Sadly this is still a common concern for a new parent. Will carrying my baby become a habit that I’ll have to break? Will my baby become sooo dependent on me that he/she won’t become independent?
The short answer is NO!
I’ve been a bit quiet on the old blogging lately. Struggling a bit with motivation and inspiration and having a ‘computer light’ summer. Ahhh it’s been good. I certainly found some motivation to address this question when a caught up with a colleague who is 4 months pregnant with her first baby. I gave her a copy of Wearing Your Baby of which she was very grateful. A few hours later she commented ‘You probably cover it in the DVD (it maybe touched on in the interviews!) but I was wondering whether my baby will become clingy if I carry it a lot?’ Remember the first time you were pregnant when your baby was just an ‘it’? Lol. Anyway, it got me wondering just how many other ‘parents to be’ are still concerned about ‘creating bad habits’ and ‘making their baby clingy’.
Babies are meant to ‘cling’. In fact in evolutionary terms we would have done it very literally. I think there is a bit about that in the History page of our website. They are born with the grasp reflex and the innate knowledge that to be put down was a risk to their life. Culture in a society changes quickly, evolution doesn’t. Not only do we have physical characteristics from our evolution, but intellectual and emotional ones too. A baby’s biology tells them that when they can’t see, hear, feel their caregiver they maybe at risk. They respond to this feeling by ‘reminding’ their caregiver that they feel vulnerable and need some reassurance. In the form of crying as their main way of communicating at a young age. “Studies show that by the end of the first year, mothers who had attended promptly to their crying babies had children who cried much less than those whose mothers had left them to cry.” Sunderland, M. (2006).
Of course there are vary levels of ‘reminding’ depending on the character of the baby. A character we as the parent are still getting to know and understand. One baby might be reasonably comfortable with being alone or made not be that vocal about their discomfort and another maybe incredibly uncomfortable and/or incredibly vocal about it. Most tend towards the ‘uncomfortable’ end of the spectrum because they know (innately) that being close to their caregiver keeps them safe – from predators, competitors, dangerous insects etc. Of course we know those things are not really evident in Western society but our babies don’t.
Keeping your baby close – carrying them in your arms, a carrier, sleeping with them or close to them – helps them to feel secure and elevate any innate fears they may have. Feelings of security lead to confidence. If a baby has been allowed to stay close to Mum or Dad whenever and however long they want to their feeling of security will only increase and therefore their feelings of confidence. Keeping your baby close also allows you to respond to his/her needs as those needs are communicated. Responding to your baby’s needs also gives them confidence through learning they can trust in others. They also develop a sense of self worth through being responded to.
Confidence leads to independence. Some babies who are kept close and responded to quickly gain confidence in themselves early, others may have a shy nature and take longer. Either way ‘Confidence Leads to Independence’. Separating your baby from yourself or your partner to ‘learn’ to be by themselves or leaving them to cry to ‘learn’ to go to sleep back fires. Many babies who experience this become clingy as they are worried about being ‘abandoned’. I know that word sounds dramatic and for a baby I imagine it feels dramatic!
Of course character comes into play too. As I mentioned earlier when our baby is young we are still getting to know their character. “If you respond with compassion and patience to the clinging phase, it is a great investment for your child’s ability to be independent later in life. If each time he has wanted to cling, you have picked him up and held him, he will start to feel safe in his being-in-the-world. As he develops, he will then naturally start to turn away from you and explore the world for increasing lengths of time.” Sunderland, M. (2006).
That last quote by Margot Sunderland in The Science of Parenting is really all I needed to write for this entire blog! I really recommend this book. It has great information on the development of a babies brain and how we can support a positive, emotionally stable brain in our children.