Does your baby only seem to settle with you? Do you watch your partner trying to comfort your baby when they are upset, only for your baby to cry louder and reach out for you instead? You’re not alone. Your baby showing preferences in this way is actually incredibly common. Whilst it may feel like your baby has picked a favourite parent or shown a sudden dislike for your partner, there are some very logical explanations for this behaviour and some practical steps that can help.
Why won’t my baby settle with my partner?
A baby refusing to settle or be content with your partner is normally simply down to familiarity, with a baby almost always being more comfortable with the parent who is the main caregiver, or the parent who they are with for the longest amount of time during the day.
Whilst it can be exhausting for the parent who is always in demand, with little downtime or time to relax, it can also be challenging and upsetting for the other parent too. It can be hard not to feel personally rejected or sad when your baby pulls away or starts to cry, but this is not done with malice or intent.
Newborn babies are simple creatures and their apparent preference is simply down to science. Babies quickly learn which parent is most likely to meet their immediate needs and gravitate to them as a result. Separation anxiety can also occur from around 6 months of age, where babies start to worry that when their caregiver is out of sight they aren’t coming back! Both these things can result in what appears to be a parent preference.
What can you do when your baby will only settle with one parent?
Let your partner take on more tasks – Familiarity is key – the more time your baby spends with your partner, the more comfortable they will become. It’s important that not only do your baby and partner spend time together but that some of the most crucial parenting responsibilities are shared, from feeding an expressed bottle, bathing them or putting them to bed. This helps your baby learn that your partner can also meet their needs as well as you can, even if they don’t look or smell the same.
Quality not quantity – If your partner is going out to work whilst you are at home with your baby, chances are it won’t be possible for them to spend the same amount of time together. It’s important to remember however, that it is the quality of the time spent that is important not the quantity. Is there one part of parenting that can always be your partner’s responsibility such as bath time? Giving your baby undivided attention and showing them that time with your partner can be fun, safe and comfortable is a step in the right direction.
Avoid acting hurt – It can be hard not to feel a little offended when your baby doesn’t want to spend time with you, but even if your partner feels it on the inside, it’s important that they don’t let this show. Showing a negative reaction or withdrawing from your baby could actually have the opposite effect and confuse them, increasing further their preference towards the main caregiver.
Increase exposure to other people – During lockdown and COVID-19 times more than ever, many babies have spent considerable amounts of time alone with one parent. Increasing the exposure your baby has to friends and family members, ideally when you aren’t in the room, will help them learn that the caregiver parent always comes back, even when she disappears for a while. It also reinforces the lesson that other people can adequately respond to her needs.
Be consistent – Like with most things parenting related, everything is a phase. You may find in a few months, their preferences switch entirely, often without any obvious cause or explanation. Stay positive and keep trying to share the contact time as much as possible.