As an IBCLC—an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant— and a postpartum and labor and delivery nurse, I cannot count the number of times parents have asked if feeding on demand, holding the baby too much, or calming the baby when it cried spoiled the baby.
Initially this shocked me. Common sense told me when a helpless and vulnerable newborn cried, this was their only way of communicating their needs. This communication is your first conversation, a building block to your relationship, and the start to your deep connection with your sweet little babe.
But culture (and some strangers and family members) have their own opinions. So much pressure is placed on new parents to make schedules for babies, to not hold them or feed them too frequently, or pick them up too quickly when they cry.
So is there really such thing as spoiling a newborn?
The answer is no. Absolutely 100%, no.
When your baby is crying, the best thing for you to do first is go to him and figure out why he is crying. Hunger? Dirty diaper? Burp? Cold? Over-stimulated? Wants to snuggle? Tired?
Hearing your newborn cry will trigger your nurturing instincts. And responding to those cries will build the bond between you and baby. As says, “Meeting an infant's need to be comforted, held, and fed in a predictable fashion helps him feel secure and builds a loving relationship between parent and child. It does not lead to spoiling.”
Crying to be comforted or fed is not a sign of weakness or something we should want our baby to unlearn, but an important communication tool we want to cultivate.
Spoiled children (after 6 months of age), use manipulation and negative behavior to get what they want, but a newborn is just too young and not intelligent enough to have this complicated thought. “Infants don’t have wants. ‘Wants’ assumes a more advanced cognitive awareness. Infants only have needs. There’s a big difference,” James J. McKenna, a professor of anthropology and the director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame told .
From the very start of the baby’s life, letting your baby nurse when it wants, or snuggle when it needs, creates the foundation for a trusting relationship and builds self worth.
A baby’s psychology is geared toward constant holding and frequent feeding.
has not been shown to have any benefits and slows weight gain in the long run. Nursing is an infant-driven system where infants who breastfeed self-regulate. By feeding on demand, they will feed when they feel hungry, frequently, throughout the day and night.
Starting off your breastfeeding journey this way will give you the best opportunity for a full and healthy milk supply. The more stimulation and the more emptying you do, the more milk you will make. Your supply will continuously adjust to the baby’s exact needs, if you are breastfeeding exclusively and feeding on demand. This adjustment will continue all the way until you wean.
By attempting to put your baby on a schedule to avoid “spoiling” instead of responding to your baby’s feeding cues (ie: rooting, sucking, sticking his tongue out, licking his lips), you will likely end up with a fussier, hungrier and unhappier baby. Ultimately, your supply will suffer.
If your child is showing you signs of hunger or signs that they want to suckle, don’t push it off because it’s “not time yet” or you are afraid to spoil him. Feed that kiddo!
So what about when someone says your baby is “using you as a pacifier?”
Once again, this statement has the false risk of spoiling. This concept is woefully misunderstood. Nursing for comfort or any other reason besides food, can help strengthen the baby-mama bond, helps the mama feel confident in her new role, increases supply while giving extra calories to babe, and gives some quiet to the new chaotic life.
If we take a look back to , newborns are in the “trust vs mistrust” stage of development. Attending to your baby as soon as possible in a predictable, reliable and consistent way, teaches them that they will have their needs met. This action leads to a sense of hope for support when a conflict arises.
By being attended to when fussy or crying, and feeding when your child demands to be fed, your baby will learn to have good feelings of self and of others, to have less anxiety, to cope better with stress, and to be less clingy.
They will carry this with them through life allowing them to be more self confident in exploring the world on their own.
Responding to your child's needs does not mean you run to their first whimper or never ever let them cry. It means you should be consistent, loving and predictable with your behavior.
Nursing on demand fulfills your child’s feeding demands, but also eases pain, helps them sleep, and makes them feel cozy. So if your instincts are telling you to put your baby back on the breast, it’s okay to listen.