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Ask Dr. Sears: More Involved Hubby

Q  I have a 5-month-old baby who needs to be held and nursed a lot, but she won't settle for my husband. He feels discouraged and I'm burning out. How can I get him more involved?

A First, tell your husband not to take it personally. Most babies naturally prefer their mother, at least in the early months. That said, there are three reasons why it's important for your husband to get involved soon: It's good for him to learn how to comfort his daughter; it's good for Baby to learn her father's special touch; and it frees you to have some much-needed time for yourself. Impress upon your husband that babies relate to moms and dads differently - not better or less, just differently - and that infants thrive on this difference.

Chances are, even if you say these things, your husband will still need some guidance. Here's how to help your husband share the baby care:

Set him up to succeed. When your baby is in a particularly good mood and recently fed, take a walk or go shopping, leaving her and Dad to work out their relationship by themselves. You'll be surprised at the comforting tips your husband can come up with in a pinch. And whatever you do, don't hover, ready to rescue your fussy baby. Instead, give them the time and space to work things out.

Show him how to comfort. The neck nestle is a fuss-buster I discovered years ago when Martha left me to care for our infant son, Matthew, shortly before he went off on a bout of crying. Show your husband how to nestle Baby in the front of his neck and drape his chin over her head. Since infants hear not only through their ears but also through the vibration of their skull bones, the lower vibrations of the male voice will often lull them right to sleep when Dad sings or hums. This technique is also one of the few where fathers have an edge over mothers. An added attraction of the neck nestle is that Baby feels the warm air from Dad's nose on her scalp. Experienced mothers have long known that sometimes just breathing on their baby's face or head often calms them; they call this "magic breath."

Another technique to try is the warm fuzzy: Encourage your husband to lie down with Baby draped skin-to-skin over his chest. The rise and fall of his chest, your baby's ear over his heart, and the warm air from his nose against her face will lull her right to sleep.

Teach him how to "wear" Baby. Encourage your husband to try carrying your baby around in a sling. Sling-type carriers are great for dads since they're easy to use and don't have a lot of complicated buckles and straps, which many men find cumbersome to deal with. Babywearing is especially helpful at the end of the day, when many infants seem to disintegrate into fussing and crying. Dads can really shine then by putting Baby into the sling and carrying her around the neighborhood for some one-on-one holding time - and the break will give you a chance to take a nap or do something just for yourself.

Encourage him. All these techniques are bonding tools that may get your husband hooked on sharing the care of his baby, especially if it doesn't come easily to him. But he's still likely to need your encouragement and compliments. If he still finds it difficult to comfort Baby or care for her, remind him that toward the second half of the first year many babies naturally warm up to Dad's care. Why? That's when they begin to associate Mom with feeding and caregiving, and Dad with play and fun.