By Raising Children Network
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baby paying attention
You can’t spoil a young baby. If your newborn is crying, it’s because he needs your help. If you respond calmly and consistently, it helps your baby learn that the world is a safe and predictable place.

Can you spoil a baby?

The answer to this question is ‘No!

Babies do need lots of attention, and you might worry – or other people might tell you – that if you ‘give in’ too often or give too much attention, it will ‘spoil’ your baby.

But this won’t happen. Very young babies don’t have the thinking capacity to understand cause and effect. They can’t think to themselves, ‘I’m going to cry until I get what I want!’

If your baby is crying or fussing, it’s because this is the only way she can tell you that something isn’t right. She might be cold, hungry, have a dirty nappy or be in pain. Ignoring your baby when she’s fussing won’t teach her to sort it out for herself, because she can’t do that yet.

Why it’s important to respond to your baby

Your baby depends on you completely to give him what he needs to grow and develop.

If you calmly and consistently respond to your baby’s calls for attention by sorting out what she needs or just by being with her, your baby quickly learns to trust that you’ll fulfil her needs. And this helps her become secure and confident over time.

This is good for baby and good for you.

Babies who have consistent and nurturing relationships early in life quickly develop secure attachment to their caregivers. These babies cope better with stress as preschoolers. They also tend to get along better with other children. And they’re more likely to be physically and emotionally healthier as adults.

Responding to your baby is also good for you, because it helps you feel like you’re doing a good job as a parent. Listening to your baby cry and not responding can be very stressful.

Instead of asking ‘Can you spoil a baby?’, why not ask ‘How do I help my baby develop secure attachment?’ This can help you know how to respond when your baby needs attention.

Balancing routines and flexibility

In the early months, it can help to aim for flexibility rather than routine.

Very young babies usually do cry a lot and need feeding a lot. Sometimes they sleep a lot – and sometimes they don’t. Often they don’t sleep when you want them to.

The most important thing in these months is to help your baby develop secure attachment by calmly and consistently responding to his needs. Routines can come later.

At 6-12 months, your baby starts to understand cause and effect and begins to have some control over her behaviour. This is a good time to start setting gentle limits to form the basis of teaching your child positive behaviour in the future.

Baby sleep: what to expect

If you’re worried about spoiling your baby by giving him too much attention – especially if he won’t settle – it can help to know what to expect from newborn baby sleep.

Although newborns sleep, on average, 16 out of every 24 hours, your baby might do this in short naps. In fact, newborns don’t really start figuring out the difference between day and night for several weeks.

Flexibility is the key when it comes to sleep routines for newborns. During the first few weeks, while you and your baby are getting to know each other, you can introduce settling techniques that set the stage for teaching your baby to sleep for longer periods.

Baby feeds: what to expect

If you feel that your young baby is crying to be fed all the time, you’re probably right! In the early days, babies typically need to feed every 2-4 hours. Responding and giving your baby what she needs is key.

It might help to know that most babies establish a manageable pattern of demand feeding over the first few weeks of life, and learn to do most of their feeds during the day, and less at night.

A calm and happy feeding time is a great opportunity for you to bond with your baby and build the warm and trusting relationship that is so important to your baby’s development.

Video Bonding with your baby

There’s no need to worry that you’ll spoil your baby if you cuddle him when he cries. In fact, by responding to his needs with comfort and love, you’re helping the bonding process along.

In this short video, you can hear other mums and dads talk about their experiences of bonding with their babies. They describe joy – and also the experience of not feeling an instant attachment to their child. These parents discuss how they formed that bond later.

  • Last updated or reviewed 18-09-2015
  • Acknowledgements This article was written in collaboration with Gehan Roberts, Centre for Community Child Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.