What if a baby only wants Mom to hold her? Is this normal? What can be done about it?
This mom wants tips on what to do since her daughter screams when anybody but herself holds her.
My 3-month-old will only let me; her mother, hold her. She screams when anybody else holds her, including the father; is this normal? It is frustrating and I worry that she is not bonding properly with her dad. Also, it makes me so exhausted.
I don’t know what to do. Anyone else experiencing this?
What To Do When Baby Only Wants Mom
Your situation is exhausting for sure and also common and completely normal! Most babies have periods when only mom will do.
The Bonding With Mom and Dad
For the young baby to only want mom is part of their bonding process. The baby first bonds and learns to feel completely secure with one person, their primary caregiver, which is most often their mom, and only then will the process continue at full speed with someone else. The most common steps will be to first bond with mom and then with dad (or other second caregiver) (and then with siblings, relatives, friends, et cetera.)
It is fair to say, however, that while there is substantial research available on the mom-baby bonding process, research is more limited on dad-baby bonding. A recent study (2022) concluded that there are substantial gaps in the understanding of paternal bonding, including that existing studies don’t actually have a definition of what paternal bonding actually is. Few studies focused on fathers’ voices to identify what paternal bonding is, and instead, maternal bonding definitions were applied.
It was reported that dads often felt more distant from their babies after delivery, which led to the conclusion that it is important to promote the father-baby bonding process.
So, even if this research didn’t provide much additional guidance, it did support the notion that it is common that dads are not as bonded with their babies in the beginning, and that it is important to work a bit on the father-baby bonding.
How Dad Can Bond With A Baby That Only Wants Mom
It is, of course, a lot easier to bond with a baby that “cooperates”. Bonding is a lot about interaction, skin-to-skin, and in general, being close. A baby can never be “spoilt” by being held too much. If your baby really does not accept being held by dad at all, make sure that dad is close to you and your baby as much as possible. If he interacts, talks, smiles, and so on with your baby, she will start feeling secure with him too.
And Dad can help out with stroller walks, diaper changes, housework, and other things as well to help you feel less overwhelmed.
Being 3 months old, your baby will very soon become more active and easier to play with. Dad can go down on the floor or bed and play together. (Here are some tips on games to play with a 3-month-old.)
Just as the situation can be extremely exhausting for Mom, it can be extremely frustrating or disappointing for Dad. It is not fun to feel rejected, and it can make the dad feel that he has no bond with the baby.
Try to work together as a team to improve the situation. Do not get tunnel vision and view every “rejection” as a failure. Instead, set a goal together that, for example, one month from now, Dad and baby can spend time together without mom (and enjoy it).
Then make sure to involve Dad as much as possible in playing, diapering, cuddling, talking, etc., with Mom close by and probably holding the baby in the beginning. When your baby is fed, alert, and happy, try short periods of time in Dad’s arms – maybe together with a T-shirt that smells Mom.
Then repeat and extend.
A month from now, the situation is more than likely improved if Dad has taken the time to interact a lot with your baby.
Finally, take a look at the tips here for some other parents with a baby screaming in their dad’s arms.
I hope this helps,
- Babywearing: Spoiling Babies Or Creating Stronger Bonds?
- Bonding With Baby: New Dad’s Guide To Getting Close With Your Newborn
- 5 Really Helpful Tips If Baby Screams When Dad Holds Him
- Suzuki D, Ohashi Y, Shinohara E, Usui Y, Yamada F, Yamaji N, Sasayama K, Suzuki H, Nieva RF Jr, da Silva Lopes K, Miyazawa J, Hase M, Kabashima M, Ota E. The Current Concept of Paternal Bonding: A Systematic Scoping Review. Healthcare (Basel). 2022 Nov 11;10(11):2265. doi: 10.3390/healthcare10112265. PMID: 36421589; PMCID: PMC9690989.
- Bigelow AE, Williams LR. To have and to hold: Effects of physical contact on infants and their caregivers. Infant Behav Dev. 2020 Nov;61:101494. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2020.101494. Epub 2020 Sep 20. PMID: 32966905; PMCID: PMC7502223.
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Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing are based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians who assist in reviewing and writing articles.