Have you seen a “depressed” baby? Withdrawn and quiet, uninterested in socializing or exploring? Such behavior might be convenient for stressed parents, but it is a bad sign for baby. Full blown depression may not be diagnosed until toddlerhood, but it can begin in babyhood.

Modern parenting culture provides many reasons for babies to get depressed.

Babies expect companionship, which includes physical affection and carrying most of the time. But babies are often left isolated in cribs, carriers, and playpens.
Babies expect their needs to be met right away when they express discomfort. But babies are often expected to use a late signal, crying, and for an extensive time, before adults provide support.
Babies expect to be part of communal life with familiar, responsive members. But babies are often sent to child care centers where stranger-adults are overwhelmed.

Babies treated these ways spend a great deal of time distressed, which undermines their development, and shifts them into trajectories for mental and physical health disorders. For specific physiological damage of extensive crying, see here.

Here we discuss specific social experiences that are critical for establishing a lifetime of good mental health. These form part of companionship care, which follows the evolved nest, and optimizes normal development.*

We can call them 3 Rs for babies: Recognition, Resonance, and Respect.


We all want to be recognized, to be treated like an individual. Babies do too.

What does recognition in relationships look like?

Relationships of recognition look a particular way. They “affirm, validate, acknowledge, know, accept, understand, empathize, take in, tolerate, appreciate, see, identify with, find familiar…love…” the other person. These are practices of what Jessica Benjamin calls mutual recognition that are commonly noted in mother-infant interaction: “emotional attunement, mutual influence, affective mutuality, sharing state of mind” (Benjamin, 1988, pp. 15-16).

Understandings of the social world are shaped by early experience, specifically, by the mothering (nurturing responsive care) we receive from mothers, fathers and others. A vibrant, true self develops within a vibrant, mutual relationship with primary caregivers. This kind of responsiveness to the child brings out positive outcomes for the child, including greater self-control, cooperation, empathy, and conscience (e.g., Kochanska, 2002).

Recognition is a “constantly renewed commitment” that we create through dialogue with others. So it’s not only a concern for parents with children but each of us with our spouses, siblings, peers and colleagues. Recognition “moves us toward mutual liberation from the tendency to seek power and control through negation of the other, out of fear of otherness.” (Shaw, 2014, p. 6) Instead, we learn tolerance and compassion for those who struggle with life like we do.


– Darcia Narvaez

Read more: Baby Care: 3 Rs for Raising A Happy Child

Image by Fernando from Unsplash