5

My son is very attached to me (his mother) and my husband has a hard time comforting him when he needs it, especially when it comes to sleep. My son is 15 months old. He wakes up at least twice a night and often more. When he wakes up he usually wants to breastfeed. However, sometimes if he wakes up a short time after going to bed, he will go back to sleep if I pick him up and cuddle him for a bit. If his Dad goes to him instead, my son will not settle and screams loudly, for a long time.

Things haven't always been this bad, my son used to accept his Dad for comfort at night at times when he didn't need to be fed. But after a series of disturbances to the routine such as a relentless attack of winter viruses, vaccinations and a short trip away, my son has become too used to me going to comfort him. He's also teething with his first molars. We've tried for a while to have my husband go to settle him but my son gets angry, screams and hits my husband away. If my husband offers expressed milk, my son hits that away too. I work full time so eventually I give in and go to him so we can all get some sleep.

During the daytime, father and son get on well and enjoy spending time together but if my son is upset and I'm around, he doesn't want his Dad to comfort him.

This isn't a huge problem in itself, although can be inconvenient, I know that small children often want their Mum, especially when breastfed and I assume he'll grow out of it eventually. The problem is, I have to go away for two nights in two week's time and we're worried how things will work out. I've never been away for even one night before. We're looking for suggestions of what we can do in the two weeks to help my son accept his Dad so the two nights away are not too stressful for both of them and so that I can relax a bit and not spend the whole time worrying about them.

5

This is a frustrating problem, and I have no quick fixes to offer. I'm also sorry to hear about your son's bad winter.

Thinking of the longer haul, have you discussed with your husband the possibility that he (and only he) get up and bring your son to you (in bed or wherever) to nurse, then take him back to settle him in? This might help your son to associate Dad with good nighttime things.

Nursing a baby is a very satisfying and emotionally fulfilling experience, and you should keep doing it as long as you both want to. However, at 15 months, your son should be getting enough nutrition during the day that he doesn't need to be breastfed at night. This means he might be using you as a warm, cuddly pacifier whenever he awakens. Moms need their sleep, too.

I believe strongly that parents owe it to their little ones to be trustworthy, responding to their children when needed. How to respond with love, however, is up to you. I would encourage you to start weaning him off his night-time feedings. Read some answers on this site or read some books/good websites on teaching your son to self-soothe without the help of a breast so that when he wakes up, he doesn't expect to drink (dads are pretty good for that, since - cry as he might - dad can't fulfill that wish.) Once he stops associating feeding with falling asleep, your husband can be much more successful at helping him to settle.

In terms of daytime soothing, the less he views you as his (however loving) 'pacifier' and more as his mom, the more he will be accepting of the warm love and support of his dad at any hour.

When you are gone (this is easier said than done, understandably), worrying won't add one iota of comfort to you or your husband. If there's nothing to be done after skyping during the evening, consider it an opportunity for some mom-time and a full night of uninterrupted sleep. I hope you can enjoy that; you deserve it. You sound like a wonderful mom.

  • This is useful general advice but I'm not looking to night-wean at this stage. As I'm working full time I think some night nursing is important to maintain our breastfeeding relationship while we both still enjoy it. I'd really like some tips how to get my son to accept milk from his Dad occasionally. We had some success with this earlier in the year and my son pretty much dropped the first night feed but now he has become really resistant to anything but me. We rarely nurse for daytime soothing, if he's upset in the day, a cuddle and sympathy will do but he has a strong preference for Mum – MiniMum Apr 6 '15 at 19:51
  • Hi, @MiniMum, and thanks for your feedback. I wish I had a better advice for you, but I suspect that until you wean him off nighttime feedings, this will continue much as it has. If he were truly hungry, he would probably accept a bottle from Dad. If he's not hungry, he can hold out for the breast. I hear you - breastfeeding is wonderful. I just don't have anything else to offer but the bits I already have. :-) – anongoodnurse Apr 6 '15 at 20:10
5

Ironically, something that often really helps is giving them a couple nights without the possibility of Mommy coming to the rescue. It may not be consciously expressed, but the idea of needing someone else to intervene really undermines a Dad's confidence, and babies can sense that. Leaving them alone will help them find their own unique way of working together. Okay, yes, most of that first night might be terrible, but they will figure it out.

I remember several times I had to make my wife leave the room when she thought the baby was inconsolable without her, then within about 10 minutes we were fine. Try this next time. When you think you absolutely need to intervene, set a timer for another 10 minutes before going in. Then when you do go in, don't stay. Say something encouraging, give a quick hug and kiss, then go back to bed. Make it clear to Dad and baby that Dad is capable of handling this. Let Dad be the one to make the call and come to you when he's ready to admit defeat.

  • You're right, this is how it has worked before with us too, if I leave them long enough they usually work it out eventually but this time seems really extreme. Often my son sounds like he's starting to settle and then he starts up again. Maybe he just has more stamina now he's older. I haven't tried coming in and leaving again, I feel that would make it worse but I guess it's worth a try. In any case if there's no improvement before my nights away, that will probably force an improvement – MiniMum Apr 6 '15 at 20:20
  • I agree with this very much. One of the hardest things for my wife was learning to let me try and work things out myself and not intervene (as it undermined my confidence, exactly as you say). Once she worked that out (which is hard, listening to a crying child and not doing anything) it was easier for me to figure it out, and I was able to get enough confidence that I could reach out for help when I really needed it. – Joe Apr 6 '15 at 21:52
4

I had something very similar with both of my daughters. As a father, pretty much like clockwork, I remember these points:

  • 7 months: they knew I existed and seemed somewhat happy to see me.
  • 1 1/2 years: I truly enjoyed hanging out with them, for short bursts of time.
  • 2 years: The pendulum started swinging, and they wanted to be more involved in the things I did.
  • 3 years: I could basically do anything with them short of storm a beach in enemy territory, and they love hanging out with me.

Between my wife and I, I'm the one that tends to push the envelope a little more. I'll wake the kids up at 6am to shoot model rockets off, I'll take them backpacking (not car camping: actual no-kidding-deep-woods-backpacking), get them into martial arts (not the corny strip mall style).

When they were younger (under 3, primarily), they would go through day and week long phases where they would push the envelope and hang out with me, but they would also want mom time and want to feel more protected.

Another thing that dad-exclusive time offers is simply that there is no option to run home to mom. I'm not trying to tell anyone how to parent, but for us it was important that after ~2 years of age or so my wife would split for a few hours and I'd handle bed time, so our kids would simply have to learn to handle me putting them to bed or helping them when they wake up scared since mom simply isn't around.

(Most) moms have a huge built in advantage towards bonding because of the obvious biological relationship. Dads need to be given the latitude, and need to exercise it, to have that same opportunity.

For me, I really enjoy doing adventure-ish stuff, and scaling that to include my kids has created a terrific way for me to be a dad.

  • These are all useful suggestions for the future but this doesn't really answer my current problem. I can imagine lots of ways for my husband to bond with his son when he's a bit older. If you have any suggestions for how you helped out with your daughters in the earlier years, that would be great – MiniMum Apr 6 '15 at 19:37
3

With both of our little guys, we went through phases like you describe, where my wife was sometimes the only person who could comfort them. To some extent this is 'just a phase' and will pass in time - there will be weeks where only Daddy will comfort them effectively (once you stop breastfeeding, anyway, as that always seems to work).

I don't believe it's a lack of bonding or any particular lack of affection for Daddy. Largely it's simply a combination of physical comfort and (I'm guessing) various psychological changes that cause one or the other parent to be temporarily more 'comfortable'.

One thing that I did with both of them when I needed to help at night or in the early morning was to change up things a little for them. Rather than trying to comfort them in their bed, or our bed, neither of which worked as they both made them think Mommy was there (and thus frustrated at lack of mommy/milk/etc.), I instead would take him downstairs and snuggle him in my lap while I put on an innocuous TV show - either something I watch but is appropriate for the kids (a sitcom, for example, no violence or loud noises) or as they got old enough to watch TV of their own, something they like (this was more like 2+).

Part of this was that while I don't watch very much TV, when they were very little I sometimes rocked them to sleep while watching a show, or watched a show while I was 'on duty' with the sleeping baby; so the laugh track/etc. was probably familiar. Part of it also was simply to have something calming to do together, even if he has no idea what's going on and usually falls asleep almost instantly.

Either way, that often helped to calm them while they were otherwise difficult to calm in place. It's not exactly optimal if you're doing it every day, of course, but it can work for a few days.

In the long run, weaning off of nighttime feedings - ie, you finding other ways to help him get back to sleep - is probably the only thing you can do to completely solve this; but in the short term, that's not really feasible.

2

The good news is you have a couple weeks to prepare. As Karl said, a couple nights without the possibility is probably the way to go.

It's not too dissimilar from the process of ferberizing in that you have a small amount of time with radical change to open a much more comfortable situation in the long run. Many disagree with this process, but they may not have had children who remove every bit of sleep you ever get.

My wife was one of those who disagree with ferberizing so we had to do it the longer way, which was ultimately not too bad.

About the point where we both could see absolutely nobody was getting any sleep for too long, we decided to change the night routine. Which is relevant to your situation, though I know you refer to daytime comfort as well. I think if you fix the night time requirements, the daytime ones will trickle away as well. At night, she could put our daughter to sleep, but once she was asleep, she was out of the picture, even if there was a tantrum involved. It took a while for things to normalize, but even after just a few days we could see the demand for night feedings fading. We assumed it was feedings, or maybe some kind of comfort. Not 100% sure, but previous to this decision our daughter was like a time bomb. You knew she would go off at some point, but who knew when. So sleep was hard.

It might have been a week or so before the demand was pretty much gone. I'm a paranoid sleeper in that I sleep very lightly until I hear anything then I move to their room just in case. They got used to relaxing just knowing I was in the room with them and now they are pretty good about staying asleep through the night. About 9:30pm to about 7:15am. The need for mother comfort during the day is much less now as well, though they are older and it has been about 8 months since we began this routine. 8 Months in baby time is a lot in so many ways, so it's hard to say if that was due to the change in routine or just that they grew up enough to understand we're not gone from the world when they wake up without us in the room.

My suggestion is to totally remove mom from the night routine after getting your son to sleep. Endure the crazy spells for the next few days and be ready to be more tired than you may already be. It was worth it for me, and even though many hate the ferber method, it seems to work for a lot of people. It might take a few days. It might take the whole 2 weeks. But I bet it will improve your situation.

As a side note, when my wife takes them out of town for a couple days, we use face time on the iphones so they can still see me. Seems to help.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.