We have two sons, one is 1.5 years, the other just 3 months old. It's strange that my older child often wakes up at night and starts crying uncontrollably and just won't calm down and go to sleep unless I take him in my arms. My younger son has also started doing this. I'm a developer and rarely spend time with the children so there is no attachment issue here.

What could be the reason for this behavior?

  • You say it happens often, does that mean multiple times a night or many days a week?
    – going
    Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 22:19
  • Almost every night multiple times Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 22:20
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    Perhaps you two act differently. For example, maybe you lay back and act chill and do the minimum possible and she gets stressed and tries to make everything right, setting them off. Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 5:28
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    My partner found "I'm a developer and rarely spend time with the children so there is no attachment issue here" to be the funniest thing she'd read all day, if slightly troubling...
    – deworde
    Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 12:56

4 Answers 4


I find that my 4-week-old will calm down differently for me vs my wife. My theory is that my wife smells like milk, so if he's hungry, nothing but mom will do. Other times, he can get agitated if mom is holding him but not feeding him - but he has no expectation of food from me, so he'll be calm for me.

His older brother, now two years old, used to calm down for me but not his mom, long after he was weaned. My theory there was that he knew that dad meant business, and that no amount of squirming was going to get him out of being rocked to sleep. Mom just doesn't have the stamina and strength. It took about a week and a half or two weeks to get him used to the fact that squirming with dad was pointless - and then many months of that before mom could really do anything (once he had learned to calm down and sleep). Six months later, and he finally is more or less going to sleep on his own.

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    +1 - Totally agree, children react differently to different parents.
    – going
    Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 23:29
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    +1 for both reasons...it's what I would have expected and experienced.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Apr 25, 2011 at 17:05

Do you hum or sing while you are holding them? The male voice tends to radiate through the chest and the vibrations can have a soothing effect on children, especially very young ones.

  • Thats interesting any reference for this claim? Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 20:06
  • Read it in a parenting book when my children were babies, but don't remember which one. And personal experience. Sorry that I can't be more help on that score.
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 20:21
  • When I was a small child I would often try to listen my dad after I was put to bed. My guess: hearing him made me feel protected. Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 5:32
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    Here's a link that references the male voice vibrations. <askdrsears.com/topics/fussy-baby/…> The lower frequency of male voices are readily conducted though the bones in the chest and felt by the child. Commented Aug 13, 2011 at 11:58

From personal experience which happens to match what Dr. Harvey Karp suggested in the Happiest Baby on the Block: I am much more vigorous with my calming techniques (rocking, shushing, etc.) than my wife is. I believe the baby responds more to me because of that added vigor, especially when the baby is extremely upset.

A similar difference in techniques between yourself and your wife could be there reason for what you're seeing.


This is just speculation, but babies can be very sensitive to the mood of the person holding them. If your wife is troubled by this problem then she probably tenses up when she holds the babies, and they sense this and get upset, which reinforces the problem. If so then some relaxation techniques and maybe cognitive therapy for your wife might be beneficial.

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