Crying babies are designed to pull at our heart strings. When you have a new baby, the best thing is to respond immediately or as soon as possible when your baby cries.
This page gives my advice for dealing with a crying infant in the first few months of life.
Many parents ask if they should pick up their crying baby, concerned that they will spoil the baby if they do. My simple answer is "Yes, pick up and attend to your baby if he is crying".
Picking up and attending to your baby when he is crying won't spoil him. For the first few months, you are getting to know your baby and he is getting used to being in the world. By being responsive to his crying, you are letting your baby know that he is loved and cared for and that will give him security.
If you consider other mammals, the babies stand within minutes of birth and walk shortly afterwards. The human baby can't walk until he is 12 months old or so. That suggests, from an evolutionary point of view, that babies are supposed to be carried. Certainly, in developing cultures, babies are carried by their mothers, in slings or other baby-carriers.
In our developed world, we don't carry babies routinely, so imagine what a shock it is for your baby when he realises that he is alone and unattached in a big strange world. He will cry. Picking up a crying baby will reassure him that he is safe.
Babies learn behaviors and by picking your baby up when he cries, he will learn that he is loved and secure and that there is someone always looking out for him. Read about carrying your baby in a sling (called babywearing).
Of course, babies cry to communicate - so you need to check your baby isn't hungry or wet or dirty or hot or cold. All the usual things. All babies cry and particularly over the first few weeks to months. To read more about basic strategies for crying, click here (opens in a new page).
Some babies have excessive crying and this is referred to as infantile colic. The most important strategy for managing colic in your baby is to maintain a calm and responsive manner with him - so, if all else is well,(ie. he has been fed and burped and has a clean nappy/diaper), a reassuring voice and gentle rocking will often settle your baby. To read more on colic click here.
Sometimes babies are so tired, they need to be put to bed to fall asleep even when crying. You may have to do this occasionally with your baby, but only after you're sure that he is dry and comfortable and is not hungry and doesn't have wind. So, only after you've attended to his needs.
Parents sometimes worry that their baby will learn "bad habits" if they are picked up when they are crying. Babies are creatures of habit but they learn the patterns of behaviour (habits) that their parents teach them. If you want your baby to go back to sleep quickly at night after a feed, teach him from an early age that night-time is different from day-time and so you expect different behaviour at night-time.
You have to act differently for your baby to learn this - you need to keep the lights low, have limited talking and no playing with your baby at the night feed. This will teach him what you expect. This will develop "good habits".
So, back to the original question - "Will I Spoil My Baby By Picking Him Up When He's Crying". It is important for your baby to learn that he is loved and secure - that is why picking him up when he is distressed and attending to his needs is essential over the first few months until you get to know each other.
Spoiling a baby means teaching him "bad" habits and you can prevent this by teaching your baby "good" habits. For example, getting your baby into "good" behaviour patterns regarding night-time feeding is possible from a very early age - it is up to you.
Enjoy your new baby and don't leave him to cry. Attend to your crying baby when he needs you.
After 6 months of age, you will know your baby better and he will have learned that you love him and are there when he needs you. If your baby still wakes and cries at night, the crying may have become a habit. You can alter this by using the controlled crying technique.
Last reviewed 8 June 2011
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