After having a baby, mothers can’t wait for their newborn to recognize and cling to them. As a new mom you might get a bit impatient and start wondering, when do babies start preferring mom? In this article, I’m going to discuss in detail about when, why and how babies develop extreme attachment to their moms.
Babies will usually develop an attachment and preference for their moms when they’re around two to four months old. There can be several reasons why this attachment happens. A mother’s smell and sight, their primary caretaking, frequent availability, and feeding are some of the fundamental reasons why babies prefer their mother.
In the rest of this article, I will discuss more in-depth on the subject. I will also touch on how sometimes this attachment can lead to separation anxiety and how you can deal with it. So, keep on reading till the end of a full understanding.
How Attachment Develops in Babies
As babies grow physically and develop cognitively, they start to distinguish between objects and people. Here is a basic outline of how recognition works in babies through which they build their attachment towards their mother. You’ll get the idea about when do babies start preferring moms to others.
0 to 3 Months
A baby will be born with the essential and necessary functions to sustain themselves out of the womb. These functions also include behavioral ones that will begin forming the building blocks of specific preferences and attachments later in their lives.
Crying, clinging, sucking, and looking will be the initial behavior before moving onto smiling and babbling after a few weeks of birth. Babies have a hearing and smelling ability from birth, which enables them to distinguish between people. They respond better to human voices, faces, and touches.
Newborns develop preferences for a familiar person from the get-go, and it is typically their primary caregiver. During the first couple of months, babies don’t exhibit social interaction attempts and proper attachment behavior.
3 to 7 Months
After the baby is three months old, they can differentiate between people better and become selective with their social interactions. Babies can figure out who is more present in their lives and begin remembering their faces more clearly.
Within these people, they will select an individual as their favorite person, usually their mom or primary caretaker. Infants at this stage have high sensitivity, and they’ll likely develop a strong preference for their mothers.
When babies are seven months old, they will have the ability to distinguish between the treatments of different people in their lives. It’s during this stage that they’ll react more when the mothers leave the room, greet the moms when they come back, and use them as a base for exploration.
The friendly response towards less familiar people will decrease, and other individuals will become their secondary preferences. These attachments change as a child grows older and develops further.
Infants will attach and have a stronger preference for their moms for several reasons. A healthy attachment is significant for their development, and it carries on to the later stages of their lives. Initially, a baby has a strong preference for their mom when they’re about a couple of months old. But after ten months, this preference becomes less specific.
4 Reasons Why Babies Start Preferring Their Mothers
As I’ve already mentioned, several factors come into play when babies develop attachments with their mothers. There is a lot of scientific evidence that explains why that happens. Here are four reasons why babies prefer their mom over other people.
Feeding is one of the main reason’s babies want to be with their moms more, mainly if the infant depends on breastfeeding. Babies have approximately about 8 to 12 inches of line of sight. Breastfeeding is the perfect distance between a baby’s and a mother’s eyes.
Babies love looking at their moms when they breastfeed. It’s true even for the ones that feed on formula because they’re feeding in the same position. Besides, newborns can discriminate between their mom’s breastmilk and other milk in a whiff.
Mothers are also the survival “meal ticket” for the babies in the world. Dads are amazing, but it’s not likely that they can provide for the babies the same way a mom does during infancy. Infants are also sensitive to their mother’s breast milk smell, and they are very attracted to it. Also look at Nipple creams for breastfeeding.
2. Mother’s Smell and Sound in the Womb
There is plenty of research evidence that shows that babies can hear a mother’s voice in the uterus. Dad’s voice sounds more muffled, while the mom’s voice sounds more amplified and clearer.
A study showed that a baby’s heart rate could slow down just a bit when they heard their mother’s voice. It was an indication that the baby not only listened to her voice but also had a soothing effect on them.
Besides, another study demonstrated how babies preferred a recording that had their mother’s voice filtered, similar to how it would sound in the uterus. Hearing develops in babies before they come into the world. The mother’s voice is the clearest because it vertebrates through their bones.
If a mother talks to the baby out loud, reads them stories, and sings to them, babies will develop a preference for her voice outside the womb too. Infants can also discriminate between their mother’s smell to other women. So, it’s not a surprise that babies prefer their moms more during the first few months than other people.
3. Ready Availability
Preference towards the mother occurs naturally. The baby starts crying, and you give in to their needs, which could be a feeding session, cuddling, or diaper changes. As you respond to their needs and times of distress, the baby will learn that they can trust you and depend on you to feel safe.
You don’t want to confuse being readily available for your baby with them being spoiled. It’s the best way to show them that you’ll be there for them. Your baby will develop a reference towards that parent who is primarily taking care of them. But it’s almost always the mother.
4. Social Interactions
During the initial months, babies cry a lot at night. Night-time parenting is one of the most significant challenges of having a kid. As two people share, connect, and interact, attachment grows. It’s the same with babies. As you take care of them during distress, they’ll grow attached and develop a preference.
Your baby will respond to you in the form of this preference as you respond to their needs. You’ll also notice the process of soothing will gradually become more straightforward, and they’ll want to be near you. As you hold them, rock them softly, whisper to them to soothe them, your baby will develop a strong preference for you.
After they wake up in the morning, they’ll see your smiling faces, and the trust reinforces. These interactions enable the baby to learn and assess their carer’s sensitivity, availability, commitment, and responsiveness. As a mother usually does all these things for the baby, it isn’t unnatural for babies to prefer their mom.
Although babies develop primary attachment towards their mothers, the role of fathers is also vital to promote healthy bonds that’ll sustain in the latter parts of their lives. If you keep reinforcing your baby’s attachment towards you, they may also develop separation anxiety.
These parental preferences do not last forever and shift throughout the years multiple times as they develop. And the choice is also different for different situations. You mustn’t take it to heart if your baby prefers your partner over you. A healthy bond between the parents will let them have long-lasting relationships when they’re adults.
What to Do When Babies Only Prefer Mom?
If your baby is treating you like a second-class citizen, you shouldn’t be worried. There are many things you can do to help your case. Dads are mostly the “fun parent” instead of the “comfort parent,” which is a typical experience. So, can fathers comfort their kids as effectively as their mothers?
It may not always be as effective, but children do look up to their fathers if their mothers aren’t available at the time of distress. If the father stays calm, babies will realize that what they’re facing is not an emergency and calm on their own. Once they notice who comforted them, they know that it’s the dad, and so, the dad moves up a level.
If your baby only wants to be around your partner, they may be feeling that you will not be there for them when they need some soothing. In this case, you can promote some dad-baby bonding, which is very easy and fun.
Here are some tips on how you can accomplish that.
- Engage in peek-a-boo sessions because laughter reduces anxiety and will also teach your child object permanence (understanding that an object will continue to exist even if you can’t see or hear them).
- Infant massages will make the baby realize that their dad is also capable of some soothing. Dads are often great at shushing, swaying, and swaddling. Babies need these movements to go to sleep.
- If the baby is crying at night, wait for a while and let the less preferred partner go instead. They can soothe your baby and put them to sleep. The baby will also learn that your partner will be there for them when they need it.
- The best way for the baby to develop a fit preference towards both father and mother is to introduce both parents during infancy. Both parents will have an intimate connection with the baby, and the bonding will not be entirely biased towards the mom.
- Other fun activities like bathing with the baby, dressing your child, reading to them, and putting them to sleep will let the baby trust the dad more. They’ll feel more at ease with the father and learn that they are a part of the baby’s life as much as the mom.
It’s also a good idea to have your partner participate in mundane tasks like diaper changes and feeding. Most of the time, it is for social interaction like these that a baby decides to prefer their mom over anybody else. As your partner responds to these cues along with you, you can promote a good bond between your baby and partner.
Besides, you can also try letting the dad or your partner take care of and handle your child even when your home. Your baby will soon learn that their dad is in it for the long haul and transfer some preference to them.
Mothers who wake up at night to attend to their babies spend their time soothing and lulling them back to sleep. On the other hand, fathers generally spend only forty percent of their time tending to the baby. They also sometimes wake up mainly in the first place to check on their child’s exhausted mother, not to attend to the baby themselves.
Research evidence suggests that the initial intent of a father towards his child is to protect them. So, children don’t generally look for comfort from their dads. It’s generally also why babies prefer their moms to their dads. But it isn’t difficult to also be the comforting figure of your household.
The idea is to share responsibilities and be present in your baby’s life from infancy. That way, you can make sure your baby’s strong preference towards their moms isn’t there to stay forever. You’ll also have to be patient with your little one. One month they might be Team Mama, and the next, Team Daddy.
As long as the primary caregiver or the mom is there in front of the baby, it won’t be easy to connect with the dad. Leaving them alone for long periods will help. Besides, if your baby is more attached to you, make sure you’re not hovering around and leave everything to your partner.
Skin-to-skin contact is also an excellent way to encourage some transfer of these bonds. Fathers, like mothers, also release oxytocin when they cuddle their little ones. You can also use slings or carriers to wear your baby because that also encourages dad-baby bonding. The dad will feel it, the baby will feel it, and they both will develop a special connection.
While you can’t prevent your baby from choosing their mom initially, you’ll want to focus on developing a healthy bond with them alongside their preference for their moms. Babies will choose their mom when they’re about two to three months old. What comes after is when you’ll start to see some changes.
Separation Anxiety in Babies
As your baby grows older, you’ll have to eventually leave them in their nursery even when they cry out for you. If a child grows too attached to their mom, they might develop separation anxiety. Six months is usually when babies may develop it. If your baby has a strong preference to be wherever you’re at, it’s a strong indicator of separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a very normal behavioral tendency. It happens for several reasons, and one of them is their strong attachment to you. When most babies are six to seven months, babies gain object permanence which I’ve mentioned earlier. It will allow your baby to believe that you exist even if you’re not in front of them.
Before this phenomenon kicks in, your baby may cry after you put them in the crib and walk away. It won’t necessarily be because they miss you and want you near; it’s because they don’t know when you’ll be coming back. Their sense of security is threatened, and they feel vulnerable when you’re not there with them.
During the first few months, your baby can’t tell people apart. After about six to seven months, separation anxiety kicks in as they begin to form attachments and preference for their mother or primary caregiver usually. Separation anxiety is a milestone, which means it can essentially be a good thing.
It’s a sign that your baby is growing up, and it’s a big deal. It’s an indicator of the attachment your baby has towards you. However, it can take a toll on parents when it persists, especially if you’re a breastfeeding mom. Separation anxiety lasts about two to three weeks typically, but this period can be very challenging.
It could also make an appearance after eight months, so don’t be surprised if your 14-month-old is crying for you now and then. As it’s a milestone, your baby will eventually ease as they get the hang of it.
Here is what separation anxiety looks like.
- Clinginess increases
- Crying even when you’re apart for a short while
- Your baby doesn’t want to go to bed
- Waking up more frequently at night and demanding a feeding session
- Stranger anxiety
If your baby shows these signs, they might have separation anxiety. You can be sure about it by picking your crying baby up, and they stop crying right then. There are several things you can do to help your baby while they go through this milestone. But the best thing you can do is be patient with your little one.
By no means should you try to stop your baby from developing a preference for you. Separation anxiety is common, and almost all children go through it. As parents, you need to take care of your baby and make the transition easier.
How to Help Your Baby with Separation Anxiety
As I’ve already mentioned, you can do several things to help your baby safely transition from your presence to your absence. Separation anxiety is a phase of life each baby goes through, so make sure you consult your pediatrician before trying to get rid of it. Here are a few ways through which you can help your baby.
1. Peek-a-boo Games and Separation Practices
The goal is to establish object permanence with your baby. You can play peek a boo or similar games, reinforcing that you will return in the end. These games will make separation less of a shock and keep the anxiety at bay.
Other games like hide the ball will also have similar effects on your baby. Doctors suggest parents play these games now and then because it will positively affect the baby. It will make the transition much more manageable.
Besides, you can also try to practice short separation periods. Begin slowly, and leave your baby only for a few minutes. Gradually, you can extend these periods and let your child get used to your absence.
It’s best to keep your baby with someone you know and trust. In this situation, letting your partner help is an excellent idea as it will also encourage your baby to form a preference for them other than you.
2. Say What You Mean and Avoid Sneaking Out
Babies will sniff out inconsistent behavior like a bloodhound, so you’ll have to keep it simple and consistent. Repeat the exact words every time you leave them.
If you say bye to them no matter what time it is in the day, stay out and don’t come back even if your baby cries. Besides, going back to attend to them will teach them to depend on you whenever they cry; that you’ll be there no matter what.
No matter what you do, avoid sneaking out. It might cause more problems once your baby notices that you’re gone. Saying goodbye and getting a notification that you’re leaving will put your baby at ease. Doctors strongly advise against sneaking out and escaping while your child is engaging in an activity.
Talking them through what is going on will be very useful. Assuring your baby that you’ll come back after you put on your coat and give them three kisses will help your baby adjust to your absence.
3. Develop a Soothing Bedtime Routine
Sticking to a routine will bring consistency in your child’s life, making them feel less vulnerable as they will predict what will happen throughout the day. You can start with a bath then move on to a massage.
Doing so will make your baby feel very relaxed and help them sleep better. Make sure the nursery feels like a safe place. You can use white noises like rain, waterfall, and other sounds that’ll drown the harsh noise out. It will also help your baby to sleep through the night.
Put your baby in the crib when they’re in a good mood. It will make them feel like the crib is a safe place and feel secure. Alternating the bedtime routine is also an excellent idea.
You can put your baby to sleep three days a week while your partner does it for the other three. If both partners play the same role in the routine, the babies will not feel an imminent threat. They might cry out for you initially, but they’ll soon learn to calm down.
4. Prepare ahead
Planning is one of the best ways of preparing yourself for separation anxiety. If you’re already expecting it, it will be easier to deal with. If you’re planning on introducing your baby to a nanny or daycare, it’s a good idea to slowly plan it and introduce your baby to your absence gradually.
There is always going to be an adjustment period. So, beginning early will make the process more manageable. It might also be more beneficial for the baby if you start a major transition like daycare and nanny early.
When you return to your little one after a short period of absence, a happy reunion will reinforce the parent-baby bond and ease the transition. You can give them a big hug, cuddle with them, and play with them for a few minutes before carrying on with your day.
5. Keep Calm
It’s essential to keep your emotions in check when dealing with separation anxiety. Give your child something you own for reassurance. The smell will make your child feel safe.
It’ll undoubtedly be not easy to go about the day without your baby initially. Babies will mirror the faces of their mom and dad. So it’s vital to be calm and collect your emotions. It will only heighten your child’s insecurity once they see you upset.
Crying out for you isn’t unnatural when your baby is only six months old, so it’s best not to discourage it. It’s essential to express emotions freely to establish a firm emotional foundation. There is no reason to hesitate to check in with your baby while making this transition, so give in to that impulse to have some peace of mind.
Babies have the strongest affinity towards their mothers. So, when do babies start preferring mom? When they’re around two to three months old, they’ll start wanting to be around their mothers or primary caregivers more.
This preference isn’t static and will keep changing throughout their childhood. Thanks for reading this article. I hope it was able to help you with your curiosities and provided you with all the information you were looking for. Until, next time, farewell.