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Will I Spoil My Baby by Holding/Nursing Him So Often?

Mothers throughout history have always known, and research now shows, that babies are happiest, healthiest, and smartest, if they are kept in close contact with their mother or another family member most of the time. Asleep or awake, happy or sad, babies like to feel and smell your warm embrace. Research shows babies grow faster and learn about their world more readily when up on mother's level. There's more for the baby to see when he is with you while you go about your daily business than when lying flat in a crib or carriage. Babies cry much less and expend less energy that way. Many newborns sleep more deeply when held against your body. This type of approach is very respectful of your baby's feelings, and is sometimes called "attachment parenting."

To get more done while keeping baby close, save your arms by getting a baby sling. More versatile than the front pack, these over-the-shoulder carriers are nice because you can easily and discreetly breastfeed while wearing one, and the baby can be held in many different positions (facing in or out, cradle position, on the hip), up to 30 pounds. They are available through some LLL groups, NEW BEGINNINGS, and some baby supply stores. Many premature babies can benefit from this kind of care, if they are strong enough. Skin-to-skin contact is preferred, inside the parent's clothing. This is called "kangaroo care." LLL experience shows that children parented this way become quite secure and independent as they grow. They learn to trust their world, and other human beings, and feel "right" inside. These early feelings of love, security, and respect will become patterned in your child's mind and will be what he/she looks for when ready to form adult relationships. It all starts with you!

Nursing a baby "on demand," or by request, not only assures you a bountiful milk supply (the more a baby suckles, the more milk you make), it also makes you available to comfort your child, soothe a pain, or simply provide the human contact your baby needs. His mouth is the most sensitive area of his body, and sucking feels so good to him. Unlike a pacifier (dummy), which can fall on the floor and get dirty, your nipples are always safe. No need to watch the clock; watch what your baby is telling you. He may be thirsty, want a snack, or a full course meal.

Pacifiers can cause nipple confusion in some babies, but may be useful in some situations. Proceed with caution, if you use one.

Caring for a crying baby at night can be one of the most challenging aspects of being a new parent, especially if friends or relatives tell you that picking up or nursing your baby every time he/she cries will spoil the baby. Some people may tell you the baby needs to learn "self-comforting" at night so that he/she can go back to sleep without you. Although so-called "sleep training" may work for some families, many mothers have found that they prefer or they feel more comfortable to respond to baby's cries, no matter what time of day or night they hear them.

For many of us, keeping our babies close to us all night, whether in our bed or in a crib or bassinet next to the bed, is the best way to meet our babies' needs while disrupting our own sleep as little as possible. For more comments about babies and sleeping, see the FAQ "When Will My Baby Sleep Through the Night?"

Here's a "what if?" question that sometimes helps mothers trust their hearts and stop worrying about spoiling their babies. Imagine you were scared or sad enough to start crying. What if another adult you loved knew you were crying, but refused to hug you, reminding you that you'd had a hug just an hour ago? You would probably stop crying eventually on your own, but wouldn't you feel better if that other adult had comforted you when you needed it?

Resources for Additional Information

These items may be available from the LLLI Online Store or through your local Leader:

THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, published by La Leche League International, is the most complete resource available for the breastfeeding mother. (Softcover, 465 pages)

ADVENTURES IN GENTLE DISCIPLINE, by Hilary Flower Empathy, respect, and compassion. Author Hilary Flower recommends these qualities as the basic components of gentle discipline and encourages parents to find ways to make gentle discipline work for both themselves and their children. Personal stories from a variety of mothers show creative adaptations of gentle discipline methods in different families. Adventures in Gentle Discipline provides parents with tools and encouragement to put theory into practice to be real parents, not perfect parents. (Softcover, 320 pages)

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