Crying Baby: Will Picking Her Up Spoil Her?

by Maud Meates-Dennis

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 crying baby".

Picking up and attending to your crying baby won't spoil her/him. For the first few months, you are getting to know your baby and they are getting used to being in the world. By being responsive to her/his crying, you are letting your baby know that she/he is loved and cared for and that will give her/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 she/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, but imagine what a shock it is for your baby when she/he realizes that she/he is alone and unattached in a big strange world. She/he will cry. Picking her/him up will reassure her/him that she/he is safe. Babies learn behaviors and by picking your baby up when she/he cries, she/he will learn that she/he is loved and secure and that there is someone always looking out for her/him.

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. 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 her/him -- so, if all else is well,(ie. she/he has been fed and burped and has a clean nappy/diaper), a reassuring voice and gentle rocking will often settle your baby.

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 she/he is dry and comfortable and is not hungry and doesn't have wind. So, only after you've attended to her/his needs.

Parents sometimes worry that their baby will learn "bad habits." Babies are creatures of habit but they learn the patterns of behavior (habits) that their parents teach them. If you want your baby to go back to sleep quickly at night after a feed, teach her/him from an early age that night-time is different from day-time and so you expect different behavior 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 her/him what you expect. This will develop "good habits."

So, back to the original question -- "Will I Spoil My Baby By Picking Her Up When She's Crying?" It is important for your baby to learn that she/he is loved and secure -- that is why picking her/him up when she/he is distressed and attending to her/his needs is essential over the first few months until you get to know each other. Spoiling a baby means teaching her/him "bad" habits and you can prevent this by teaching your baby "good" habits. For example, getting your baby into "good" behavior 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 her/him to cry.

Dr. Maud is a pediatrician who provides easy-to-understand up-to-date health information and practical medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers on her website.

Copyright © Maud Meates-Dennis. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.