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Baby Talk: Here’s why you can’t ‘spoil’ a child by holding, cuddling and talking to them too much

Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace.
Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace.

All babies absolutely adore their mother and father’s voice.

From the moment a baby is born and snuggled safely in her parent’s arms, she gazes up at her parents face and stares as if in the wonderment of where she is and how did she get here.

The first smiles and whispered words from a parent to an infant begin a process that bonds and attaches the baby to her parents.

You cannot “spoil” a child by holding, cuddling and talking to them too much. They need you and depend on you to respond to this need.

Communicating with your baby is the beginning of her realization that she is loved.

The eminent psychologist William James once wrote: The newly born baby enters a world of “blooming, buzzing confusion.” How comforting it must be for a baby to hear the voices she has been listening to while she grew inside her mother.

Every labor and delivery nurse will tell you, when the parents hold and talk to their baby after delivery, the baby calms and is fascinated with her parent’s faces and voices.

Mothers and fathers interact differently with their babies. Dr. T Berry Brazelton and his colleagues at Boston Children’s hospital studied the ways mothers and fathers interacted with their new babies. They found as early as 3 weeks of age, babies anticipated different behavior from their mothers and fathers.

A mother tends to set up a rhythm of speech and movement with her baby. The two of them will cycle in and out of movement almost as if they are dancing.

The Corcoran quadruplets ­ three boys and a girl ­ were safely delivered by cesarean section at Sarasota Memorial Hospital on March 28. Ranging from two to just over three pounds, the babies were born just moments apart. Amanda Corcoran talks abou

The mother, smiling and cooing, will touch her baby and then pull her hand back only to return to touch her again, often patting or rubbing rhythmically and in time with the baby’s smile and laughter. The mother will softly play vocal and facial games with her baby.

Fathers tend to set up a different but predictable behavioral system with their baby. Drs. Suzanne Dixon and Michael Yogman in the Child Development Unit at Boston Children’s Hospital have found fathers are more likely to use a playful rhythmical approach with their baby.

They tap different parts of the baby’s body and speak in rhythm while making exaggerated facial expressions. A small baby firsts watches quietly as she her father initiates the interaction. Then she will hunch up her shoulders, look eager and finally laugh out loud, bouncing up and down in her chair.

So predictable is this pattern the doctors found a baby of 3 months will take on an expectant look, hunched shoulders, and will lean forward in her chair when she hears her father’s voice. As if she knows that her father’s presence will result in a special playful kind of communication.

Pamala and Air Astenreiter's daughter weighed seven pounds, six ounces when born at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center at 1:50 a.m. Sunday.

Within this feedback system, the infant learns about her universe. She learns about herself as a social being who can elicit predictable responses. It is in this system she first learns that she is what we call “being loved.”

This reciprocal system is the basis of parenting. Being there when she needs you and showing her that you care is the parents’ side of communication, the baby’s chance to learn that she is loved.

The reward for the parent is as you enter into this intimate communication, you “know” when you are in touch with your baby. You are able to predict responses and this reinforces your confidence in parenting your child.

As you develop this communication with your baby you will feel yourself glow as she smiles, vocalizes and eagerly anticipates playing with you.

Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Healthy Living in the Bradenton Herald. Contact her at katie.powers@mmhhs.com.

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