It’s so easy to get sucked into the lies about forming bad habits with babies, isn’t it? New mothers are a vulnerable group, so desperate to do everything right for their baby no matter the cost (see: sleep deprivation). And since we have been thrown off the deep end into this whole mothering thing, we are all too susceptible to “advice” given by others.
A lot of that advice is firmly rooted in avoiding the development of bad habits.
“Don’t hold the baby too much or she’ll get used it.”
“Don’t feed the baby to sleep or he’ll never fall asleep on his own.”
“Don’t comfort the baby every time she cries or she’ll never learn to self-soothe.”
The fact that any type of loving behaviour on the part of the mother could create bad habits in infants is beyond ridiculous. And yet I fell for it. And it added so much extra stress, doubt, and anxiety to my already fragile new-mum psyche.
My best advice to new mothers is that everything is a phase. And babies will grow out of every phase eventually. Do not let a fear of creating bad habits stop you from holding or comforting your baby.
One example (of many) is that starting at around 3 months of age my son decided he did not want to nap unless I was wearing him. No matter what else I tried, he refused to sleep until I wrapped him up against my chest in a fabric babywearing wrap and then he would be lights out immediately.
Now I didn’t have any issue with this arrangement. I loved having him snuggled against me, feeling his breath and staring down into his peaceful face. But I was under the impression that babies were supposed to nap in cots. And I was told that I was creating a bad habit by letting him nap against my chest. “How will he ever learn to nap on his own? He will only become increasingly dependent on you to sleep.”
So I tried to get him to sleep in his cot. And he refused. And those days were some of the roughest I have had, spending hours trying to get him to sleep and then ending up sobbing with frustration and exhaustion when I had to give up and wear him.
Finally one day I decided it wasn’t worth the mental distress it was causing me and I stopped trying. If it wasn’t bothering me to wear him and that was what he wanted, why was I trying so hard to force the cot? The weight that was immediately lifted from my shoulders was immense, let me tell you.
And I wore him for his naps for 3 months. And then all of a sudden, we outgrew it. After an overseas flight that resulted in me wearing him for the better part of 24 hours, we were both over it. I put him to sleep in his cot (with no resistance) and that’s where he has napped ever since.
It was a phase, and he outgrew it. This is true of everything with babies. What they need from us changes so frequently that it’s silly to think that meeting those needs will create a lifelong habit. I caused myself an incredible amount of anxiety over something that was temporary and that was giving my son what he needed.
In my opinion, the only habit you will create from “giving in” to your baby is their trust in you.