What Having a “Spoiled Baby” Really Means

Feeling conflicted with advice about raising a spoiled baby? Put your doubts to rest and learn what it really means to “spoil a baby.”

Spoiled BabyMy twins couldn’t be more different, even from infancy.

While one could entertain himself and wait if I put him down, his brother would last—at most—10 minutes before hollering for attention. He didn’t like to be alone, preferring to be held all day. Putting him down to sleep usually meant hearing him wake up and cry within minutes.

He also preferred sleeping on me. The snuggles felt good, of course, but I could hardly get things done around the house with a sleeping baby.

We’ve all heard that you can’t spoil a baby, but what do you do when, months later, you’re still the only one who can calm yours? When he only wants you and no one else—and cries when you so much as go anywhere without him?

What having a spoiled baby really means

Nothing can feel as conflicting to a parent as wondering whether she’s spoiling her baby or not.

With all the advice we hear—from friends and family to articles we read—we’re pulled in conflicting directions. As much as you want to develop a healthy bond with the baby, you also wonder if you’re setting habits that might be difficult to break.

After three kids and hearing countless stories from parents all over, I realized that we’re actually asking the wrong question.

You see, no one sets out to raise spoiled kids, especially from infancy. We do what we have to do to get through that first year, from carrying the baby everywhere to nursing on demand. We’re also learning as we go, figuring out what works best for us.

So, it’s not about asking yourself whether you’re raising a spoiled baby. Instead, the better question is this:

What expectations are you willing to set?

In other words, how do you want to balance the baby’s needs with those of yours, your family, your work, and your home?

Balance Parenthood

For instance, don’t feel chastised for spoiling if you have no problem with—and in fact, enjoy—holding him all day. You prioritize the enjoyment you feel for being with him often. Any sleep deprivation or inconvenience is easily forgiven.

Or maybe you set your expectations differently.

You might value his independence and self-sufficiency, in whatever small ways infancy allows. Handing him to other adults—despite his protests—is a must, allowing you much-needed breaks and time to yourself. You might have a toddler who needs you just as much.

As you can see, neither situations are right or wrong. Both are crafting lifestyles based on the expectations you set.

How to Make Time for Yourself

Where the real problem arises

Many new parents question whether they’re raising a spoiled baby or not when they find themselves conflicted between their expectations and their lifestyle choices.

Perhaps you feel pulled to tend to the baby’s every cry but, deep down, know this doesn’t align with what you want or need. In your ideal world, you could simply put him down with no tears, or other adults could comfort him as well as you can.

Contrary to what you feel, rest assured friend, you’re not a terrible parent.

Yes, the younger the baby, the more he needs and depends on you. But over the next few months, he’ll grow more independent, however gradually that may be. At some point, “saving” him from every discomfort might prevent him from discovering ways to self-regulate and cope with minor struggles.

As I say in How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe:

“All infants experience ‘stress,’ but not the kind of stress you might imagine. We’re talking about things like losing a pacifier, a diaper itching, or figuring out how to fall asleep. As our babies grow past the newborn stage, our job won’t always be to save them from every discomfort—rather, it’s to equip them with the ability to handle discomfort.

I would later learn that this applies throughout all of parenthood. With teenagers, this might mean giving them the autonomy to make decisions, while for preschoolers, it could be letting them learn how to cope with a lost stuffed animal. And for babies, it can be as simple as waiting a few minutes before we go in to check on them.”

How to break old habits

Is your baby long past the newborn stage but still needs you in ways she can gradually do on her own? Like all habits, any you’ve established up to this point can be reset. Take a look at these tips about setting age-appropriate limits:

  • Allow other adults to tend to her. One way for her to feel comfortable with other adults is to allow her to do so. Likewise, other adults and caregivers can gain the confidence and ability to soothe and comfort her. They won’t know what works if, at the end of the day, you grab her out of their arms.
  • Distance yourself physically. Does she cry the minute you put her down? Start gradually by putting her down on a blanket and staying nearby. Then, sit near enough but not touching her. Repeat a similar process, gradually giving yourself more distance, all the way to setting her down in a safe place (like the crib) in a different room.
  • Allow her to self soothe to sleep. Once she’s past the newborn stage and the pediatrician okays sleep training, consider undoing many of the crutches you’ve relied on. That way, you can ditch your sleeping aids and instead help her sleep 11-12 hours straight at night.
  • Use white noise. The rhythmic noise of a white noise machine or fan can soothe her to sleep on her own. You can also try playing soft music to muffle sudden sounds that could startle her awake.

Baby playing in the crib instead of sleeping? Here’s what to do.

Baby Playing in Crib Instead of Sleeping

Conclusion

If you find yourself wondering whether you’re spoiling your baby, it’s more likely a case of aligning with your expectations.

Decide how you’d like to balance his needs with yours and the rest of the family’s. Own your emotions—whether the desire to hold him all day or to allow him more time away from you. And know that, should you decide to break old habits and expectations, there are plenty of ways to do so.

Whatever you decide, know that you have a loving relationship with your child, whether you hold him all day or sleep train at night.

Even now that they’re older, my twins still differ in how much attention they need. I can hardly get one to give me a hug in the mornings, while his brother will gladly snuggle with me on the couch. At least now he no longer fusses the minute I leave his sight.

Get more tips:

Free resource: Interested in learning about teaching your baby to self soothe? Get a preview of How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe. This chapter is all about the mindset for successful self-soothing and helping your baby self soothe. You’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:

“This makes so much sense and touched my heart. Thanks for writing.” -Emily

How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe

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2 Comments

  1. My baby is now 3.5 months old and I was wondering when I can start teaching her to self soothe or when is she capable of it? We tried sleep training at 3 months for 1.5 weeks and it did not go well. She cried until she went over in crying with screaming and never settled with time (there was even a stretch of 1.5 hours of non stop crying) or if we went in periodically.

    She sleeps not too bad during the night but it’s naps that’s such a struggle and as soon as you try to lie her down, her eyes open and she cries. She had colic as well. So I guess my question is if she is even capable of self soothing now or when could I expect it of her without crying nonstop?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Elena! Each baby is so different, with some starting at 3, 4, or 6 months, that there’s no one right answer. The best way to know is to ask your pediatrician and see what he or thinks. They know your situation well, and can let you know whether your baby can sleep through the night.

      Sometimes, if it doesn’t work when they’re young, you can try again later, at which point it can work then. Other times, it’s not so much the age, but the method and consistency that make it work or not.