Ask Dr. Sharon
Clinical Psychologist, Family and Relationship Expert
Dear Dr. Sharon, I’m due to have my baby in one month. I’m very excited but a little nervous. I have so many questions. My main question is about picking up and holding the baby when she cries, versus letting her cry and letting her develop a sense of independence. I’m so confused- what’s the right thing to do these days? My mom tells me one thing, my friend tells me something else. Who do I believe?
First of all, I want to congratulate you and wish you luck on your upcoming birth. Motherhood is such a wonderful thing- enjoy it!
When it comes to child development and what is right and what is wrong, it is so important to remember that every parent and every child is different. Some babies need a lot of attention, while other babies are content falling asleep alone or entertaining themselves. Some parents want to hold their babies all of the time, while other parents want their babies to learn how to self-soothe.
Babies need a lot of attention and physical contact in order to bond with you and to foster healthy development. Babies are dependent on their parents and caregivers. One of the most important things your baby will learn in its first year of life is trust. They learn this by you caring for their needs. Babies in their first three months of life cry in order to tell you that they need something. Picking him up will not spoil him. It will show him that you are there to care for his basic needs and that he can trust you. In fact, some studies have shown that if babies cry and are picked up promptly and taken care of, they develop a strong sense of security and reduced anxiety, thus crying less in the long run.
It is natural and reassuring for young babies to be held, swaddled and rocked, and it has been found to be particularly helpful for colicky babies. After the first few months, most babies become more independent. While they probably still enjoy being held, they also become interested in exploring their surroundings and spending time looking around and understanding the world around them.
While it’s good for babies to be held, it is also good for their development to have some time when they’re not being held. For example, supervised activities such as time on his back on an activity blanket or tummy time where he can push up his head and chest is a good thing. It teaches the baby how to roll over and eventually crawl. You can also see the joy in his eyes as he kicks his legs and pushes himself up and down.
As parents learn about their babies, they will eventually learn when they are content spending some alone time and playing on their own, and when they need to be held.
All of the interactions you have with your baby are important. Special times can include talking to her, singing to her, making faces, changing her diaper, giving her a bath, holding her, etc. The amount of time you spend holding your baby is a personal choice. Use your best judgment, understanding that young babies do feel secure and safe when held. As a mother, you should do what feels right and work best for your family.
Dr. Sharon has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Columbia University and has advanced training in child and adolescent psychology. She is the author of ‘Children Are People Too’ and ‘New Parents Are People Too’. Both of her books are winners of the prestigious iParenting media award.