Does your baby prefer mum or dad?

Why your baby seems to have a favourite parent

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Do you sometimes feel that you give your baby all the care all day long, but there is no bigger smile in the day than when dad walks in? Why is it that even though you are the main carer for your baby, sometimes only dad will do?

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Your baby needs to form a close emotional bond with a loving adult, as this gives him calmness, confidence and comfort. Of course, you’d normally expect this attachment to be with his main care-giver. After all, he quickly becomes used to the person who looks after him most, and you’d expect him to feel less used to everyone else.

But it doesn’t always turn out that way. Sometimes, a baby is more easily soothed by dad even though mum looks after him all day – and sometimes it happens the other way round.

Why does my baby see us differently?

Your baby forms attachments for a variety of reasons.

Feeding

The person who feeds him provides a nurturing experience that strengthens the relationship. That’s why a breastfed baby is more likely to look to mum.

Stimulation

If dad is more able to amuse and stimulate him, that’s the person he may turn to, even though mum might spend more time with him.

Feedback

Your baby thrives on positive feedback. Sometimes, one parent gives this more intensively than the other, and this can create your baby’s preference for that care-giver.

Soothing

Your baby is likely to feel most comfortable with the parent who’s able to soothe him when he’s upset. He thinks, “That’s what I need right now.”

Traits

A preference for one parent often forms for inexplicable reasons. Just as you can like someone for reasons that you can’t rationally explain, so too can your baby.

    Mummy’s boy or daddy’s girl?

    There’s no gender-specific pattern to your baby’s preferences for one parent over the other.

    True, you’ll hear one baby described as a ‘daddy’s girl’ because of her strong attachment to her dad, and another as a ‘mummy’s boy’ as his bond with his mum is more intense. But usually, it’s just down to which parent he has most connection with.

    What matters is that you don’t get in a huff if you’re the one who does everything for your baby and yet he seems to prefer your partner! Don’t take it personally – it’s no reflection on his love for you.

    Likewise, make sure you don’t gloat when you’re the one your baby seeks out. Your baby is easily influenced by what happens around him – but he has a short memory. So don’t be put out if he seems to be thinking, “I liked you best last week but now I’ve changed my mind!”

    When you’re not the favourite parent

    Resist any inclination to step back when you learn you’re not his favourite parent. Of course it’s hard to be enthusiastic about changing your baby or playing with him when he looks for your partner instead, but get stuck in anyway!

    Tell yourself it’s only temporary; he’ll soon feel the same way about you if you persist, and you’re a good parent.

    Have a relaxed, upbeat and optimistic manner when you interact with him, even though he’s not as comfortable with you as you’d like. He’ll be more at ease eventually.

    Mum’s story

    “Dad can do no wrong”

    “Sometimes it feels that it doesn’t matter what I do with Harriet, she always seems to be more excited with playing with her dad. At first it did bother me as I am at home most of the time, and provide the day-to-day care she needs. But when I started to really think about it, her excitement for seeing her dad is based on the fact she hasn’t seen him all day. The time Harriet’s dad gets to spend with her daily is much more limited and therefore that bit more precious.”

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    Kathy, 31, mum to Harriet, 4

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