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Do Babies Naturally Prefer Mothers Over Fathers?

G at work with her Daddy

My husband Jon and I have been conducting a little experiment in babyology, using 17 week old G as our human guinea pig. We’re trying to figure out why and how babies attach to each parent in a two parent home. What we’re discovering is well, a little baffling.

You see, in many ways, Jon is the primary parent to G. I was only able to stay home full time with her for 5.5 weeks after her birth, and then it was back to work for me. Counting travel time to and from my job,  I am generally away from G for 40-50 hours each week. Jon, on the other hand, takes G to work WITH him.Jon is an accountant with his family’s small company, which means that his boss (AKA: G’s grandfather) pretty much REQUIRES that the baby accompany him to work so he can get plenty of baby time between tax returns and meetings with the IRS.

Jon’s mother (AKA: Saint Janice) also comes to the office each day, and she helps care for G, our 3 year old C (who has been coming to the office with Jon since she was 8 weeks old) and their cousin A, who is there each afternoon after kindergarten lets out.  It’s a pretty sweet set-up for us in terms of childcare, and we don’t take it for granted. Jon loves the fact that he gets to cuddle and spend time with the baby, even though he’s at work.

So yeah, G spends waaaaay more hours each week with her father than she does with me. Plus, I am not breastfeeding her, so really, there’s absolutely nothing obvious that I do more or better or differently than Jon does.  Yet…yet…yet…we’ve both noticed that when both of us are available to her, she clearly prefers me. That’s especially true when she’s hungry, tired or fussy; at those times, she really, really wants her mama. And I am not imagining this to flatter myself or make myself feel better about being a neglectful working mom; Jon says that her preference for mama is obvious to him too. No one can settle her or get her to sleep better than I can, and she gets really excited when she sees me – kicking and giggling and smiling.

And that’s the baffling part. Why me over her Daddy, who is a totally hands-on father who does everything just as capably as I do, and with whom she spends far more hours each week? I mean, she likes her Dad a whole lot, but she seems to know that I’m the mom.

What is the fascination with the mother of the species? Is this something that’s hardwired into infants? Do we somehow project this onto babies as some sort of subliminal sexist message? Can she SMELL that I am her mother? (I know that even blindfolded, I could pick her out of a baby line up, just by touching and smelling her; I know her intimately as my own baby, just as every mother with whom I’ve ever discussed this says she would of her own infant)  And how does this play out in same sex families, where a baby has two dads, or two moms? Does the baby attach in a different way to each parent?

I find this all quite fascinating, even if I can’t quite figure it out.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this hot topic in babyology, and hear how parenting preferences have played out in your household.

Tell me about it in the comments below.

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