Can you give your baby too much attention?

I had taken a family – mum dad and baby – to an antenatal class to demonstrate baby massage to the pregnant parents. As this gorgeous little three month old chuckled with glee, holding out her tiny leg for a massage, one of the expectant fathers asked, “does this mean she will be ‘high maintenance’ later on?”

 

Although I jokingly deflected his question, I realized a few comments later that there was already a fear among the group about creating bad habits and ‘spoiling’ babies by giving them too much attention. Sadly, I also meet many new parents who feel they need to justify their actions or seek approval because their babies need help to settle or love to be held lots. For many parents, it seems that this fear of ‘bad habits’ is clouding the joy of being with their babies.

 

There is a lot of pressure to have a ‘good baby’ – a baby who will self settle and sleep for hours or at least a baby who doesn’t demand attention. The truth is, there is no such person as a ‘good’ baby: babies are just like the rest of us with legitimate emotional needs as well as the more obvious physical needs to be clean and fed. Some little people are more sensitive and some are more social than others. Also, just like us, some days they need extra cuddles (as do their mothers on these high need days!).

 

When we consider the baby’s perspective and how profound the sensory changes are from womb to room, is it any wonder that a tiny helpless being with limited communication and cognitive skills needs to be held close against a comforting heartbeat and rocked to feel secure and calm? To expect anything less of a newborn would be as unreasonable as expecting a little baby to dress or feed herself – learning to settle without cuddles is a developmental process that can’t be hurried without a lot of angst for both baby and mum,  in many cases.

 

The good news is that your loving attention can make your baby smarter: neuroscientists and clinicians have documented that loving interactions that are sensitive to a child’s needs influence the way the brain grows and can increase the number of connections between nerve cells.  Other research shows that rather than becoming ‘high maintenance’, babies whose needs are responded to in the first six months of life are less demanding toddlers. Erik Erikson, a classic researcher of child development, labels the first year of an infant’s life “Trust vs. Mistrust,” and describes it as the development of the ego. This means that if the baby’s needs are met, he feels worthy and develops into a confident, independent person.

 

So, rather than letting guilt or concern that you may be creating ‘bad habits’ or extra work in the long run by giving your baby ‘too much’ attention, why not relax and enjoy every sweet cuddle and coo. There will be plenty of time later on to change any habit ‘gradually with love’ and, whether you want to stop rocking your baby to sleep or encourage him to amuse himself on the floor, transitions will be easier when your child is developmentally ready.  Meanwhile, ignore the critics who caution that you will spoil your little one as you consider the words of American paediatric nurse specialist Kittie Frantz who advises, “you’re not managing an inconvenience, you’re raising a human being.”

 

 Pinky’s books Sleeping Like a Baby, 100 Ways to Calm the Crying and Toddler Tactics encourage gentle parenting  – see these at her website www.pinkymckay.com.au

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9 Responses to “Can you give your baby too much attention?”

  1. starrbuckdaddy Says:

    I hope we can be good parents. Being as new father-to-be in the next week or so, I worry if I am going to spoil him/her or not…

  2. geriatricmama Says:

    AMEN!!! I so tire of hearing “bad habit” when it comes to ANY loving parenting practice – be it babywearing, co-sleeping, or not allowing baby to cry themselves pitifully to sleep in order to “train” them. Bless you for a great blog post! Spread the word!

  3. baby boy Says:

    The secret is balancing between all the thing, and that the hardest part.

  4. elscanners Says:

    Thanks for writing about this. My gorgeous high maintenance 11 month old girl has been all of the above. Since you visited us all thise months ago I don’t worry about cuddling her to settle etc. The hardest thing I find is dealing with other people with advice.
    Sometimes I think that Mums with older bubs have forgotten what it’s REALLY like and they seem to make the most inappropriate comments. My cousin said to me the other day that any baby over 6 months old should never be fed overnight, they have to learn about day and night. Normally we might have an argument about this but I decided to tell her to add 3 words to her statement, which are, IN MY OPINION.
    If I have to feed my baby at night now and then and it helps her be less stressed and we can all sleep better, what is the harm. I admit I did this a bit even after 6 months and the effects were not negative at all! It didn’t mean she woke the next night for a cuddle. I think babies need as much love and care as you can give them, after all they are JUST BABIES!

  5. Emily Says:

    I just love the quote “you’re not managing an inconvenience, you’re raising a human being.”. It is too true that many parents think that they need to get life back to the way it was before baby by implementing strict routines and self-settling strategies so that the baby does not interfere with their lives too much.

    Life will never be the same after you have a baby, and why would you want it to be?!

    I rocked my son to sleep until he was 4 months. I then realised that a) he was getting too heavy and b) it was effecting his sleeping too much as he kept waking every hour to be rocked back to sleep.

    Gradually (over a period of a month) I taught him to be patted to sleep, and then finally to self settle. I did this slowly and if he ever got distressed, I took a step backwards and ricked/patted/fed. We slowly did the same with re-settling and now (FINALLY) at 7 months he self settles and then last nioght slept until 2 am, had a feed and then back to sleep until 7 am. A lot better than hourly waking!

    As Pinky says, we did it ‘with love’. To do this we had to have patience, which I find a lot beter than allowing my baby boy to cry.

  6. Emma Says:

    After a decade or more focusing on career, where everything is outcome based or centred on achievements and goals, it’s a real challenge for a woman to go with the flow and allow a tiny newborn to set the pace.

    After three babies, I’m now learning how to answer the inevitable questions, “is he a good baby?” and “does he sleep well?”
    Instead of talking about how many hours the baby sleeps, how much crying, what method we use… I just say, “he’s perfect!” This is my job now – to love my baby. Plenty of time to teach habits and manners when they’re older.

  7. Steph Says:

    My 3rd babies sleep patterns are TERRIBLE!!! My 1st mostly slept all night, but was difficult to get to sleep and my 2nd woke regularly every 3 hours, but went straight back to sleep, #3 wakes different EVERY night!! BUT – I love it; this may be my last baby and I cherish every cuddle and feed. I am so busy during the day with work and school commitments and kindy commitments, night time is really the only time my nearly 1 yo gets with me. I choose to still have him in a cot next to me; we feed and sometimes he is happy to go back in the cot and sometimes he wants to sleep snuggled between Daddy and I and sometimes Daddy puts the bigger 2 into bed together and steals one of their beds and sometimes we have 5 in our bed. I am content and because I am content I am happy to tell everyone – I am sleep deprived, but I wouldn’t change it for anything because all too soon I will be missing those cuddles – and lets face it, between 1am and 5am are the only feeds where he doesn’t get distracted!!

    I have learnt that I am not “training bad habits”, look how different all 3 of my boys are!! and now I feel like I am not “teaching them wrongly”, but in fact responding to their CURRENT needs.

    Pinky – I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to actually embrace my babies patterns that differ from what I would ordinarily choose myself. I think maybe Oprah said something to the effect of “our children are not for us, rather here to teach us to be better people and it is our job to nuture them how THEY need”.

    If only everyone offered unconditional support for us to tune into our babies needs whilst balancing our own!!

  8. Sandy Says:

    I think people forget that babies are pets like a cat or dog, but a person…a human being with thoughts and feelings and needs and wants just like everyone else. I had always went against the grain with my son (my first) as it just didn’t seem right to not hold him when he cried or respond as quickly as I could. The say I saw it…if he cried…he needed me and it wasn’t right to deny him that.

    I told people that they had to remember that this world is new to them…if they were in a strange place, all alone, and didn’t know that the loud noise wouldn’t hurt them, or bright light could be dimmed, they would be terrified too and need whatever comfort they could get…even if it is faint memories of being warm and safe…

    So I always picked up my son when he cried, and even picked him up and held him when he didn’t. The few times I tried to let him “cry it out” It broke my heart and I gave up after a few minutes and decided that was not the way to go!

    He is now a happy 3.5 yr old and more than willing to do things on his own without my help.

    I now have a 1month old…and I treat her the same way as much as I can with a 3yr old in the house. If she cries, I hold her. If she just doesn’t seem happy, I hold her. If she is happy…I hold her. From day one (literally!!) her face would light up when she saw me. I recall the nurses in the hospital were amazed at that and the doctors kept telling me that it wasn’t possible as she was too young for that kind of reaction…whatever. It just served to prove to me that she really does need me…and she is grateful I am there to soothe her when she is scared, or lonely, or just plain grumpy.

    She is a little person, a human being with thoughts and feelings and wants and needs…and it is my job as her mother to make sure she gets what she needs.

    My greatest fear is not being able to be there when my children need me…no matter what their age. After all, it is my job.

  9. meg Says:

    Thankyou!!! So lovely to have an affirmation that we are on the right track.

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