Q. I am the mother of a 6-month-old girl. She still breastfeeds and wants to nurse herself to sleep at naps and bedtime.
She refuses a bottle from both her father and me but will drink from a spouted cup during mealtimes.
My husband has just begun his own business and works 12 to 14 hours a day, including Saturdays, so the baby hasn't had a chance to become close and trusting of him. She will let him hold her but as soon as I leave the room, she searches for me and begins to howl with fear.
I have never left her with a sitter and am terrified to do it although I long for an evening with my husband. I once hired a sitter but backed out at the last minute with an excuse of illness.
How can I get over this fear of leaving my baby with a sitter and how can a sitter get the baby to sleep if she refuses a bottle? I'm so afraid the baby will cry nonstop the entire time I'm gone or that she'll think I won't come back.
People keep telling me the longer I wait to leave her with a sitter, the harder it will be. I'm in a vicious circle -- afraid to leave her and then envious when other mothers enjoy their evenings out.
My parents and in-laws live too far away to sit for an evening and if the baby isn't even comfortable with her father (whom she sees for about a half-hour each day), how can she be comfortable with a sitter? Also, how can I enjoy an evening out without worrying about the baby every second I'm away?
A.Your anxiety has reached a high -- and unnecessary -- level because you're trying to control your child's every moment, as if you could protect her from the slightest discomfort. This is unhealthy for you, your child and the family itself.
It's also a bit presumptuous.
If you decide the baby can't be happy without you or can't go to sleep without you, then to some degree you're limiting her right to be her own person. She needs you to believe in her ability to get along, as young as she is. This is how you give a child respect.
You give it when you encourage her to build a relationship with her dad; to enjoy other people, including sitters and other babies; to entertain herself a little bit -- and to go to sleep on her own.
It shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks to change the patterns in your house, beginning with your own attitude.
If the baby really is afraid of your husband, it's probably because she knows you're hovering nearby and she senses your fear that she'll cry. And so she does, because she thinks there's something to cry about. There really isn't.
The relationship between your husband and your child is stronger than you think. Even though he only sees her a half-hour a day -- as much as many babies see their fathers -- she's heard his voice for months before she was born and could surely recognize him within the first few weeks after birth. She just needs time alone with him, so she can know him better.
Trust him. Give them time to play together. Let him bathe her or take her for a walk, even bundled up in the dark. The stars are magic to a child. No, he won't be as adept as you are, and she may cry more for him than she does for you, but she is his child, too, and he has the right to know her as well as time permits. They each will be the better for it.
She also needs to add others to her circle. This encourages a child to be more independent. Independence will not only help her grow physically, mentally and emotionally, but eventually it will help her develop a strong conscience. When people know they are responsible for their own actions, they act more responsibly.
Fearful parents, however, invite timidity with their overprotection, and this is against nature. Children are meant to look for adventure -- to chase after ideas -- so that one day they'll be daring enough to solve some of the problems their parents have bequeathed. This is how civilization improves itself.
All of this seems a long way off, but independence is necessary at 1 month and 3 months and 6 months and forever. You give it when you let your baby struggle to reach a toy -- even as she yells for it -- or fall asleep on her own.
Although you should continue to nurse her as often as you do now, stop before she gets drowsy and play with her for a few minutes instead, or give her a bath or a massage and then put her in her crib. If she fusses for five or 10 minutes, go to her, talk low, rub her back -- and let her be. You may have to do this several times the first few nights, but within a week or so your baby will know how to put herself to sleep.
As soon as she learns to be more self-reliant -- after about 2 or 3 weeks -- she'll be ready for a sitter, although you may not be. It isn't easy to let a child go.
In the beginning, just pay the sitter to visit a couple of times while you're at home so she and the baby can get used to each other, and then have her sit for one to two hours while you and your husband go out. A big evening out, right at the beginning, would be too stressful for you.
Your child may cry -- at least until you're out the door -- but she won't be scared because she'll know she can fall asleep without you.