There seems to be a myth about that says babies can be spoilt. Parents are deadly afraid that if they give their baby all of the attention that they ‘demand,’ the baby will increase these demands. They foresee a spoilt newborn becoming a spoilt toddler, the spoilt toddler developing into a spoilt child and then quake in fear at the thought of the teenager they believe will evolve from all of this ‘spoiling!’
So what does spoiling a child mean? I think we mean giving a child too much of what they ask for with too few limits on their behaviour and expectations. So what is it that babies are asking for too much of? They are asking for physical closeness and contact with their primary carer, for milk and for warmth, comfort, sleep and physical proximity to the provider of these things.
Something I know now, as the mum of three children, that I didn’t know as the brand-new, shiny out of the box first time mum, is that the intense demands of early babyhood pass. There were times with baby number one that I wondered what I had signed up for and if I could possibly give all that was asked of me. After all, parents have to go to the toilet from time to time. They prepare meals, run the household and care for older children. The logistics of how you will manage jugging baby care with the needs of your family and wider life is something you will work out based on the time, resources and help you have. Remember that you do not have to be a perfect parent. Be good enough and do the best you can. Accept help that is offered and ask for support when you need it. This intense period that can be so exhausting will pass.
I just want you to know that it is not possible to spoil a small baby. You are just giving them time, love, care and attention. If your baby is raised having their main needs met, in a timely fashion and consistently, then they will develop into a balanced child who feels safe and able to move towards independence.
The more time, love, care and attention your baby receives, the better. If they do not get enough of these things, they will go into survival mode. They will feel unsafe and their body will produce stress hormones and cause them to demand even more. If a baby is raised with the anxiety and fear of not having their need for love, food and comfort met, then they may grow to be more dependent on you and more anxious. What you are able to give to your baby now will become the foundation of later emotional health and wellbeing.
And now a word to the parent who is not the primary carer, whether you are the mum or the dad: your baby loves you and is familiar with you. As they grow, your baby will develop a special bond with you as their parent. In these early days of your baby’s life, however, it is likely that your baby will show a marked preference for their primary carer. When they are tired, ill or distressed, they will seek physical proximity and comfort from them, not you. This is because at the primal level of our physical self, the baby has learnt to attune their body to the body of their main carer. By being close to this parent’s heartbeat, breathing rhythms, smell and sound, the baby feels safe. As they grow and have less need of this primal level of physical comfort and familiarity, they will bond and attach more deeply to you too. Be patient and keep any jealousy at bay. This is just your baby doing what babies have done since the dawn of humanity: demanding what they need to give them the best chance of survival.
But remember this: you cannot spoil a baby. Pour all the love you can into raising them.