Spoiling

Is my baby spoiled?

Everyone has needs that must be met for optimal growth, development, and health. Babies are born very immature, so they need a lot of support. If mothers are tending to their baby’s needs, they are not spoiling the baby; they are being a good parent. Babies need to be fed, held, cared for at night, and kept warm, dry, and safe. Every baby is different, so we encourage parents to respond to their baby’s signs. Gentle discipline is appropriate when babies start to pull hair, bite the breast, or refuse to get into a car seat. The discipline can be scolding or a forceful “no.” Toddlers may be disciplined with explanations, time outs, or the withdrawal of toys. If a baby is sleepy at the breast or unable to latch, this is not being difficult or lazy; there may be a breastfeeding or medical problem that needs urgent medical attention.  

A) Babies need support

Babies, like all of us, need food, nurture, and closeness with others. Our needs are biological imperatives, or necessities, that allow for optimal growth, development, and health.

Babies’ needs are met when they are:

  • Fed when hungry.
  • Held as needed.
  • Cared for at night.
  • Kept warm, dry, and safe.
  • Helped when in pain (such as when you breastfeed during an immunization or massage the baby’s back during tummy cramps).
  • Able to interact extensively with their caregivers and others and feel loved. 

Because babies are very immature at birth, they need a lot of support. Tending to your baby’s needs is good parenting and not spoiling and protects them from harmful stress (Berlin 2019).

For example, skin-to-skin positioning after birth and kangaroo care for premature babies have shown clear benefits and affectionate touch has been shown to decrease stranger anxiety and increase a baby’s willingness to explore unfamiliar objects (Tanaka 2021).

In some cultures, babies are kept very close, while other cultures encourage earlier separation. We encourage parents to respond to the baby’s signs.  

B) Discipline for a baby

Giving a baby a sweater when the baby is cold is meeting a need. Giving candy at a store is meeting a want. This is where the issue of spoiling needs to be addressed. You cannot spoil children by meeting their needs, but you can by giving them everything they want.

Children do best when given consistent guidelines and expectations from all care-givers.  

Parents often start gentle discipline when babies pull others’ hair or glasses or bite the breast. Discipline for babies may mean scolding or a forceful “no.”

As the baby becomes a toddler, it may include explanations, time outs, and punishments such as removal of toys or preferred activities. Discipline also changes as babies and children grow.

Corporal punishment (hitting), yelling, or shaming are minimally effective in the short term and have negative consequences in the long run (Heilman 2021). They should not be used.

C) The lazy baby

Some parents worry that their baby is being lazy or difficult at the breast. 

Rather, being sleepy at the breast or unable to latch are major medical and breastfeeding issues that need immediate attention. It is possible that the milk supply is low or that the baby is underfed or sick. These behaviours are not a reflection on their character.

Please see your health-care providers if your baby is behaving this way.

References

Berlin LJ, Martoccio TL, Bryce CI, et al. Improving infants' stress-induced cortisol regulation through attachment-based intervention: A randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019 May;103:225-232

Heilmann A, Mehay A, Watt RG, et al. Physical punishment and child outcomes: a narrative review of prospective studies. Lancet. 2021 Jul 24;398(10297):355-364

Tanaka Y, Kanakogi Y, Myowa M. Social touch in mother–infant interaction affects infants’ subsequent social engagement and object exploration. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 2021:8;32