You brought your infant home from the hospital ready to be Super Dad. But nine times out of ten, your baby only wants mom. What should you do when it seems like you’re stuck being parent #2?
First, know that infant preference for mom is natural, especially when a child is breastfed, says Harvey Karp, M.D., pediatrician and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block. “Babies are getting their most immediate needs met by mom on a regular basis many times a day—the reward of sweet milk, the feeling of soft skin,” he says.
And while that intense bond that can cause baby to only want mom often makes dads a little bummed, it’s important to try not to take it personally, says Laura Markham, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, parenting coach, and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. “It’s always a good idea to start by taking a deep breath and by reminding yourself: This is about them, not about me,” she says.
In fact, if you’re able to stay calm, you’ll be more likely to soothe your baby, even without mom there. “If dad can stay calm, the baby is going to pick up from dad that it’s not an emergency,” says Markham. “Once the baby calms down, she can notice who she’s with. ‘I’m with dad. Dad’s making everything safe.’ Then Dad moves a little bit up on the hierarchy.”
How to promote dad baby bonding
Any activity that encourages dad baby bonding will help ease baby’s anxiety when away from mom. Markham recommends peek-a-boo, a classic game that teaches object permanence—with the added benefit of making your little one giggle. “Anything that gets your child laughing,” says Markham. “Laughter is a way to release anxiety.”
Karp also recommends infant massage, and adds that dads often excel at the soothing techniques he recommends in his books, like shushing, swaddling and swaying.
“Swaddling is like an engineering job,” he says. “Men tend to shush a little louder and jiggle a little more. Many babies they need that to go to sleep.”
And even if your baby cries still sometimes cries for mom, just wait a few more months, he says. “All of that can shift around dramatically when the child is 1 1/2 to 2, when kids begin to love newness and novelty,” said Karp.
“Dads can become the heroes, while moms are yesterday’s fish.”