watch out for any cues that your baby just isn’t having it. Don’t force her to laugh when she’s simply not in the mood, as this can make her even more upset or over-stimulated. Respect her wish to cry, as sometimes that’s exactly what she needs.
But if she’s willing, sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.
6. Don’t give up or tune out
Hearing your own baby shriek in your arms—especially when she doesn’t do the same with mom—can feel disheartening to any dad. So much so that it’s tempting to simply tune out, retreat to your room, and assume that the baby only wants mom.
Dads, I’m talking to you here: do not give up.
This is nothing at all on you. In fact, mom may have gone through the same challenges, and only through time and practice has been able to break through.
The same can be said for you. As with anything in childhood, these things can often take time. Even if that means handling a fussy baby for nine tries only to finally catch a break on the tenth one.
And yes, she might go right back to crying on the eleventh try, but that doesn’t mean it’ll take another nine more to calm her down—maybe it’ll only take five more tries the next time.
Keep going—these crying fits are the only ways you can learn the best ways you can soothe your baby.
It’s easy to feel defeated when nothing dad does seems to work—despite both of your attempts, the baby continues to shriek for you.
Hang in there, guys. It’s certainly possible for dad to get in the game, even if seems like the baby only wants mom.
For instance, avoiding the witching hours or using your old shirts are a couple ideas that just might work. Other times, you simply need to force yourself to get out of the picture and give dad a chance to care for the baby.
When he does, it helps to stick to activities she already loves and will be less likely to resist. He might even try to make her laugh instead of constantly trying to calm her down.
And no matter what, don’t use your baby’s fussiness as “proof” that she doesn’t want dad. These things take time—see her crying not as failures but as opportunities for dad to learn (and for baby to get used to him).
Rest assured, down the line your child’s love for her dad will stand the test of time. And to think that she used to cry hysterically when he so much as held her in his arms.
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