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. You won’t create bad habits by responding to your baby’s needs.
Very young babies can’t consciously connect cause and effect. They don’t think to themselves, ‘I’m going to cry until I get what I want!’
If your baby is crying or fussing, it might be because she’s cold or hungry, has a dirty nappy, or is in pain. Or she might just want to know you’re nearby. 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.
Balancing routines and flexibility
You might worry that if you cuddle your newborn when he won’t settle, he won’t get into a sleeping routine.
But the most important thing in the early months is to help your baby develop secure attachment by calmly and consistently responding to her needs. Routines can come later.
Most newborns don’t have definite day and night sleep patterns anyway. This means it isn’t realistic to expect your newborn to follow a strict routine.
Some parents find a simple, flexible feed, play, sleep routine seems to help their babies and give them a sense of control. Others find that it helps to aim for flexibility rather than routine, especially in the first few months.
Baby sleep: what to expect
If you’re worried about spoiling your baby by giving her too much attention – especially if she 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. 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 he 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. They learn to do most of their feeds during the day and have fewer 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’s so important to your baby’s development.