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The Spoiled Baby Myth

Your baby cries -- a lot -- and you're frantic. You're not sure if you're supposed to comfort her or let her wail.

You're not alone. Nearly a third of U.S. parents know very little about what to expect from babies, according to a University of Rochester Medical Center study. Your instinct may be to comfort her, while friends and relatives warn, "No, you'll spoil her!" The question is, can you spoil an infant?

"In a word, no," says Lawrence Balter, Ph.D., professor of applied psychology at New YorkUniversity and author of Dr. Balter's Child Sense. Spoiling means teaching someone to expect that her every demand will be met whenever she makes it. "Babies under three months exist in the present," says Balter. And because crying is your infant's only way of telling you something's wrong, you need to attend to her so she can begin to make the connection between her cries and your comforting, which happens around 6 months of age. Even then, an older baby probably isn't capable of manipulating you to get your attention, Balter says.

Young babies shouldn't have to wait for a response, either. "Too much stress on an infant's nervous system -- such as crying continuously -- isn't healthy for her development," says Balter. After three to six months, you can try stalling your response a bit (with a gentle "I'll be right there"), but it's never a good idea for babies younger than 6 months to "cry it out."

So trust your gut: Soothe your new baby when she wails. Turn a deaf ear to everyone's advice -- not your baby's cries.