You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. We’ve all heard it.
The horrible myth that begs the question, “Will I spoil my baby if I carry her too much?”
Here’s the answer:
NO! You will not spoil your baby! It is not possible to spoil a baby in the first year of life.
Myth: Picking up baby/responding to their cries immediately makes them clingy and dependent.
Truth: The above is a pernicious, unscientific, non-evidence-based opinion that grew in popularity in the 1920’s and just won’t go away. Here are the facts…
Fact #1: Responding to baby’s cries = more self-confidence (and less crying)!
Research shows that:
a) Crying is your baby’s way of communicating with you that she needs something, so
b) consistently and positively responding to her needs (her cries) shows her that you are reliable, safe, and trustworthy; and
c) “Such positive parental response helps children feel emotionally secure, tolerate separation from their parents when they are older, and learn to trust themselves. It builds their confidence, assures children that parents and other caregivers will be there for them during times of need, and eventually helps infants learn how to soothe themselves, resulting in less crying and fussiness.” (source) As their confidence, and their secure attachment to you, grows they become more self-sufficient, independent human beings.
Did you catch that? Responding consistently and positively (read: lovingly) to your baby’s cries results in a baby who cries and fusses less, trusts herself more, and grows into an independent adult!
Fact #2: Babies calm down in their mother’s (or primary caregiver’s) arms!
In a study by the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, babies “automatically and deeply relax when they are carried.” (source) A more relaxed baby means a less stressed baby, and we all know what prolonged stress can mean for infants – it slows, and can even stop, brain development and physical growth!
(If you didn’t know that, please read this quick post – “Effects of Stress on Brain Development.”)
Fact #3: Love grows brains!
In early 2015 National Geographic published an article entitled “The First Year: A baby’s brain needs love to develop. What happens in the first year is profound.”
Citing research that began in the 1980’s, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee writes:
“The researchers found that children who received more attention and nurturing at home tended to have higher IQs. Children who were more cognitively stimulated performed better on language tasks, and those nurtured more warmly did better on memory tasks.” (source)
So…if your instincts are telling you to pick up your baby when she cries, go for it! Hug her! Soothe her! Rock and dance away! And by doing so, you’re building that little, amazing brain of hers and creating a lifelong foundation of safety, security, emotional resilience, and self-reliance.
BUT, before you take this post to mean that you should hold her and carry her ALL THE TIME, that’s not necessarily the case. In my experience as a baby wearing, highly responsive mom, babies like to move and they learn a lot by moving. We certainly don’t want to take that experience away from Baby!
Instead, just tune into your child! The key is responsiveness. If she’s crying, reaching for you, or clinging to you feel free to give her all the love and support she needs. Don’t worry – you’re not spoiling her!
When she shows you she’s ready to be put down, to play on her own, or to focus on something other than you … let her! Those signs of her independence are signs she feels safe enough to do so because she knows she can rely on you. That means you’re doing something right!