We really have to be careful with what terms we use, when we refer to our children. Even if not spoken aloud, the labels that we put on our children in our own minds can influence the way we interact with them and consequently how they grow up thinking of themselves.
Recently, a woman told me that she’s glad that she held her babies when they were younger and coslept with them and breastfed them on demand, even though they were clingy, because it was only for short time that they are that small and want to be that close to Mom around the clock. Another woman in my position might have smiled and nodded, knowingly, or if she disagreed, might have rolled her eyes. Instead, I smiled and told her that her babies weren’t clingy: They were normal!
Biologically normal babies—babies who are developmentally right on track—want to be held all the time, they want to be breastfed on demand, they want to sleep in Mom’s room at night, they want to learn from the world from Mom’s physical and emotional safety. Clingy is a term that is only used for babies when their normal child development isn’t taken into consideration.
A baby can’t be clingy.
Babies who don’t seem to need a lot of attention—those sleeping through the night on their own in another room from a very early age, those who can entertain themselves all day in the playpen, those who are accustomed to scheduled feedings from a bottle—are often referred to as the “good babies.” In actuality, these are the babies we should be concerned about. They are not developing right on track.
That doesn’t mean that every baby that falls under the “good baby” category is not developing to his individual needs, but that babies who are “trained” to ignore their biologically normal needs are not better off by any means. Those biological needs are there for a reason—we may no longer be a hunter-gatherer society preyed on by saber-toothed tigers, but our babies weren’t designed the way they are just for survival reasons.
The brain develops the fastest in early childhood. And how the brain works, physically, is by forming according to the environment that the baby is placed and growing and learning in. Certainly, there are some genetic susceptibilities, but the environment is as big of an influence on how a child develops. Babies are born with the need for physical and emotional closeness to Mom, and if their need for her presence is trained out of the baby, it changes the way the baby’s brain develops. Not that those needs are actually trained out—what happens is the baby learns ways to cope without those needs being fulfilled, and the ways that the baby learns to cope sets the child up for life on how to deal with stress.
Say a baby is left to cry himself to sleep, so he doesn’t want Mom at night, and then put on scheduled feedings, so he only searches for Mom on her timetable and not his, and then left to entertain himself from the swing or playpen or bouncy seat, absorbed in his world of toys and TV, but without learning about the world from Mom’s point of view—this baby is going to grow up learning to be self-sufficient and independent from a much younger age than is biologically normal. Is this good?
Not if you think that eventually that child will be placed in a social environment—school, peers who want to be friends, his own family growing up who want him to interact, his eventual workplace, and his eventual spouse and own children. This child who was taught in his most influential years to deny his biological needs and to then be independent, will not adjust so easily to then being in an environment where socialization, teamwork, partnership, and intimacy will be expected. His brain didn’t develop for those kinds of environments. His brain was developed through “infant training” to survive in a socially isolated world.
There shouldn’t be any wonder why the divorce rate is so high, why there seems to be more bullying, why substance abuse continues to be a problem, why anxiety and depression is such a prevalent coping mechanism, why there are any societal ills. So much of what we see as problems in our society have their original roots in how we raised our children, in how we ignored our child’s biologically normal needs—the true normal of child development—as soon as they were born.
What to do when your baby is clingy? First, stop thinking about your baby as clingy. Your baby is normal! Second, give your normal baby what she needs: You. Hold her, love her, breastfeed her, cosleep with her. Do whatever your normal baby is asking of you, because the environment you’re raising her in, is the one that she will forever operate in. So, if you lead her brain development to operate in a loving, trusting, empathic, joyful, relationship-oriented environment from the get-go, she’ll be much more prepared for a social, relationship-based society than many of the “good babies” whose social needs were trained out of them.
There are no clingy babies.