We each have our strengths and weaknesses as parents, but then there are disheartening times when our best efforts still aren’t enough.
A stark example of this is when your baby can get to sleep better with one parent over the other. Traditionally, you’d expect mom to win out here, but what’s happening when this is the other way around?
Why won’t my baby sleep for me but will for dad? A common reason behind an infant’s preference for dad over mom when it comes to getting to sleep is that the baby associates mom with nursing and other activities. Another reason could be that the dad is the baby’s primary caregiver or simply has a more calming personality.
This phenomenon is a lot more common than you might think and has no bearing on your parenting quality or the strength of your baby’s bond with you.
Let’s look at 9 possible explanations for why your little guy or gal sleeps for dad but not for mom plus a few remedies you can try out.
Why Baby Won’t Sleep for Mom but Will for Dad
Babies can be picky when it comes to their sleep circumstances, and this can sometimes manifest in dad being favored over mom.
Here are a few possible explanations behind their fussiness…
1. Dad Is the Primary Caregiver
In situations of breadwinning moms and stay-at-home dads or dads who take on a greater caregiving role in times of illness or injury, it’s likely that your baby is going to spend more time with their dad and associate them with their basic needs being met, thus strengthening their bond.
2. Baby Wants Milk From Mom
When you put the baby down to bed, the baby can smell milk on you and crave it, so once they realize no milk is being offered, they are likely to start fussing and refuse to rest until they have had some.
3. Baby Associates Mom With Other Activities
Your little one is smart enough to begin associating each parent with certain roles, expectations, and activities.
So if dad is mostly present for silliness and cuddles but mom is mostly present for nursing, they’re going to expect mom — from their perspective — to essentially stay “in character”!
4. Baby Craves Time With Dad
Thankfully, fathers are increasingly more hands-on with their children compared with previous generations.
Generally though, many family dynamics are still quite traditional and see the dad spending less time with the baby due to work commitments. This can result in the baby craving dad’s time and attention more.
5. Dad Has Calming Personality
If dad is more laid back and less worrisome than mom, babies will pick up on that and feel more soothed.
Generally speaking, moms take on more responsibility when it comes to child rearing too, so regardless of personality type, mom is more likely to be exhausted, irritable, and less peppy than dad.
6. Baby Knows Dad Won’t Cave as Easily
Once they know what to expect from each parent, babies will get a sense of what their limits are.
For example, when mom attempts to put baby to sleep and has no luck, she may have to resort to nursing or reading a bedtime story, whereas dad can’t do the former and is less likely to cave than mom is, so the baby is less likely to put up a fight.
7. Separation Anxiety
Once mom decides to stop breastfeeding, this can kickstart a phase of separation anxiety in babies, and so as they interact with mom before sleep, they are reminded of the fact they have lost this comforting ritual.
8. Baby Doesn’t Want To Miss Time With Mom
It could be that your little one values play and bonding time with you so much during the day that when you ask them to settle down for sleep, they are too excited to relax, or it possibly upsets them that time with you must come to an end.
9. Dad Feeds Baby Bottle
If your baby is still being breastfed and dad is the one to feed them their baby bottle, your little one will feel full faster during feeds with dad (much fuller than they can from feeding on the breast alone).
Baby will therefore feel more satisfied and soothed with whoever is providing the nighttime bottle feeds.
4 Remedies To Try
It’s common for babies to be super selective in these early months, so don’t lose heart when this happens.
It’s a good idea to address this issue early on before the associations with each parent become too difficult to shake though, so here are a few things you can try:
Grab an Old T-shirt of Dad’s
Not only with the familiar smell of daddy help your little one settle for sleep, but it may also help to mask the smell of milk on you.
Adjust the Amount of Sleep During the Day
Helping your baby transition to fewer or shorter naps during the day can make it easier for them to settle into sleep at night.
Assign Bedtime Duty to Mom Only
Go with the nuclear option for a while. Mom-of-three and founder of the parenting blog Focus On Your Child Lori Herbert stresses the importance of repetition in your baby’s life, even if it’s difficult at first:
“Assign mom to bedtime duties for some time to allow the baby to learn that mom can get them to sleep too. This daily routine will help reinforce bedtime.”
Try Using Sleep Swaddles/Sleep Sacks
You could consider putting your little one to sleep in a swaddle.
Swaddles have a snug fit to mimic the security and comfort of the womb, and research has found that these can have a calming influence on crying infants.
Only continue to swaddle your baby until they attempt to roll over (usually around 2-3 months of age). You may then move on to sleep sacks, which help them feel cozy while giving their limbs a healthy range of movement.
Do Babies Prefer One Parent Over the Other?
It’s natural for babies to have a preference for whichever parent is their primary caregiver and the one they associate with basic, essential needs like feeds and changing.
This appearance of favoritism is most prevalent after 6 months when the separation anxiety phase begins.
When Do Babies Bond With Dad?
According to NCT (National Childbirth Trust), it can take six months on average for a baby to develop a bond with their dad.
Care, play, and communication are crucial in the early months, so engaging with them as often as possible as they start to laugh and babble can help forge a truly two-way relationship.
Babies have their preferences and associations with each parent, so don’t take it too personally.
Try implementing the above methods to see if this makes a difference to your little one’s nighttime tendencies.
In the meantime, just remember that this phase will pass as your child grows more independent, so try to view your baby’s current attachment to their dad as a good thing while you enjoy some much-needed rest and alone time!
Rebecca is a seasoned copywriter and researcher with over a decade of experience, specializing in parenting topics. With a passion for all aspects of raising children, from breastfeeding to potty training.