How to Have a Happy Baby

Infant-Rearing Practice #2: Respond quickly to your baby’s cries and fusses

Forget what you may have learned from old Dr. Spock books, the Ferber Method or any of the other advocates of the let-baby-cry-it-out school. Crying is a sign of communication-not manipulation. It means your baby needs something (most likely you!) and responding quickly to his needs builds his trust in you. “If you ignore your baby, you might be teaching him that the world is frightening, that he’s not needed, that he doesn’t matter,” says Radwan. “When you don’t respond quickly, he won’t understand that mom may be busy or tired.”

When a baby’s cries are unanswered, high levels of stress hormones (like cortisol) flood his brain, which drain his resilience and damage cells in his developing gray matter, according to new research published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. The baby will believe that his cry-his only form of communication-has no value to you, his caretaker. And this can have a lifelong negative effect on his attachment relationships with others, say researchers. “Responsive parenting, on the other hand, promotes healthy emotional and physical growth and better control of emotions as he grows,” says Radwan. A baby whose cries are answered quickly and with sensitivity will be less aggressive and impulsive, make more friends and perform better academically when he’s older. “Its benefits are most valuable in terms of preventive medicine,” adds Radwan. “Being responsive will have an enormous effect on your child’s physical and emotional health in his future.”

Infant-Rearing Practice #3: Nurse frequently and for as many months as possible

Narvaez is concerned that American culture may be deviating from the traditional practices that foster healthy emotional growth in children. And she is especially concerned about breastfeeding. In the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control, only 22 percent of babies are still being breastfed by the time they’re 12 months old. This may be due to everything from insufficient prenatal education and early hospital discharge (where mom learns how to nurse) to lack of role models (who can also teach her) and commercial promotion of baby formula. This is unfortunate because breastfed babies-in addition to being physically healthier than formula-fed babies-show greater neurodevelopment and perform better on tests of cognitive development. “They also gain a sense of competence,” says Narvaez. “Sucking is hard, and with breastfeeding, a baby learns that she can do something powerful.”

Because of the close contact with mom, breastfed babies make eye-to-eye contact more frequently than bottle-fed infants and, hence, start to connect emotions with facial expressions. “This is how kids learn to interpret nonverbal communication,” says Radwan. “This is very important to learn early in life because much of our adult interaction is nonverbal.” Experts say that breastfed babies are calmer, too, because they are getting their nutritional needs met while also being touched and caressed. The more you breastfeed, the more secure your baby will be.

Note to new moms: Babywearing-see Infant-Rearing Practice #1, above-will make your life easier by allowing you to do chores and run errands while your baby can breastfeed on demand. And if you’re thinking about tapering off because you’re overwhelmed and need more rest, consider the results of a new study published in Pediatrics: West Virginia University scientists determined that mothers who breastfeed their newborns for the first three months get just as much sleep as new moms who formula-feed.

NEXT: Sleep near your baby