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 parents, can be a difficult stage.
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 you—and only you.
Maybe your baby throws a fit when your partner puts her to bed (never mind that she calms down the minute he hands her back to you). Or she refuses to drink the milk he offers while you run an errand all by yourself.
Any parent would feel crushed to experience this kind of reaction whenever he so much as holds his baby.
Granted, you might be spending more time with her than your partner, especially if you stay home or breastfeed. But even these valid reasons don’t make it any easier. Certainly not on dad who’s tired of being second-best, nor on yourself, who could use a break (but feel like you can’t).
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, all three of our kids tended to prefer me, especially in the beginning.
Don’t worry—your baby’s mommy phase isn’t a sign that dad isn’t doing a good job, or that you’re stuck with a clingy baby forever. She’ll 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):
1. 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 the same.
I later learned that giving other people, particularly my husband, a chance to soothe him benefited everyone. After all, how will they learn the techniques to soothe him when they have no opportunity to try?
So, the best way to allow others to soothe your baby and form a bond? Force it to happen. Go out to dinner with your mom friends. Run an errand. Sleep in on weekends while your partner handles everything else.
Sure, your baby won’t automatically calm down—in fact, she might get downright upset that you’re not there. But she needs these opportunities to bond with dad and spend time with him, too.
If that doesn’t convince you, consider this: each time she 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 not true, but by reinforcing that habit, your baby just might believe it. By allowing your partner to care for her without you, she learns she can depend on him, too.
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2. Try a different time
Does your partner typically return home from work in the evenings? Unfortunately, that could be right in the middle of the “witching hours,” that period at the end of the day when babies are inconsolable.
As unnerving as they can be, you can see why the witching hours exist. By that time, your baby is exhausted from all she’s experienced, processed and learned throughout the day. Maybe she skipped a nap or two, or she’s tired yet too tired to rest easily.
You and I are no different. Our energy, attention, and ability to choose well aren’t as strong at the end of the day as they are at the beginning.
Combine your baby’s sour mood right when dad gets home, and you can see why that time of the day isn’t ideal to hand her over to him.
So, instead of passing her off when she’s more likely to fuss, try a different time to do so.
Maybe your partner can reserve weekend mornings to take her to the park (allowing you to sleep in as well). Or perhaps it’s simply later in the evening during bath time when she’s finally settled and ready for sleep. Or maybe he holds her after she’s fed, happy, and ready to play.
Sometimes simply picking her optimal time—one where she’s more receptive to others—is all it takes.
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. So, ask yourself:
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 your partner do so in your place. 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 him feed her. Even if you breastfeed, it might be helpful to pump a few times, if only to give him an opportunity to feed her, an activity she needs and likes to do.
4. 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 comforted by scent, particularly your own scent. This could be from your shower gel, laundry detergent, or even the food you usually cook. The familiarity feels reassuring and even nostalgic.
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 your partner 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 your partner 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 her laugh, he 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. Or he 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 she 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 to do.
But if she’s willing, sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.
6. Don’t give up or tune out
Hearing your baby shriek in your arms—especially when she doesn’t do the same with your partner—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.
But dads, I’m talking to you here: do not give up.
Your baby’s attachment to mom 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, practice, and persistence. 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 around.
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 your partner 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 your partner 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 few ideas that just might work. Other times, you might need to force yourself to get out of the picture and give him a chance to care for the baby.
When he does, tick 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 and practice—her tears aren’t dad’s failures, but opportunities for him to learn (and for your baby to bond with him).
Rest assured, her love for him will stand the test of time. And you can look back with wonder, remembering how she used to cry hysterically when he so much as held her in his arms.
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your Baby Fights Sleep
- 11 Things Moms Do with the First Baby We Don’t Do with the Second
- What to Do When Your Baby Wakes Up Crying from Naps
- How to Get a Sick Baby to Sleep
- When to Stop Burping a Baby
Don’t forget: if you’re struggling with putting your baby to sleep, you can teach her to self soothe and sleep on her own. Discover the 5 mistakes that are keeping your baby from self-soothing!
Whether you’ve tried to teach her to self soothe in the past or are just now considering it, take a look at these 5 key mistakes to avoid. Join my newsletter and download this resource below—at no cost to you: