Is it Possible to Spoil a Baby?

Parents have been lavishing lots of attention on me with questions about whether or not they are spoiling their babies with the attention they give to them. Well, I don’t want this topic to spoil so let me quickly provide some information for those parents who worry about spoiling their infants.

The good news is that contrary to what you may have heard, you cannot spoil a baby.  In fact, babies who consistently receive a quick response to distress - especially during the first 6 to 8 months - actually cry less than babies who have been left to cry by parents who fear always picking them up might spoil them. In addition, many newborns left to cry before being offered breast milk will have a more disorganized suck and greater difficulty latching on correctly. It has also been found that toddlers who got a quick response to their cries as babies become independent more quickly than children who did not.

Why is responding immediately to a baby such a good thing? It allows baby to develop a strong trust in others and in one’s self and with it a basic sense of security about the world. They can then begin to explore that world knowing that they can get the help and comfort they need when they need it.

By responding I don’t mean big responses like always feeding your baby or taking them to bed with you when they cry. Lavishing your infant or toddler with gifts or meeting their every request are also not what we’re talking about. (and that goes for grandparents, too).

The goal is to provide for them what they need, not necessarily what you think they want. Simple things like speaking softly, moving close to your baby, touching them or wrapping them snuggly in a blanket will often be enough to settle them down and replace that need to always respond by feeding or carrying your baby around with you.                                                                              

Most importantly, remember that your baby is not crying to be manipulative. They are really asking for something - be it a feed, diaper change or acknowledgement of being lonely.  Just as you like to be listened to when you talk, so does your baby when he or she cries.

Hopefully, tips like this will not spoil any of the fun you should be having spoiling your newborn baby.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids