What to do when your baby only wants mom? Discover 6 effective tips that’ll give mama a break and allow dad a chance to bond with 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 strong preference for you—and only you.
Maybe she 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 hurt to experience this kind of scenario 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 the separation anxiety any easier. Certainly not on daddy 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 long paternity leave and woke up 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 this clinginess forever. She’ll likely outgrow this stage, and can do so even quicker when you apply the following tips:
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 can they learn the techniques to comfort him when they have no opportunity to try?
So, the best way to allow others, from your partner to your caregiver, to soothe your baby and form a bond? Force the interaction 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 your baby screams for you and gets passed back into your arms, she learns that she did have a reason to cry. She might think that 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 of day to do so.
Maybe your partner can reserve weekend mornings to take her to the park (allowing you to sleep in as well). Perhaps it’s later in the evening during bath time when she’s finally settled and ready for sleep. Or he can hold her after she’s fed, happy, and ready to play.
Sometimes picking her optimal time—one where she’s more receptive to others—is all it takes.
Get more tips on how to handle the newborn witching hour.
3. Start with activities your baby likes
I’ve mentioned the importance of dad spending baby time with your little one. To make those activities even more successful, start with those that she already likes. So, ask yourself:
What does she already love to do?
Let’s say she loves going for a walk in the baby carrier or sling through 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 breast milk 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. He can offer her favorite toy and play peek a boo.
That said, watch out for any cues that she 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 emotions, as sometimes crying is 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 mom—can feel disheartening to any dad. So much so that it’s tempting to simply tune out, retreat to the 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 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 her.
See the top 7 qualities of a good father and husband.
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, friend. 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, stick to activities she already loves and can 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 some baby bonding).
Rest assured, her love for him can stand the test of time. And you can look back with disbelief, 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
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We had a few children who were very clingy to me and this hurt my husband more than words can describe. We found some of the things that work best included “mommy nap time” where I was able to get some needed sleep and my husband would watch the children, encourage our children to share their happy moments with Daddy, and to make him as involved as possible.
Nina Garcia says
Mommy nap time is brilliant, both as an “official” mommy time alone (we could all use a nap!) and as a way for the kids to spend time with daddy. It’s so true, it’s easier when it seems like there are no options than if we hang around in plain sight.
I went through this BAD with my first. To the point my husband and I were fighting regularly and he wanted me to stop breastfeeding so that he could “stand a chance”. But it wasn’t about breastfeeding!
It took until she was almost 2 years old before she was affectionate to her father. He nearly cried when she finally came up to him, without prompting, and gave him a kiss and said “I love you Daddy”.
It does happen eventually! But I think the key the helped my second baby was letting dad have her once she finished nursing – even if she fell asleep. He needed that time to bond! And now they are doing SO WELL together 🙂
Currently going through this right now with my 8 month old. I can’t do ANYTHING Without him in my arms. I literally have to use the bathroom with him at times. He doesn’t even want to bath alone. He only wants dad on his own random timing. But 9/10 times he’s screaming if he isn’t with me. Its sooo frustrating I don’t know what to do. He is still breastfeeding and won’t wean either. Doesn’t like his stroller or car seat. He cry’s harder if we try to calm him while he’s crying if I don’t get him immediately. He has cried so hard he’s throws up so I cannot let him cry it out. Plus is teething only wants to co-parent sleep and never self sooths. Won’t take the pacifier or be put in a swing. Any suggestions plz and thank you!!!
Nina Garcia says
Hi Danielle! I would start practicing being apart gradually. It could be where you start off sitting him on your lap, then the next step is to lay him down on a blanket. Once he’s okay with that for a few times, try sitting a few feet apart but in the same room. Again, once he’s okay with that, see what happens if you move farther away, then later leave the room for a few seconds. The idea is to gradually get him out of his comfort zone so that he can learn to cope with being alone and know that it’s okay and good for him, too 🙂
Hello, I’m a new dad as we have a little girl that’s 20 weeks old.. Me and my misses don’t live in the same house and i hope we get to live together at some point as i am finding it hard and missing out on all the good things. i work full time and in university part-time and also look after my mom when she’s really unwell so i do a lot of going back and forth. Now my concern is i am missing out on seeing the baby in the mornings and when she goes to bed at night and i only get to see her for say 2 hours each day in the week then a few hours on the weekend if my misses isn’t going out with the child. i feel this is making things hard as i feel like i don’t get a chance to bond with my child and when i am with her she tends to cry and i have to pass her over and i feel upset and a rubbish dad. Am not sure where to look for help or who to speak to?
Am doing the best i can with such little time i have and being in a house on my own upsets me.. i know things will change but am scared of the unknow ..
Nina Garcia says
Hi James! It does take a bit of adjustment for both you and the baby to get used to spending time together when she’s so used to being with her mom. See what happens if you don’t pass her back to her mom if she fusses, and instead do your best to soothe her and play with her. That way, she knows she’s safe and sound with you, and that you’re there for her no matter what.
I can’t express enough as a dad how frustrating this is and iam glad I came across this post. Not sure what’s going on but lately my son wants nothing to do with me in the evenings and iam feeling pretty useless to my wife. Thats the frustrating part where she now can’t even get a few hours of sleep in because our 2 month old son cries uncontrollably in my arms at night and now even when I feed him. Prior to this past weekend, we’ve been making strides where I’d put him to sleep and my wife would get at least 4hrs of sleep at night but now he can’t stand me and the moment I give him to mom, he’s quite. The continuous crying as iam feeding him Is a new development and I am feeling a bit defeated and this is starting to cause a strain on our marriage. Not sure if just being patient is a method, but seems like thats all there is. I also work from.home so it’s not like he doesn’t see me or we don’t spend anytime. Wife goes back to work in the next few weeks and I fear that the worst days are ahead when he realizes that mom is not home in the mornings anymore.
Nina Garcia says
Hi Jones, I hear ya. It’s frustrating when you try to be supportive and patient, yet still aren’t seeing the kind of relationship you want with your little one. And while you might dread what will happen with your wife going back to work in a few weeks and you with your baby all day, I’m actually going to say that this could be a blessing in disguise. With only the two of you at home, you can learn more about each other and develop your own unique bond. It might be a tough first few days or weeks, but this just might be what you need. Hang in there <3