Parental Preference – Babies
“I am the only person who can put my baby to bed”. Or conversely, “my baby will not let me put them to bed”. As a sleep consultant, these are some of the most common things I hear.
Parental preference can be challenging for everyone involved. The preferred parent can start to feel overwhelmed, burnt out like they never get a break. The other parent might feel rejected, sad, or like they don’t know how to contribute to caring for their child. These feelings are normal and valid!
While newborns have an “indiscriminate attachment” – meaning they can easily accept comfort from anyone, after about 2-4 months, babies’ parental preference often leans towards their mother. Exceptions certainly exist, but in my experience, this is usually the case. Here’s why:
- Mothers are more likely to stay at home with their baby, so they spend the most time with them
- If she’s breastfeeding, she smells like milk and this is a great source of comfort. She may also be nursing to sleep
- Mom’s voice is the most familiar, baby heard it clearly for 9 months while in utero while everyone else’s voice was muffle
Whether you’re getting ready to sleep train or your baby is already an independent sleeper, having dad involved in bedtime will help the whole family to be more well-rested. Involving both parents in everyday routines can help limit parental preference. Here are some actionable steps to start including both parents in the daily routines;
Start during awake time. Babies form attachments to those who respond to their social cues and interact with them frequently in positive ways. Make it a point to put away electronics, get on the floor with your baby, and goof off! Make them smile, make them laugh, and mirror their expressions and sounds back to them.
These positive interactions will help strengthen the bond you have and are great for development and forming a secure attachment. It may help for mom to leave the room (or even the house) for a short time while dad and baby connect.
If baby will take a bottle, have dad offer at least one, every day if at all possible. Making dad another source of food is a great way to form a positive association. It helps the baby learn that both parents are there to meet important needs.
For extra benefit, strip baby down to a diaper and have dad take off his own shirt. Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin, the love hormone, and helps to calm and regulate the central nervous system.
Have the non-preferred parent start to participate in the bedtime routine. Dad can handle bath time and then give the baby to mom to finish up while he stays close by. Eventually, work towards having him take over the whole routine and put the baby to bed. Again, it may help to have mom leave the room or the house so that baby doesn’t sense her presence. This is also easier than fighting the urge to hover or make corrections, which are unlikely to be helpful.
The baby may fuss or protest, try to stick it out! Remain calm, cool, and confident and narrate your actions to the baby; your voice will help to calm them!
In time, with patience and consistency, your baby will learn to accept and even embrace both mommy and daddy!
If your baby isn’t sleeping, no matter who puts them down, we can help! Book a free discovery call today to learn more and talk about working together to achieve your goals.
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