Child Caring

Why Isn't Her Baby Affectionate?

Hello Barbara!

My daughter is 8 months old and I am curious why she is not affectionate. I give her plenty of attention, she smiles and laughs at things I do but hates to be cuddled, hugged or kissed. Starting at about 2 months old. Before I want back to work, when she was 7 weeks old, she loved the affection, but now, it's like pulling teeth.
I started to think it's because I went back to work but other than that, she doesn't show any signs of resentment or anything like that.

From: Amanda, Seattle

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Dear Amanda,

I'd bet big bucks that this has nothing to do with you going back to work, so stop beating up on yourself; you'll turn it into a self-fulfilling prophesy. Pediatrician Mary E. Brown of the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center agrees with me. She also doubts that this indicates any developmental delay, since you describe your baby as engaged in reciprocal behavior. More on that below.

So how to explain the lack of affection? Here are some possibilities:

Your expectations are unrealistic. "All babies are different, including babies in the same family," said Brown. Don't compare her to other babies you know.

It's her temperament. Some kids are not that cuddly by nature, including because they might be highly sensitive to touch, to textures, even to smells. Do you wear perfume or something else with a fragrance? Eliminate it for a while and see what happens. Some kids just need space -- literal space between them and the next person. These behaviors can point to developmental issues but they can also be nothing more than personal tendencies.

It's developmental. Brown said that as babies get more mobile and learn to self-soothe, they often get more independent, which can translate to a tendency not to need as much affection. "This could be normal developmental behavior that will change again at another stage," she said.

Her advice is to talk to your pediatrician to be sure she's on target for developmental milestones. At a 9-month well-baby exam, for instance, Brown would be looking for signs of what pediatricians call "joint attention:" "I'm paying attention to this and I want to make sure you are, too." What you describe as laughing together involves eye contact and sharing pleasure. That's reciprocity is exactly what she looks for.

Perhaps most importantly, don't take any of this personally, hard as that might be. "This is not a deliberate rejection," said Brown.

Part of our job as parents is learning how to feed into our children's strengths. "Even if she is not showing affection in the ways you expect and hope, don't stop from making overtures," said Brown. "Accept that it’s ok if your affection isn't returned. Learn to be respectful of what she can give. Look for her cues as to when to back off."