You can't spoil a baby

"I couldn't believe they let me out of the hospital with my son," confided a new mom to me as we chatted in parenting aisle of the bookstore. "I had no idea what I was doing." definition the parents of infants are amateurs""full of love, wonder, and worry at the prospect of caring for a new baby that seems so floppy and breakable. Amidst the sleep deprivation, dirty diapers, and feedings, we want to do it right. We want to raise our babies to blossom into well-behaved children and responsible adults. So when you rush to your newborn's side and a well meaning relative or friend tells you with a disapproving look to let your baby 'cry it out' or 'fuss it out,' it's only natural that you would wonder if by responding to your infant right away you are spoiling her.

But can you spoil a baby? Meredith Small, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at Cornell University and the author of "Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way we Parent" says the answer is unequivocally no. "Human babies are biologically designed to be physically and emotionally attached to somebody and if they don't have that attachment all the time, 24 hours a day, they are unhappy," says Small. "It's sort of like we're designed to eat it's that fundamental." There you have it: expert license to kiss your baby's little head at least a hundred times a day, carry him close to you, and nurse him when he indicates he is hungry. If that fancy new crib with its matching bumper and blankets goes unused in the baby's nursery because your infant is sleeping with you most of the time, that's okay too.

Babies love and need to be held, they need to be fed when they are hungry, changed when they are wet, and showered with love. Talking to them teaches them language, smiling at them helps them learn to smile back at you, and keeping them close helps them develop a strong sense of security. "All the research has shown that children whose parents respond to their needs have better self-esteem and self-assurance than children who have not had their needs met," says Small.

This doesn't mean that caring for an infant is easy. It's not. It's messy, exhausting, and sometimes frustrating. You may surprise yourself with how much love you have, and also how much anger.

"I'm can't believe how bitter I feel," a good friend confided on the phone to me just yesterday. "I have no time to do my work because my kids need me, and I'm just so bitter." When my eldest daughter was tiny I remember wondering how such a little creature could do that much poop. And getting up many times a night to nurse a newborn is no picnic.

"There is nothing wrong with babies waking up every two hours," says Small, "that is what they are supposed to do, and mothers are going to be tired." To combat the exhaustion, Small recommends napping: "People who don't take naps are in for a really hard time because sleep deprivation can make you crazy. But you can't blame the baby. Babies don't act like adults, they're babies."

lives in Ashland with her husband and three babies ("We're big kids Mom," they say rolling their eyes. "But you'll always be my babies," she answers). The author of "Why Babies Do That: Baffling Baby Behavior Explained"(Willow Creek Press), she has a new book about parenting, co-authored with her husband James di Properzio, "The Baby Bonding Book for Dads," coming out this March.

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