Go ahead and pick up your baby as soon as she fusses. Research shows that it is impossible to spoil your baby. In fact, by picking up your baby and responding to her needs immediately, you are teaching her that she is loved and you are providing a secure attachment that will empower her for years to come.
Developing a secure bond and attachment with a parent or care-giver is one of the most important things babies do in their first year. This secure attachment provides a foundation for self-esteem and healthy social and emotional development. A secure attachment and sense of security cannot be established if a baby’s immediate needs are not met.
Simply by responding to your baby when she cries, you are teaching her trust. Trust is a critical element in establishing a strong foundation in a loving relationship. When a baby begins to cry and a loving care-giver does not arrive to provide security, the baby begins to lose that sense of trust because she doesn't know if her needs will be met. Babies who receive a quick and predictable response when they are upset begin to form positive expectations of their care-givers and feel more secure. As a result, babies and toddlers who are more secure are free to focus their energy on healthy development and exploration.
Babies are born with an innate connection to their mothers and all we have to do is foster that to welcome our babies into our world and make them feel safe.
Starting as early as 20 weeks gestation, babies are able to hear their mother’s voice resonating through the womb and studies show that babies demonstrate recognition of voice on the very day they are born. Newborn babies also recognize scent within a few days of birth. These sensory experiences naturally help babies bond with a care-giver who will keep them safe and secure. Your job as a parent is simply to demonstrate to your baby that you are here to do that.
Several studies over the years have measured how long it takes parents to respond to babies when they begin to cry, then they study the parents and children over time. Results of these studies continue to yield the same results. Babies who get a reliable, quick response from parents demonstrate higher independence, self-esteem, and competence later on.
Here are some strategies to instill a sense of trust in your baby:
When your baby begins to cry, respond within a few minutes.
Instead of putting your baby in a stroller, carry your baby in a sling or baby carrier so he is close to you.
Have your baby sleep in your bedroom with you in his own crib or bassinet so he is nearby and you can hear him when he wakes. Co-sleeping in the same bed is not recommended. Your baby should be in their own bed next to your bed. The recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that baby sleeps in parents’ room ideally for the first year, but at least the first six months.
If your baby needs a little special attention around the house, “wear” your baby in a sling or baby carrier while you do household chores. Check safety instructions and make sure your baby is strapped in correctly.
Take care of yourself first. Enlist help from a partner or friend of family member who can come over and hold the baby for a while so you can take a nap or get a break.
Use a baby monitor when your baby is napping so you can hear her begin to fuss when she wakes up.
Skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo care is a great way to bond with your baby and make her feel safe and secure. It is not just for premature babies. All babies can benefit from kangaroo care.
A 20-year-long follow-up study published in Pediatrics found that the results of kangaroo care and highly attentive parents are long lasting. Children who had highly attentive parents who also often participated in kangaroo care during the first few months tested with higher IQ at one year and twenty years later these families report lower levels of hyperactivity, aggressiveness, and social-deviant behavior in their older children and young adults.
Even as babies get closer to one year, it is important to respond to their needs to continue that relationship of trust. You may need to be a little bit more firm with bedtimes, naps and keeping to a schedule, but your baby’s sense of trust and security should come first.
Don’t ever worry about holding your baby too much, responding too quickly or not letting her “cry it out.” Even when relatives and friends tell you you are spoiling her. It is not true. You cannot spoil a baby by giving them too much love and attention. You are just making her stronger, smarter, braver, and more trusting.