The short answer is, no, you can’t spoil a baby, and most definitely not a newborn. Healthy socio-emotional development begins with secure attachment with caregivers, which is underpinned by the responsiveness in which these caregivers, often parents, meet the needs of the baby. Physical contact is one of the most basic needs of a young baby and meeting this need by holding the baby provides her with a sense of security that is necessary for her to explore her surroundings. Such babies are more likely to develop into well-adjusted teens and young adults.
What about the times when your baby ‘makes’ you pace up and down the room and ‘refuses’ to let you sit down? Your baby is visibly tired, had just drifted off to sleep in your arms but you know, from experience, that he is not ready to be put down into the cot unless you want to do this all over again. The chair in the corner of the room beckons and your tired legs instinctively carry you over. Holding your breath, you lower your bum to the seat but before you can even feel the seat, your baby starts to stir and even cry. You stand right back up and like magic, your baby stops and settles back comfortably. This happens sometimes when he’s awake and you figured that he just wants you to move around with him so he can see what’s going on around him, but why on earth does he need you to be moving around when his eyes are closed anyway? And how on earth does he know?!
In a study conducted in 2013, Gianluca Esposito, Sachine Yoshida and their associates observed babies aged one to six months and compared their behaviour and physiological responses while being held by their mother when she was sitting in a chair (what they term as ‘holding’) and when she was walking continuously (‘carrying’). They found that babies stayed the most still and had the lowest heart rate when their mothers were walking continuously. In fact, when the mothers cycled between sitting in a chair and walking continuously around a room, the babies’ voluntary movement and heart rate dropped rapidly once their mothers stood up and started walking and stayed low for as long as the mothers continued walking. However, these measures increased sharply the moment the mothers sat down in the chair. Esposito, Yoshida and their associates concluded that babies are physiologically wired to prefer carrying during the first six months of their lives – carrying simply makes them calmer.
(Read the entire research article and watch the study video here)
So there you go, carrying (not holding!) is a natural way in which your baby is calmed, so much as it seems like she is deliberately torturing you, it is very much just a knee-jerk reaction on her part. Crying babies can be very frustrating to sleep-deprived and physically exhausted parents, especially when the only way to stop the crying is to wear yourself out even further by carrying them and pacing the room. We have been there (countless times) and so have many of our friends. Knowing and understanding how nature plays a role in this helps to set things in perspective and helps us respond in the most loving and supportive way. Most of all, we know that this is not permanent! It is something that babies outgrow in no time – you will know they have outgrown it when they continue to fuss for no apparent reason even while you are carrying them and walking around. Different challenges await us then! 😉
For now, go ahead and carry that little bundle of yours all you want and need to!
(Check out our tongue-in-cheek interpretation of this phenomenon in our 0-6 month developmental milestone romper in strawberry pink and ceramic – a little humour to distract you from the physical exhaustion!)