Follow Us

Get the latest parenting news, advice, and resources.

Can You Spoil a Newborn Baby? Yes, But It’s Not How You Think

Can you spoil your baby? As a brand new mom, I was told I was holding my daughter too much and would likely spoil her. Find out what developmental psychology says on this topic. Spoiler alert, you can spoil your baby, it's just not the way you would think.

One of the first pieces of advice I got as a new mom was “not to spoil your baby.” Find out what research says CAN spoil your baby. It’s not what you think.

By today’s standards, Amanda was a young mom.

At twenty-three years old, she was sensitive to the fact that most of the moms around her were older and more experienced. When it came to her new baby, three-month-old Mila, she really wanted to do it right.

Every Thursday she would pack up the stroller and take a bus to the health unit. On the second floor was a brightly coloured room filled with Fisher-Price toys, blocks, and babies doing their best to roll around. Moms gathered to hear a public health nurse speak about different topics such as tummy time and the first foods to feed their baby.

She always arrived a little late and embarrassed.

The bus dropped her off with only minutes to spare. She was always slightly sweaty from pushing the stroller uphill from the bus stop. Anxious, she would press the elevator button several times begging it to come faster.

Upstairs, she was the last to park her stroller and go in. Her entrance always seemed to turn heads. Silently, she pled that the moms in the already-formed circle of chairs would let her in. Their babies were all on the padded flooring trying desperately to grab toys just out of reach. She would hold onto Mila.

She felt out of place amongst the other mothers who had established careers and long-standing marriages. They were coiffed, composed, and ready.

Despite the perceived judgment, Amanda went anyway.

After the talk, the moms would exchange stories. Every week was the same.

“Is she sleeping through the night yet?” they would ask.

Each week, Amanda would shake her head no.

“You’re holding her too much,” one mom suggested. “You can spoil your baby by doing that. She thinks she can rely on you instead of learning to self-soothe.”

This wasn’t the first time Amanda had heard this. Both of her aunts, her mother-in-law and her grandmother had warned her she was spoiling Mila.

In truth, she did hold her a lot during the day. Any time Mila so much as whined, Amanda scooped her up. Night time rolled around and Mila would wake as many as three times to nurse and, of course, be held. Because of this Mila never really cried.

Not wanting to fail her child, Amanda resolved to let her self-soothe more and hold her less.

Friday morning rolled around and Amanda didn’t respond to Mila’s whimpering or whining. When she started to scream, Amanda did her best to only hold Mila until she calmed down. Then she put her down the instant she stopped crying. This only devastated Mila further.

No matter what Amanda did, she felt like she was failing her newborn baby miserably. Leaving Mila to fend for herself simply felt wrong to Amanda. Yet all the experienced moms had stressed the importance of teaching the baby to self-soothe or risk spoiling them.

A baby girl crying

Can you spoil a newborn baby by holding her too much? Here is what science says…

When it comes to understanding if you can spoil your baby, attachment theory is the best way to get your answer. Based on this theory, how a parent or caregiver responds to their infant determines whether a child securely attaches or not. It is not about teaching a new baby “bad habits” or “spoiling” them, it is about responding to their basic needs.

A parent who ignores a baby’s need for comfort or basic nurturing can lead to an insecure form of attachment. Due to a lack of responsiveness from their parents, young children either become more difficult to console or are more emotionally ambivalent. So when we leave a baby to cry, he will likely become more stressed and cry harder. Or, he will stop crying and begin to suppress his needs, because he knows no one is coming to comfort him.

In contrast, securely attached children develop based on how reliable and consistent their caregivers are. These infants seek their parents when distressed and know they will be comforted. They grow up with a sense of security, knowing that they aren’t alone in life and that they can lean on others for help.

To read more about the different types of attachment including the different variations on insecure attachment, click here.

A woman holds her baby to comfort them.

So, you can spoil your baby; it’s just not the way you would think

Taking the immense amount of research on attachment theory into account, spoiling a baby is possible – just not in the way the old wives’ tale would have us believe. An infant or young child who comes to expect their parent for security – one that has been held, hugged, and soothed often – actually becomes more independent. These young children start to view their caregivers as a secure base. Because they know their parents will be there when they need them, these kids feel empowered to venture out into their environment and, eventually, the world.

Conversely, a parent who backs away from their child when their child needs them creates insecurity and uncertainty. These young children are reportedly less independent and competent. They often lack the confidence to take on new challenges, and they have more difficulty connecting with others.

And so, spoiling your baby is possible. And, it does become possible based on the frequency we respond to their cries and the amount we hold them. It’s just the reverse of what we’ve been told in the past.  Not holding and responding to our children is proven to do more harm than help, and those babies grow up lacking confidence and independence. But responding, holding and consoling our babies is, in fact, the best way to parent during this tender age.

Pediatricians weigh in on this important topic

The American Academy of Pediatrics explains that it is next to impossible to actually spoil a baby. In fact, they explain that “[t]he spoiled child syndrome is characterized by excessive self-centred and immature behavior, resulting from the failure of parents to enforce consistent, age-appropriate limits. Babies don’t develop those sorts of personality traits until much later in life, so the idea that holding your newborn baby will result in them being spoiled is completely untrue.”

Babies are not capable of manipulating or forming bad habits in the way that toddlers or older children can. Many parents get so stressed when they are trying to figure out how to get their baby to sleep through the night. Often the suggestion is that they begin sleep training, but this is considered to be a much-debated idea. Some parents feel that this is the only way for a baby to develop self-soothing capabilities. However, attachment theory argues that providing comfort and support when needed actually helps babies develop independence and resilience.

When your baby is crying due to discomfort, upset, teething, or one of the many growth spurts they endure, they aren’t trying to be manipulative. They are simply seeking comfort from their safe person/people – you. Babies aren’t concerned about good behavior or whether they should be self-soothing. They just want their basic needs to be met and as their parent, we need to help them feel safe and secure and loved.

Trust your instinct as a parent

My final thoughts on this important issue is that parents need to do what works best for them, regardless of all the well-meaning advice they receive. When your baby cries, trust your instinct and respond however you feel best to help them feel secure and loved. In these early days of a baby’s life, that is the most important thing. If you feel that it is better to hold your little one rather than letting them cry it out, don’t feel that you are going to create a spoiled child.

  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE! I can’t tell you how many times I have been told this…discovering attachment parenting was the one that that really helped me as a new mom, I finally felt justified in my decision to hold my children all the time, rock them to sleep, etc. Thank you for writing this <3

    1. I agree. I was told so many times I was spoiling my kids or to let them cry. It went against everything in me. As you know, I’m a huge fan of all things developmental psych!

  2. Wow. My husband and I practiced the CIO method at home with bedtime, but only to an extent. And we would never want someone else to do it with our kids. Those poor little ones! And now that mine are older that method isn’t really relevant (for us, anyway). R is going through an attachment phase with me and Bren so we’ve been trying different things, and hugs and cuddles are certainly a big part of it.

    1. My son was a terrible sleeper and I had controlled CIO recommended to help him learn to fall asleep and stay asleep. I was always near him, but I didn’t give in. With perfect strangers or when it’s a really young child, it’s a different story…

  3. Oh how I love this post. Let me count the ways..You are right on with this advice! Babies are meant to be loved and cuddled and close to you! Sing it sister! I wish I had read this earlier too!

  4. I think that if a child cries for as long as an hour that may point to another problem. Leaving your child to cry with relative strangers is different than letting them cry it out at home where they feel safe.

  5. This is wonderful. I listened to those same “advisors” with my first child and I wish I hadn’t. I’ve held my second much closer and couldn’t be more happy with my decision. She’s 14 months and still nursing and she loves her mama. I get all of the love I could ever want. This is very well written!

  6. Awwwwww poor babies!!! I was and I’m still bad about crying. I try to show tough love, but I always cave. Crying just breaks my heart! Thankfully the only time I really had to deal with this was when my daughter started her 2 yr old class and she easily adjusted after a few days.

    1. I tried the cry it out method on my 5 month old son but I just couldn’t do it cause his crying was breaking my heart and I just had to cuddle him.

      Babies need to be cuddled you can’t spoil them at all.

  7. I absolutely love this post, and I totally agree with it. At 2 1/2 I feel confident that I know when my child truly needs me for comfort and support, or when she’s just trying to get my attention so to speak. Some people say I spoil her, maybe I do, but I like to think it’s what my grandfather always says which is that she is “loved, not spoiled.” I think it’s also important to remember that the needs for each child are different, so perhaps what might be considered spoiling one child but be exactly what another child requires. Great post! Gave me a lot to think about!

    1. Love this so much. She IS loved not spoiled. I’m with you. With my kids, I now when it’s genuine sadness and when it’s not reasonable. The thing is young babies aren’t trying to manipulate us with their cries. Love your comment! Thanks so much for reading <3

  8. I did cry it out for sleep training, but pretty much spoiled my kids and still do when they cry. I mean, when it’s over a piece of string, or an m&m, I have my days where I’m like, “get over it!” But I like the “base” idea. Great post!

    1. You have such a kind heart. So are you saying you couldn’t answer EVERY SINGLE cry with four under four? Haha. I think your views changing slightly means you were doing your best when you were blessed with twins!

  9. I agree with this concept. I had my first born at a very young age. I was told by numerous people what to do and what not to do with my child. I felt like I had to sort of live up to what other people modeled as being a good parent. Their helpful “advice” added more pressure to be a good mom/parent, when what I really needed to know most is that every mom is different and it is okay to feel like you are doing something wrong because that’s how you learn to be a mom. I love my child and I think if I could go back to change anything, I wouldn’t listen to any of those people and focused more on what a joy my baby was (through the yelling/crying) and held him more and been more loving because looking back I know there is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with loving your child so much and it makes you sad when they’re hurt/sad/mad and pick them up and hug them when those moments happen.

    Anyways. Love your children and make sure you don’t end up feeling like you wish you had connected more with them. When they’re young is the time to show them what love is. That is a major emotion they’ll need when they’re older.

    1. Marlena, this is exactly how I felt. I felt so overwhelmed by people telling me what to do. Ultimately, listening to our instincts and giving our babies lots of love is all that matters. Thanks so much for reading and for your comment <3

  10. We keep the philosophy that we are always available to comfort our kids. That means we checked in with them each and every time they cried. We gave lots of snuggles and hugs. Some days I held them ALL DAY. My kids are now 8 and 11 and will stop pop over for a quick hug if they need an emotional boost, but they are completely confident children. As the old saying goes “The days are long, but the years are short.” I don’t regret a single snuggle or late night rocking chair session. I would do it all again in a heart beat.

    1. Wow! I couldn’t have said this better myself. I love your perspective being further down the parenting line. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective!

  11. In our family, we like to travel a lot and we spend many hours in the car with the kids. For babies that are alittle older we actually found a great solution that improved the whole experience of the trip. We bought a Kids Travel Tray … a life saver 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Sign up for our newsletter