Can You Spoil Your Baby?

A mama weighs in on the old-age debate.

Like the best of us, you swore you would never jump at your baby’s every cry or carry your baby around for hours to avoid waking her up. You’d definitely never pass up those dinner plans because the last time you tried to bring her out to dinner she freaked out. Sound familiar?

There’s no doubt that becoming a parent means putting your child’s needs before yours. But sometimes it raises the question…can I spoil my baby? Can I hold her too much? Will she get used to me rocking her to sleep and never go to sleep on her own?

The short answer is, for the first few months, no!

My first daughter was a pretty easy baby (I know this now after having two more not-so-easy babies), but she still had her little quirks that I needed to tend to. She had bad acid reflux and vomited whenever we laid her flat, so I had to hold or prop her up. Then there was my second daughter, who spent two straight months in a sling pressed up against my body and wouldn’t sleep in anything but a moving swing. And my son, who lived for nine months in a bouncy chair at the foot of my desk while I worked. I bounced it with my foot for several hours per day through naps.

Two of my kids had binkies, blankies or both. I remember asking our pediatrician if any of these rituals would become habits. She quickly said no, asserting that the first three months are all about survival — to just do whatever the baby needs in order to get her to sleep. After about three or four months, she said, that’s when you start to implement the kind of structure your family desires. And it turned out, she was right. None of those things I was worried about lasted more than a few weeks, or a few months at most.

Don’t just take it from me. Take it from Dr. David Mrazek, chairman of psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic. He says, “During the first six months, it’s really impossible to spoil a child. Meeting an infant’s need to be comforted, held, and fed in a predictable fashion helps him feel secure and builds a loving relationship between parent and child. It does not lead to spoiling.” It’s not until around six months of age that the possibility of spoiling even presents itself, he says. At that point, you can start to form the kind of life you want with your child.

Of course, there will always be a child who’s harder to break from one thing or another, but most of those quirks that persist through newborn-hood or toddlerhood live on forever. Sure, your toddler may climb into your bed every night for two years, but you know what? He’ll stop eventually. Even if it takes longer to potty train one of your kids, he or she will grow out of them eventually. And the same goes for binkies. After all, does anyone know of a college student who needs to suck on a pacifier or to be rocked to sleep at night?

The big-picture reminder is to chill out. As your child grows and changes, so will her needs. Now that I can look back at my own experience with three very different kids, I can tell you with confidence that even if you feel like rocking your little one to sleep for three or eight months seems like an eternity, it won’t be forever. And later on, it will just be one of those anecdotes you tell about your kid. And maybe, just maybe, that “spoiling” moment you worry about is what will help them conquer the next big transition more easily.

Andriana Spence

Andriana Spence

Andriana Spence is Co-Executive Director of Greeneprints Inc., a 501 (c)(3) that runs two children's programs, Camp Fort Greene and Tech Fort Greene. Follow her on Instagram.

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