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Written by Caroline Meyer

Everyone who has had a baby has heard it from someone at some time. Don’t do that, you will spoil your baby. This is often in response to picking up a crying baby or feeding a baby on demand.  The truth of the matter is, it is impossible to spoil a child with too much attention. Research shows that babies need constant attention. This helps them grow intellectually, physically and emotionally. Meeting your child’s needs by responding to their cries is not spoiling.  

Babies have basic needs 

Infants have limited ways to let you know their requirements. They will cry when they need to be fed, when they need to be changed, when they need to be comforted or when they experience discomfort. Your instinct is to see to your baby’s needs and this is exactly what you need to do. You have to figure out why your baby is crying and respond as best as you can. Meeting your little one’s needs will actually help them become more confident and secure which will help them in the long run. Babies that establish that they can trust and rely on their parents are actually able to self-soothe sooner than those that are neglected. 

Babies cannot manipulate you 

Infants are not that complicated at this point in their lives. They have basic wants and needs and don’t know how to use tears to manipulate you into giving more attention. When you respond to your little ones cries, you reinforce in their minds that they are safe and that they can rely on you. Taking care of your baby’s needs will only build a stronger bond with mom and dad. Sometimes you might not be able to respond right away and that’s okay too as long as it isn’t habitual. Respond as quickly as you can so your baby knows you love him or her. A baby with a strong parental bond tends to be less clingy and more independent as they get older as they know their parents are there for them. 

Older babies start developing wants 

Before the age of 6 months, most of baby’s demands will be for the basics and their cries are to alert you to these needs. When they get past 6 months, they start developing wants. This is when you can start setting limits and begin the basics of discipline. You don’t have to let baby pull your hair and chew on the remote to stop them crying. You can still make them feel loved without giving in to their demands for things they shouldn’t do or have. 

Nurturing myths 

Myth #1 – Leave your baby to cry: Babies will cry for about 3 hours a day for the first 3 months. This can increase dramatically in a colicky baby. This is usually because baby is hungry, lonely, uncomfortable or tired. They have no other way of letting you know. Attending to baby as soon as possible will actually reduce the amount of crying and makes for a happier baby. If you are unsure what is causing the tears, start with checking if baby needs to be changed or is hungry or maybe running a temperature or showing other signs of illness. After this, you can try strategies such as rocking or swaying baby while stroking the head or patting the back. You can try swaddling in a blanket, singing, playing soft music or talking is a gentle, soothing voice. Try walking with baby in your arms or in a stroller. Place baby next to a vibrating appliance such as a washing machine or tumble drier. The sound of a fan can also be soothing. Rub baby’s back with the chest pressed against your shoulder to relieve trapped air (burping baby). Some babies also soothe well in a warm bath or on a car ride if all else fails. If nothing you do works, you can also consult a professional to assist with soothing techniques or have a doctor check baby for medical conditions. 

Myth #2 – Don’t pick baby up too much: Research has shown that the opposite is true. Baby responds to your body heat nearness with regulated heart rate and breathing, reduced crying, better growth and overall weight gain, especially in premature babies. So if you want to carry your baby around in a sling while you work, go ahead, it can only be good for the little one. Breastfeeding is also easier when baby is in a sling as you can feed baby and still continue with what you are doing. Mom and Dad can both carry baby around to allow both parents to bond with baby. Babies that are carried around are also more curious and learn faster than a baby that is stuck in a seat or playpen for hours. Talking to baby while you carry him or her around will also lay a foundation for developing language, both receptive and expressive. You do need to give baby some floor time as well though to improve general motor skills. If they are secure in knowing their parents are there when they need them, they usually feel a lot more comfortable during floor time as well. 

Myth 3 – Start a schedule early on: For the first 3 months, don’t bother to try and establish a fixed routine. Babies are not all the same and some will be a lot more demanding of your time than others. You need to react to the babies temperament and needs at this point in time. Baby will thrive on being attended to as needed and not being forced into a regimented schedule. Feed on demand, especially for premature babies. Breastfed babies will eat more often than formula-fed infants. After the age of 3 months, you can start looking at a schedule for nap and sleep times based on the patterns you would have started to recognize at this point. Your baby can only benefit from being allowed to eat and sleep as needed when they are tiny.  A happy baby develops empathy and a bond with other people which leads to more balanced children later on in life. 

So the bottom line is, no, you can’t spoil baby by giving him or her what they need when they need it. Listen to your instincts and respond to your little one as best as you can. They will reap the benefits and you will will end up with a happier, more balanced child in the long run. 

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