What to Do With Your Crying Baby

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When you think about babies, do you imagine them squishy little bundles of joy or master manipulators intent on bending you to their will? We suspect most of you would choose “squishy joy bundle” because the second option reduces an infant to a tiny scheming sociopath, and no one wants to think of babies that way.

And yet this attitude, that babies are actively trying to swindle us into doing their bidding, finds its way into our collective conscience. An excellent example of this is the first myth we have the privilege to debunk, namely that picking up your crying baby will spoil them. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

We often encounter this myth when well-meaning but misguided friends and family members warn us, “Be careful, Momma, you’re going to spoil her if you feed her every time she cries!” Pay no attention to this unwarranted (and often unwanted) advice, and pay more attention to your little babe! The truth is that the benefits of attending to your baby’s needs far outweigh any imagined drawbacks.

Babies Cry Because They Need Something

If you were hungry, you’d likely head into the kitchen and make yourself a sandwich. But what if you couldn’t walk, talk, or open a mayonnaise jar? You might sit patiently for a bit, but inevitably your hunger pangs would get the best of you, and you’d scream your head off, desperately trying to get someone’s attention.

That’s what you’re crying baby is doing. They have zero knowledge of mayonnaise and can’t do anything at all to help themselves, so they blast your home with 130 decibels of sound. They’re hungry, and they need something to eat. Or maybe their diaper needs emptying, they’re scared and require soothing, or they just need some stimulation.

Whatever the reason, they’re trying to alert you to a pressing need. If you ignore them you aren’t teaching them a valuable lesson about self-sufficiency. You’re simply thwarting their ability to be happy and comfortable. Helping your baby enjoy their day isn’t spoiling them; it’s parenting.

What the Research Says About “Spoiling” a Crying Baby

Here’s the most important takeaway. Picking up your baby to fulfill its needs is only part of the equation. The physical touch involved in holding your baby is itself critical to your child’s optimal health and emotional development.

Research consistently shows that skin-to-skin contact pays dividends to your infant’s wellbeing, and the more often you can do it, the better. This practice, called kangaroo care after the way these hearty marsupials closely hold their babies in pouches, was developed in the 1970s in Bogota, Columbia by Dr. Nathalie Charpak.

She found that consistent, extended skin-to-skin contact dramatically helped preterm newborns thrive in an era when these fragile babies suffered a 70% mortality rate. Over time, doctors realized that kangaroo care was beneficial throughout infancy and beyond, and it has since become the standard of care in hospitals. Among other things, holding your child close to you:

  • Helps decrease crying frequency
  • Increases weight gain speed
  • Stabilizes baby’s heart rate
  • Supports healthy breastfeeding
  • Aids in sleep depth and length
  • Improves breathing patterns and oxygen levels
  • Deepens the bond between parent and child

Far from spoiling your child, picking them up when they’re crying or whenever the mood strikes you has substantial benefits. In fact, longitudinal research over the last 50 years demonstrates unequivocally that when parents are responsive to their child’s crying, it makes the child more independent, not less. The child develops trust that the caregiver will be there when needed. Over time this allows them the confidence to try things themselves, knowing that they have a dependable fallback option if needed.

Newborn babies are not manipulating you to comfort them — they simply need comforting. So, you know…do that! It’s impossible to hold, touch, or love your baby too much. Please, Momma, continue snuggling and picking up your little darling. It’s good for you and great for them!

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Dr. Eddie Valenzuela is an award winning pediatrician and the founder and CEO of Pediatric Solutions, LLC.

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