Baby’s Brain in Week 12
He may never make a peep about it, but by now, Dad might feel that Baby prefers Mom—and that may bum him out. When he holds Baby, she may squirm and look around for Mom. And when passed to Mom, Baby may quiet almost instantly.
The big secret? The only real preference that Baby has for Mommy is that she, if nursing, is Baby’s sole source for food, which she knows she needs to survive. Even when not nursing, a breastfeeding mom’s scent provides comfort as her child associates it with breast milk. (Remember those week 4 pacifier studies?) Ultimately, Baby may seem more relaxed with Mom over Dad because she knows, instinctively, that Mom equals food.
Yet other than nursing, dads are fully capable of all caregiving tasks: feeding from a bottle, burping, rocking, comforting, playing, and changing diapers. We now know that the messier the task he undertakes, the better Dad’s chances are of having Baby cozy up to him.
What the Research Shows
Researchers wanted to know the difference between the dads whose children readily turned to them and those who didn’t. They conducted a study that involved counting the diapers that the dads changed. For the daddies who took the time and got beyond the ick factor, changing diapers seemed to secure the child’s attachment to Dad as well as to Mom: The more diapers dads changed, the more babies turned to their fathers for comfort when distressed—even when mom was in the vicinity.
Week 12 Brain Booster
Really, there’s nothing magical about diapering when it comes to solidifying the father-infant bond—the research doesn’t suggest that men necessarily have a better technique or strategy that babies like better. What diapering does provide, however, is an interactive time for the child and diaperer to get well-acquainted. It’s an intimate social time that familiarizes Baby with the person in charge of the task, thereby building her trust in that person.
And chances are, if Dad’s changing lots of diapers, he’s likely doing other things to care for his child as well, which leads to a stronger attachment. In about six months or so, Baby will identify a “primary attachment figure” and one or two secondary attachment people. For some children this person is definitely Mom; for others, it’s either Mom or Dad.
So every solid effort Dad makes right now to care for Baby helps her feel safe with him. As she gets older, she will approach him for all sorts of needs, further developing their relationship. And not only that, but children are also more likely to reach their potential when they know Dad really cares.