I am doing what I have done every night for the past seventeen days. I am sitting up with a baby snuggled up against my chest. She is sleeping, arms stretched up toward my neck. I can lean down and smell her hair or kiss her forehead. (Which I do. Frequently.) This should give you some idea of my answer, but I wanted to write a blog post to answer this common question: Can you spoil a baby?
Before I answer, a caveat. I’m totally okay if we don’t fully agree on this. I don’t dispense black and white parenting advice. I think we all have different experiences, different styles, and different babies. Consider these ideas, then do what works best for you and your family. 🙂
Can You Spoil a Baby?
What Babies Need
I remember the first time we came home with a baby. Sawyer was a few days old, but had spent the first three in the NICU, so that first day home was the first time we had been with him for all the hours of a day.
I was terrified.
I remember taking a walk with Rob and Sawyer and turning back four houses down because he started fussing a little and I was afraid he would cry. And then nights where I was awake, crying while he cried because I couldn’t figure out what to do to make him stop.
After a few months, I discovered baby wearing and got more confident in being a mom. We began co-sleeping, something I NEVER thought I’d do, but was a survival method for my constantly-nursing baby.
Sawyer was happiest when he was held. When he was snuggled next to our skin. All of the things that worked were the things that I thought I would never do before having a kid. I always thought those things would spoil a baby because I’d heard that so many times. You just let them cry it out, people would say. You don’t want to spoil your baby.
I found the opposite to be true. With Sawyer and with all my following babies, including the one in my arms as I type. Babies (and I mean INFANTS) don’t need much. They need to be fed, changed, and HELD.
Have you heard of the fourth trimester? This refers to the transition period from womb to world, usually lasting about three months. (Read this post for more info!) Babies are used to movement and sound, consistency, warmth, and being tightly snuggled into a small space. Until birth, when there is suddenly SOUND, LIGHT, NEW NOISES, and SO MUCH ROOM.
The theory of the fourth trimester is that babies do well with swaddling, holding, baby wearing, and sleep-sharing. All very high maintenance. All very hands-on. But these things are NOT spoiling. They are helping baby transition into the world.
The Difference Between Babies and Toddlers
So let’s talk about spoiling. The question isn’t can you spoil a baby, it’s can you spoil a child? The answer to that question is YES. So what’s the difference?
When babies desire to be held and comforted and picked up, they are not trying to get their own way. They NEED that comfort and the touch. The warmth of a body next to theirs.
As infants become toddlers, they still need comfort and love and touch. But they also begin to have more of a WILL. They shouldn’t always get their way. They should hear the word NO from you. Especially when it comes to tantrums in the grocery store over candy in the checkout aisle. Do you see the difference between picking up a crying baby and giving your child the thing they’re tantrum-ing over?
I want to be clear that there is a clear distinction between babies in those first months and toddlers and growing children. I wouldn’t say there is a hard and fast rule for when this changes, but I think often as parents, we can know our kids best. But do realize that if someone says your one-month-old is manipulating you, they’re wrong. Your one-month-old needs you.
When You Should Put the Baby Down
As with most things, there are some exceptions. Most of them don’t have to do with your baby, however, but YOU. The times when you need to put the baby down are when YOU need to put the baby down.
Let me explain.
We have been very blessed to have super easy babies. They cry when they are hungry or if something is really wrong. But generally speaking, they are pretty content. (Especially if they are being snuggled into your body, as Piper is right this very moment as I type.) But I have many friends with colicky babies or babies with who are a lot more high maintenance or just fussy. I have friends who have suffered with postpartum depression. There are times when, for the good of the mother (or father), YOU NEED TO PUT THAT BABY DOWN.
In the hospital a few weeks ago, the nurses made me watch some videos. I love that the hospital has videos to equip moms, but I felt a little irritated that they wanted me, a fifth-time mom, to watch one. So I chose a video on the Purple Crying Period, something new in the last eight years. (Read more about the purple crying period.)
A number of real parents (not actors) shared their experiences with fussy, crying babies. One woman told the story of how her husband shook their fussy baby to death. Another couple said they were completely not prepared for how angry they felt when their baby cried almost continuously for the first five months. The video gave this advice:
Sometimes you need to put the baby down in a safe place and walk away to regain your composure.
Whether you are in the extreme example of having a baby who cries nonstop for months or not, there will be times when you do need to put the baby down or hand the baby off to someone else and walk away. Take a breath. Get out of the house alone. Do something kind for yourself.
This isn’t about spoiling the baby, but it’s about protecting yourself. For now, I’m super happy holding a contented baby for most of the hours in a day. I know how fast this period passed with the first four and Piper will be our last baby. So I’m enjoying my happy, sleepy baby in my arms. I LOVE it. But there are times I need to take a little break. Even if it’s just for showering or running out for a quick latte by myself. It’s good for ME.
At some point also you will need to help your baby learn to sleep securely ALONE. Usually our babies stay in our room until they are a few months old at night. They nursed themselves to sleep and then would wake several times a night, so being nearby helped ME not go crazy getting up out of bed and walking around the house every few hours. This is great as we are adjusting to a new baby who eats frequently!
If you are like us and have the baby in your room or even do bed-sharing, there will come a point when you need to transition baby to be on her own. After transitioning our kids off breastfeeding, co-sleeping, pacifiers, and bottles—I can say that whatever the transition and no matter how hard you think it might be, you CAN do it. As far as the right time to transition? That’s up to YOU. And your baby.
So, what do YOU think? Have you asked the question “can you spoil a baby”? Or had people say that you shouldn’t pick up a crying baby because you’ll spoil him or her? I’d love hear your take in the comments!
Again, we won’t all agree. Civilized discussion. 🙂