“Don’t pick up your baby too much because it will spoil them.”
“Feeding your newborn too much spoils them.”
“Let them cry it out. It will teach them how to self-soothe.”
“Breastfeeding your baby will keep them attached to you and they won’t like anyone else.”
“You don’t have to respond every time your baby cries.”
How many of the above statements have you heard? To spoil or not to spoil is the million dollar question. Many people have varying opinions and usually their input is well intended. Initially I was receptive to unsolicited “wisdom” from others because I was a first-time mom. Over time I grew annoyed because my thought process is rooted in the understanding of human development. The above statements negate science, human development and an infant’s cognitive ability. Contrary to popular belief; it is impossible to spoil an infant. Here’s why.
Infants cry often! Crying is their only form of communication at this stage of life. They have spent the beginning of their life in a confined womb and are birthed into an unfamiliar world. Making the shift to the new environment is a major adjustment for an infant. The infant solely depends on their primary caregiver(s) to respond to their cry. Your response caters to their basic needs—to be held, fed, loved and comforted. The primary caregiver(s) represents the infant’s first relationship and it sets the foundation for future relationships as the infant matures. The primary caregiver is given the awesome role of listening, determining what is needed and responding accordingly. A response may require holding the infant, changing their diaper, rocking them or providing food. This is the point where trust and attachment begins to take form as the primary caregiver’s response creates a sense safety and comfort within the infant. Infants who learn to trust their caregivers will likely formulate trusting relationships later in life because they have learned that others are capable of showing up for them.
Erik Erikson, the father of ego psychology, developed eight stages of psychosocial development (see above). Erikson emphasized the role of the social environment in personality development. According to Erikson, the society in which one lives makes certain psychic demands at each stage of development. He refers to these demands as crises. Coping well with each crisis makes an individual better prepared to cope with the next stage. Resolution of each crisis is an ideal, however, it is not necessarily a reality. The degree to which crises found in earlier stages are resolved will affect a person’s ability to resolve crises in later stages of life. If an individual does not learn how to trust in stage one, the person will find it very difficult to attain intimacy in stage six (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2007, p.256-257). I always reference the first stage, Trust vs Mistrust, when discussing newborn and infant behaviors. Trust leads to the virtue of hope; both of which are paramount in building future relationships.
“By developing a sense of trust, the infant can have hope that as new crises arise, there is a real possibility that other people will be there as a source of support.”Simply Psychology
Infants cannot manipulate, swindle you or run a scam. At this stage of life their brain is unable to decipher the difference between needs and wants. Manipulation and scamming is too complicated of a thought process for an infant’s brain to generate. Full stop because manipulation assumes that their brain can do something that it is totally incapable of doing at this time. Recall that an infant requires nourishment, a dry diaper, sleep and to be held. Manipulation is not on their list! As an infant grows their needs change, their vocabulary expands and they begin to explore. Infants grow quickly so there will be time to establish rules and boundaries at a later date. No need to rush the process. For now, the focus is letting the infant know that they are safe, secure and loved. So yes—pick them up, rock them to sleep, breast/chestfeed often, hug and shower them with love.
“Parents may not always reach a falling baby in time, or they may accidentally feed an infant food that is too hot. Erikson sees value in these experiences because infants learn mistrust. With proper balance of trust and mistrust, infants can acquire hope, which is an openness to new experience tempered by wariness that discomfort or danger may arise.”Kail & Cavanaugh, 2016, p.13
Take a moment to reflect as you consider the above information. Let’s focus on your hunger and your process of securing food. Hunger can bring on persistent discomfort. When hungry perhaps you may not want to associate with others or are easily agitated. As an individual well beyond the Trust vs Mistrust stage you are able to recognize hunger and utilize your vocabulary to communicate your need for food. You no longer cry, however, you make it your mission to resolve your hunger by using the tools in your toolbox to troubleshoot. Keep in mind that your toolbox is full of tools—thoughts, logic, vocabulary and behaviors—that were developed and refined over time. As your infant grows they’ll acquire new skills. For now, it is up to you to anticipate and tend to their needs. Remember that Erikson’s psychosocial theory covers the entire lifespan, therefore, one has their entire life to develop strengths and tools to navigate challenges. In the meanwhile, exercise patience, trust the process and find gratitude in this stage of your infant’s development.
Until next time,
Peace, Love & Breastmilk™
Kail, R. V., & Cavanaugh, J. C. (2016). Human development: a life-span view. Cengage Learning.
Zastrow, C., & Kirst-Ashman, K. K. (2007). Understanding human behavior and the social environment. Thomson Higher Education.
The Maziwa Tribe blog does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Content from Maziwa Tribe’s blog is not intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. The information provided on this blog is intended for general consumer understanding. The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Please contact your family doctor or other medical professional to obtain medical advice.