It’s a common scenario: your husband has offered to watch the baby while you take a much-needed break, but after 15 minutes you’re called back in to help calm an inconsolable baby. In some families, infants just respond better to mom than they do for dad. Luckily, there are some tips parents can use to help distribute the comforting duties a bit more evenly.
It is a common issue for dads to be unable to soothe a crying baby because a baby’s natural bond with their mother is stronger, they spend less time with baby, they are unable to breastfeed, there is less skin-to-skin contact between them, and men tend to focus on preventing problems (such as a crying baby) rather than fixing them.
As frustrating as it can be when the baby refuses to settle for anyone but mom, it’s not unprecedented. Luckily, there are some things you can do to help dad handle a fussy baby like a pro!
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Why can’t dad calm a crying baby?
There are several reasons that dad might have trouble calming a crying baby. One of them? Dad just isn’t mom. Babies spend their first nine months of bonding with mom in a very intimate way.
At birth, babies are familiar with mom’s heartbeat, her voice, and even her smell. Even though newborns can also recognize their dad’s voice at birth, they’ll feel most at home when they’re being held by mom. That can make it difficult for anyone else, including dad, to comfort a crying newborn.
Breastfed babies can also be difficult for a dad to soothe, as mom is the one who provides their food. Some babies will drink expressed breast milk from a bottle, but other babies refuse to eat unless they’re nursing straight from the breast. If a baby is hungry, dad simply won’t be able to help soothe a picky eater unless mom is there to nurse the baby.
If a dad works outside of the home, he might also have a more difficult time calming a crying baby. Stay-at-home parents spend more time with their little ones, and will naturally pick up some extra tips and tricks to help keep their baby happy.
A working dad might also be less familiar with a baby’s schedule, and unsure whether they’re crying because they’re hungry, tired, or have a dirty diaper.
At what age do babies only want their mom?
Within the first 2 to 4 months after birth, most babies develop a preference for their mother above any other person. At around 6 to 9 months, separation anxiety starts for most babies, and their preference for mom really kicks into high gear.
While some infants may form a strong attachment to their dad or another adult who takes care of them, many babies become most attached to their mom because she’s the one who feeds them most often. If your baby wants mom more than literally anyone else, there are some ways you can help dad earn some of your little one’s favor back.
Babies bond with individuals who respond to their social cues, so the more dad interacts with your baby, the more comfortable your baby will be when dad tries to comfort him or her.
Dad can also take turns feeding the baby, which can quickly strengthen the bond between them. By the age of 6-9 months, most babies will have started on solid foods, so it should be much easier for dad to help out with mealtimes.
How can dads soothe babies?
With any crying baby, it’s important to figure out what the baby needs.
The first step for a dad trying to soothe his baby is to identify what’s wrong: is the baby hungry? Sleepy? Needing a diaper change? It’s easiest to check for a dirty diaper, so try starting there first. If the diaper is clean, your baby is likely hungry. Dads can offer their baby a warm bottle of breastmilk or formula, which should help settle the baby in most cases.
If your little one still refuses to calm down and they haven’t had a nap in a while, they’re probably tired. Tired babies may rub at their eyes or try to ‘burrow’ into your shoulder. Gently rocking or swinging your baby can help them settle down enough to drift off to sleep. Pacifiers are also a great tool for helping your little one fall asleep.
Once you’ve checked their diaper, food, and sleep level, just interacting with your baby can be enough to help calm them. Older babies love to play, so dads can make silly faces or initiate games. I
f nothing seems to be working and your baby isn’t hungry, tired, in pain, or needing a diaper change, it’s fine to put them in their crib for five minutes and take a break. After a few minutes, check on your baby and give soothing another go.
Why does dad get frustrated when he can’t soothe baby
It’s normal for a dad to become frustrated when faced with a baby that just won’t stop crying.
Here are a few things that might cause that frustration:
- Dad’s stressed out. Having a baby is a major lifestyle change, and many dads return to work only weeks after first meeting their little one. Stressors from the day can add up, leaving a dad feeling extra-stressed and frustrated when their baby begins to cry.
- Dad doesn’t know what to do. There’s nothing more frustrating than being faced with a problem you don’t know how to solve. If a dad doesn’t know how to help his baby stop crying, he’s likely to become frustrated himself.
- Baby wants mom, not dad. As was mentioned earlier in this article, sometimes babies pick mom as their ‘favorite’ parent. When that happens, dad could be doing everything right, and the baby still wouldn’t calm down.
- Dad doesn’t have the right tools. If a breastfeeding baby is hungry, dad just doesn’t have the right equipment to help the baby feel better. Some babies will drink pumped milk from a bottle, but there are plenty who need a nursing session with mom in order to truly calm down.
Why dad can be better at soothing baby than mom
Some dads are known for being “baby whisperers” and so good at soothing their baby that they’ve achieved near-miracle status. I’ve known several dads who can calm any baby in less than 5 minutes, no matter how unhappy the child is to start out with.
What’s dad’s baby-whisperer secret?
- Swaddling. Many dads take on a baby swaddle as a sort of challenge and rise to the occasion. Dads are often baby-swaddling champions and more willing to wrap up their little one firmly, which can help soothe a baby in no time at all.
- Shushing. Men’s voices are usually lower in pitch, which comes in handy for shushing a baby to sleep. That nice, low-pitched ‘shushing’ noise dads make can be more calming for a baby than mom’s higher-pitched equivalent.
- Swinging. I guess all those arm days at the gym paid off: babies love to be rocked, and dads are good at rocking them. Many dads are pros at finding the perfect swinging rhythm for their baby, and then keeping it up for hours on end to keep their little one calm and happy.
- Smell. Babies instantly recognize the smell of their mom, which in many cases is a good thing. But if your little one isn’t actually hungry, they might get distracted by mom’s smell and think it’s time to eat. Dad doesn’t smell like breast milk, so he might find it easier to help the baby relax.
What can dad do to help calm baby?
There are many things a dad can do to help soothe his baby.
Most infants respond best to people they have a close bond with, so many of the suggestions discussed below are aimed at improving the bond between a dad and his baby.
Let dad hold mom while she’s nursing
Infants often look up at mom’s face while they nurse, so seeing both mom and dad can help a baby associate the comfort of nursing with both parents.
Dad takes baby before and after nursing
Letting dad help with any part of the nursing process helps strengthen the bond between him and his baby. Taking the baby before and after nursing can also help relieve some of mom’s stress, which will keep both her and the baby relaxed and happy.
Skin-to-skin works for dads too
Skin-to-skin contact works between dads and babies too! Not only does it strengthen the bond between dad and baby, but skin-to-skin contact can also instantly soothe a fussy baby.
Mom pumps, dad feeds
You can take advantage of the benefits of breastmilk while also allowing dad to bond with the baby during meals. Mom can pump while dad feeds the baby previously-pumped breastmilk, which lets both of you play a role in feeding your baby.
Don’t step in and take over if baby is crying
Dad won’t get any better at soothing the baby if mom is always taking over whenever something isn’t perfect or is taking too long. Trial and error is part of parenting for both moms and dads, so it’s important to give dads the space they need to succeed.
Dad wears the baby
Babywearing can really help some infants relax, and the more time dad spends wearing his baby, the closer their bond will be. Babywearing can also provide some immediate soothing for an upset baby.