Contrary to popular myth, it’s impossible for parents to hold or respond to a baby too much, child development experts say. Infants need constant attention to give them the foundation to grow emotionally, physically and intellectually. “A challenge of the newborn is getting to know that the world is somehow reliable and trustworthy, that his or her basic needs will be met,” says J. Kevin Nugent, director of the Brazelton Institute at Children’s Hospital in Boston and a child psychologist. Responding to baby’s cues “isn’t a matter of spoiling,” he says. “It’s a matter of meeting the child’s needs.”
Myth No. 1: Let Her Cry a Little
The typical infant will cry about three hours a day in the first three months, more if she has colic. When your baby cries, it isn’t because she’s trying to manipulate you. She hasn’t learned how to do that yet. She’s crying because she’s hungry, tired, lonely or plain uncomfortable, and that’s her only way of letting you know.
“A spoiled child is one that’s manipulative, but babies don’t learn until they’re about 9 months that they can cry to get you to do something for them,” says Dr. Barbara Howard, assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
By paying attention to a baby’s cries, parents aren’t just responding to the child’s physical needs. “Babies learn a sense of security, comfort, nurturing and warmth,” which in turn gives them the confidence to explore and learn, says Dr. Deborah Campbell, director of neonatology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. In fact, studies show that babies who develop that sense of security from their caregivers in the first year will be more independent, self-confident and happier later.
When your baby cries, check first to see if she may be hungry, have a wet diaper, or other issue. If all checks out, try some of these calming techniques: rock him in a rocking chair or hold him and sway from side to side; gently stroke her head or pat her back or chest; swaddle him in a receiving blanket; sing or talk to her in a soothing voice; or play soft music.
Myth No. 2: You’re Holding Him Too Much
With a technique called kangaroo care, neonatologists have found that holding a preterm baby closely as much as possible offers many benefits. Not only does the parent’s body temperature keep baby warm, but the closeness reduces crying, helps regulate breathing and heartrate, improves weight gain and results in a better rate of growth.
Myth No. 3: Schedules, the Earlier the Better
For at least the first three months of an infant’s life, pediatricians say parents should throw out their expectations about schedules or routines. Some infants are needier than others, but part of a new parent’s job is learning their baby’s needs, personality and temperament.
Feeding on demand is imperative. Babies, even premature infants, will typically eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’ve had enough.
One area where it does make sense to help the baby develop a pattern is with night and naptime sleep patterns, but only after age 3 months, when babies typically don’t need a night feeding anymore. Putting them down to sleep at a regular time helps infants set their internal clocks and teaches them a sense of order.
Overall, the bottom line is that babies can only benefit from all the love and nurturing their parents can muster.