The short answer is “no”! Even though this has long been a worry for new parents, the current science reassures us that there is no way to spoil baby. Babies who receive warm, sensitive, and responsive care from their parents get a much better start in life.
You may have been told it’s wrong to give “too much attention” to a crying baby. You are not the first parent to receive this advice! In 1894, a popular guide to parenting instructed its readers that “Babies under six months should never be played with: and the less of it at anytime the better for the infant.” But, as the science of attachment and child development has advanced, this myth has been totally de-bunked.
To the contrary, the more a child can rely on the emotional and physical availability of caregivers, the more independent they become in the long run. A child who knows their parent ‘has their back’ is unburdened to explore their world with full curiosity, tenacity and zeal. Exploration and play support children’s emotional, physical, social, and cognitive development.
On a physiological level, separation from a primary caregiver triggers a stress response in the baby’s nervous system.
This stress response occurs not only in situations of physical separation. When a caregiver is close by physically, but their attention is elsewhere (e.g. staring at a screen), a baby’s stress hormones will naturally spike. Babies can withstand some separation, but pro-longed exposure to stress without recovery is toxic to a growing body and brain.
When distressed or uncomfortable, crying is a baby’s way of reconnecting with a safe adult who can attend to their needs. These needs may be physical (e.g. hunger, tiredness) or emotional (e.g. the need for safety, security, comfort).
Beyond having immediate needs met, a baby needs consistency in knowing their needs will be met in the future.
That’s why the current advice is to respond to your crying baby as much and as often as you can.
Infant Mental Health Awareness Week runs every June to highlight the importance of babies’ emotional wellbeing and development. Find out more at aaimh.org.au.
Article Written + Submitted by
Monica Purcell | Family Facilitator