Crying It Out: Will Holding Your Baby Too Much Spoil Him?

mom comforting crying baby

Your baby is crying. You’re in the middle of a task in another room, or you’re entertaining company. Do you stop what you’re doing and go pick them up or do you let them cry it out and stay where you are?

The answer to that question will make you feel in the wrong, depending on who you talk to, so it is worth figuring out your own stance on it.

baby crying in a crib

Schools of Thought on Crying and Comforting

In one camp are those who attend to their baby every time they cry. They believe that if you don’t pick them up and comfort them when they cry, this will traumatise them and make them feel abandoned and hopeless, feelings that may follow them into adulthood.

In the other camp are those who let their babies cry themselves out. They believe if you run to attend your baby every time they cry, the baby will become impatient and greedy for your attention. They will become spoiled children who in turn will become spoiled adults.

There seem to be sound arguments for both sides. So who’s right and who’s wrong?

For a new mom, the question is a frightening one. We’ve all been at the receiving end of well-meaning advice from relatives, often on contradictory sides of each issue, but never so much as when that first baby comes along.

Your emotions are out of whack from the recent pregnancy, you’re on little sleep, and you are now supposed to care for this tiny, helpless infant. At this point, there is nothing someone can tell you that will be as devastating as calling you a bad mother.

You look to those moms around you for advice and don’t want to be looked down on for not following their suggestions. And let’s not kid ourselves; those other mothers can be pretty intimidating when showering you with advice. By the end of it, you’re amazed you can even figure out how to put your baby’s diaper on right without their help.

mom helping baby walk

Mothers on How to Handle Crying

Ashley, a 26 year old from Frankfort, KY believes that it’s important to pick up your baby when he cries. “Lots of parents believe that constantly responding to your child's cries immediately can lead to codependency issues that can cause negative effects later in life. In my opinion, for the first year you can't spoil a baby. Babies need closeness and warmth, love and nurturing. They need to know that they are loved, and they need to build trust in you. Babies cry to communicate their needs, even if all they need is your love and attention. Ignoring a baby's cry can cause them to think that their needs aren't important and can lead to feelings of hopelessness.”

It’s great to have those grandparents around who dote on your baby and love to hold them, even to the point of being disappointed when they have to relinquish him, but is this just setting you up for a harder time once they leave? Your child may have spent most of the day being held and coddled, and now you try and set him down and he starts wailing.

Granted, that could try the patience of anyone, and your instinct may be to just let him cry it out. However, if you think of his cries as communication, you might learn a different way of looking at things. As an infant, your baby’s cries are his only method to get his needs across. Before picking him up, check to see if he needs something besides simply being held. He might need to be fed or changed or might just need to get used to some kind of different stimuli because for nine months, he’s been connected to you. When he’s born, he’ll see you as the one thing he knows and recognizes in this new world. You can introduce other stimuli into his world by way of music and baby toys. You want to stimulate independent thinking as soon as possible.

While parents can only do what they personally feel is right for their babies, be wary of taking things too far. Joy, a 26 year old from Kentucky believes that, while infants should certainly be picked up when they cry, at a certain point, it’s time to stop rushing at their every whimper. “Under 1 year, I believe you should touch them a lot and make sure their needs are always met so they feel safe and secure. But some people take this concept too far. My one friend does AP (attachment parenting). I have no problem with that; its something I am kinda interested in pursuing if I have child #2, but I think she screwed up somewhere and held her youngest WAY too much. It’s the only child she’s been a SAHM for (youngest of 5). She breastfeeds, co-sleeps, used to baby-wear when she was younger, and all of that is okay, but she sits her up on the counter when she’s making dinner. If she’s not driving, she sits in the back right next to her especially on long car trips. She is with her 24/7 and the only person she leaves her with is her husband. One time I got to babysit and it wasn't pretty.

"She’s now 16 months and I think a child that age should be really involved in toddling around, playing with toys, learning, etc and be focused on the world around her. In her own house, if her mom rounds a corner or goes down the hall, she will stop playing and start crying and toddle run/walk as fast as she can to get her. The only thing that will calm her is usually to be picked up by mom and if it’s real bad, she might even need a nursing session to calm her down. My daughter is now 3 years old, and she never cried and screamed if I went down the hall or in the bathroom at any age. I feel I did something right because she knows I love her. She is safe, happy, secure in that knowledge, and she can take on the world whether I am there or not.”

So maybe the lesson is to pick up your baby when he needs you, but make sure to not do it for so long that there will never be a day when he doesn’t.