I have returned to work and my husband is staying home with our 4-month-old. The first few weeks were fine. My baby was happy to see me when I got home. But now it seems like she doesn’t care if I am home or not. I feel left out. She seems more comfortable in my husband’s arms, he can make her coo, and she sometimes cries when I hold her. How can I get my baby to like me?
It can be hard to return to work after having a baby. Not only do you have to be apart, you have to go off all day and act as if nothing has changed in the rest of your life. Even though you may feel very lucky to have your baby’s other parent caring for her, that isn’t the same as being able to care for her yourself.
You also have to adjust to the shift in your relationship with your baby as she is getting older. The first few months after a baby is born are one of the most intimate times anyone ever experiences – feeling as though you and your baby are connected, knowing that she is completely dependent on you and that you will do anything to protect and care for her. Moms feel this connection in a particularly deep way, because they have already been caring for the baby for nine months. The newborn period is a natural continuation of pregnancy.
Fathers, of course, often feel envious of the bond between baby and mom. They may not say anything, but they can feel very left out, especially when mom is the only one who nurtures and feeds a newborn. Fortunately, as babies get older, they need a lot more than just care and comfort – they want stimulation, play, interaction, and some changes in scenery. At about 3 to 4 months, babies start to appreciate dad, and that is when their relationship can start to take off (especially, of course, if mom isn’t around).
I think some of what you are experiencing is that your baby and her dad have developed a different and very special relationship. Even though it’s probably just what you would have wanted, you weren’t prepared for your baby having trouble switching from his care to yours – especially after a day when you have been longing to see her.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to help you, your baby, and her dad get through this adjustment period.
The first is to allow your baby a little time to switch gears. When you arrive home, give your husband a kiss and hug, kiss your baby too, and then give her a chance to observe you. It may work better if she is in an infant seat or on a blanket on the floor rather than in her dad’s arms as you come in the door. Talk to your husband, make eye contact with your baby, and wait for her to look at you with interest. Let her take the lead, and then respond gently. Pick her up, talk to her, say a few words.
If you are breastfeeding, it will help if your baby has not eaten in a couple of hours. (If she is hungry an hour before you arrive, she can have a little water or an ounce or two of milk – don’t make her suffer!) Nursing is a wonderful way to reconnect after a day apart. Once your baby is in your arms, dad can gracefully make an exit for a while so that your reunion can take place without distractions.
For the rest of the evening, try to be quietly engaged. Let your baby offer cues and then respond. I promise you, she has not forgotten you, but she may need time to get comfortable. If you push, she may pull back (just like in most relationships!). If you wait, she’ll begin to initiate, and pretty soon you’ll be back to an easy give and take.
On your non-working days, take a few hours each day to be alone with your baby. It can be tempting to always have “family time” on the weekend, but it is important for you to have one-to-one time with your baby as well. And, of course, it is also important for dad to get away and have his own time!
Three-way relationships have a tendency to leave one person out at least some of the time. As your baby gets older, you will even notice that she gets upset when you and your husband pay attention to each other – she will feel excluded!
Remember that as your baby gets older, she will keep changing. Whatever experience you have together one week doesn’t predict what the following week, or the next month, or the rest of her life will be like. Every day is just one day on the way to helping her grow and learn about the world and the people who love her.
Meg Zweiback was a pediatric nurse practitioner and family consultant. She had a private practice in the East Bay and was an associate clinical professor of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco.