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Information and inspiration for parents and caregivers of babies, toddlers and preschoolers

Can you spoil a baby?

You can't spoil an infant

You have a lot to worry about when you have a newborn. Things like feedings and diaper changes and if you’ll ever get a good night’s sleep again. But there’s one thing you don’t have to worry about: spoiling your baby. When your baby cries (totally normal, all babies cry), your instinct may be to leap into action to pick her up and see if she’s hungry or wet and to soothe her.

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That’s when you might hear someone – perhaps a well-meaning in-law or neighbor – make a comment like, “You’re going spoil her if you do that. You don’t want to spoil her, do you?” And your mind goes to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and you worry about having a little Veruca Salt in a few years.

Nobody wants a spoiled child, and setting limits and expectations can be a challenge for parents, but it’s a challenge for later on, not for when you have an infant. Doctors, child development experts and scientific researchers agree: You cannot spoil your baby by responding when they cry or by holding them too much. 

In fact, holding and loving and responding to your baby is just what they need from you. Babies cry because they’re hungry, most often, but also if they’re wet or cold or need to burp. And sometimes they just want to be held close and comforted. Crying is their way of communicating that to you. It’s a signal that they need your care and attention.

Responding to their needs helps your baby feel loved. Infancy is an important time for you to bond with your child, to help them feel that their world is a safe place and that you’ll be there for them. That sense of security helps their brain grow and develop in the best possible way. There’s even evidence that children whose caregivers are more responsive to their needs in their first year of life go on to be more self-reliant have higher self-esteem, are more able to manage stress, form healthier relationships and perform better in school.

So don’t worry about spoiling your new baby. Hold, hug and snuggle them as much as possible. And don’t worry about how little you’re sleeping, either. It’ll get better.


Dan Puglisi is Senior Director of Marketing + Strategic Initiatives at First Things First. Reach him at dan@firstthingsfirst.org.

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