So in addition to conflicting advice we have other people’s own experiences and practices that worked perfectly well for them. Any woman who has had a child, no matter when, may consider herself an expert on the topic. She lived through it after all, and who’s to say that she’s wrong? Certainly not I. Certainly not you either, if you know what’s good for you. My best advice on this topic is to smile and nod, and file the well-intentioned advice away mentally in case you might need it someday.
Perhaps the most commonly given advice with infants is “don’t pick the baby up every time it cries or you’ll spoil it.” I will begin by pointing out that this advice is not found in reference books, but passed on from others who are convinced that it’s true. For example my sister-in-law, mother of three, repeatedly offered this advice to my husband, who in turn passed it on to me. In fact it is my experience that this advice is offered routinely by people who have had children of their own.
What do the experts say? Overwhelmingly the consensus is that you should always attend to a crying baby (Lees, Reynolds and McCartan 214). A study at the University of Turku found that “more-sensitive mothers had more-contented infants” (Howard) which also led to less crying in the end. Babycenter.com suggests that there are seven reasons why babies cry, including a desire to be held, (Babycenter.com) but that it is impossible to spoil an infant by holding her when she cries.
This brings me to the best advice I received before or after my own daughter was born, and pretty much the only advice I myself pass along. Out of the dozens, if not hundreds, of tidbits shared with me, this one arrived in an innocuous e-mail from Babycenter.com entitled “Your 2-month old: Week 3”. Within the email was a quote from a forum board hosted by the website that read:
“My son likes to be carried around all the time. Whenever I get tired of holding him, I try to remember that a year from now he's going to be squirming to get out of my arms — and I'm going to miss these days!’, Kelly”.
Many of the sources I have read, and referenced above, suggest that an infant child is incapable of coercion or purposely manipulating the actions of their parents. While an older child, or even an adult, might cry simply to get sympathy or what they want, an infant’s thought processes are not yet that complex. In her article, Barbara Howard went on to suggest that perhaps the advice not to pick up a child every time it cries is offered is to assuage the advice-bearer’s own guilt at not being as attentive with their own children (Howard).
He bade foster mothers and nurses to suckle the children, to bathe and wash them, but in no way to prattle with them, for he wanted to learn whether they would speak the Hebrew language, which was the oldest, or Greek, or Latin, or Arabic, or perhaps the language of their parents, of whom they had been born. But he labored in vain because all the children died. For they could not live without the petting and joyful faces and loving words of their foster mothers (Adler and Proctor II).
Adler, Ronald B. and Russell F. Proctor II. Looking Out/Looking In, Twelfth Edition. Thomson Learing, Inc., 2007.
Babycenter.com. "Seven reasons babies cry and how to soothe them." November 2006. Babycenter.com. 4 April 2009
Howard, Barbara. "Are you spoiling your baby?" February 2005. Parents.com. 4 April 2009
Lees, MD, Christoph, MD, Karina Reynolds and Grainne McCartan. Pregancy and Birth: your questions answered. DK Publishing, Inc., 2002.
Murkoff, Heidi, Arlene Eisenberg and Sandee Hathaway B.S.N. What to expect the first year. New York: Workman Publishing, 2003.