Do You Hold Your Baby Too Much?
That sounds like a straightforward question, right? There continues to be so much misinformation swirling around in relation to babies and their needs so we thought we’d set the record straight here.
Do you hold your baby too much? Is that even possible? Doesn’t holding them too much “spoil” them and create a needy and dependent bond? Can too much holding make our babies unable to sleep without us? These are some common concerns and questions many new parents have.
The short answer is no, you cannot hold your baby too much and we’ll get into the rest of those questions below.
Holding your baby
When it comes to holding your baby, there is no such thing as “too much.” Seriously!
In fact, when it comes to holding and connecting with your baby, the more you are able to do this, the better it is!
Here are a few things we know to be true of holding our babies:
1. Attending to your crying baby will result in less crying
Do your future self a solid and hold your baby when they are crying! When a mother/parent/caregiver responds to a baby’s cry, it fortifies the sense of security in that relationship because the infant can trust its needs will be met. One study (Hunzinger & Barr 1986) showed that children who had more responsive parents were more sociable, could soothe themselves easier and cried less (50% less). Your future self thanks you for 50% less crying!
2. Holding your baby supports their growth
Did you know that nurturing – often done through touch and contact – stimulates growth? Babies who receive nurturing touch gain weight faster and have better intellectual and motor development plus holding your baby in a nurturing way helps to regulate their heart rate and temperature and their sleep/wake patterns, which all contribute to healthy development.
3. Holding your baby often helps their emotional regulation
Babies are not born with the capacity to regulate their emotions or self-soothe therefore, they need support from you in this department. When a parent consistently holds their baby and responds to their cries, the baby creates a secure attachment to that parent. This becomes their emotional regulation system; the parents model emotional regulation strategies and soon the child is able to regulate their emotions independently. Children who are able to regulate their emotions are more social, have fewer behavioral problems and have more control over their behavior. Nurturing them as infants is supportive of this process.
4. Attachment and responsiveness supports stress regulation in your baby
In one study (Nichmail et al.,1996), toddlers were placed in a situation designed to cause stress or fear. The toddlers who had a securely attached relationship with their parents showed no elevations in the stress hormone cortisol. Another study on baby rats showed that the babies who were groomed and licked more grew up to respond better (i.e. less cortisol production) to stressful situations. Pretty cool, right? And what’s cooler? You can contribute to this for your baby through nurturing touch and responsiveness.
5. By holding your baby more, you can bolster their confidence and sense of exploration
When your baby is ready to strike out on their own aka crawling, exploring, walking and running, children who have had their needs met in the past have formed a “secure base” from which to explore. You are the secure base. This popular theory by Ainsworth states that children will readily explore a new environment when their mother or primary caregiver is present. If the mother or caregiver moves away, the child’s exploration will slow and their behavior may change. Upon the return of their caregiver, they may signal to be held for some time until they feel confident enough that their secure base is there for them to explore.
6. A held baby = an independent baby
While this may feel counterintuitive, there are a number of studies that demonstrate that nurturing your baby will support their increased independence. One study showed that children who slept with their parents in infancy were reported to be more self-reliant and show greater social independence at pre-school age (Keller & Goldberg, 2004). In another related study (Sroufe, Fox, & Pancake 1983), children who had been securely attached as infants were better able to problem solve on their own and sought teacher attention in more appropriate/positive ways than their peers.
As time passes, there is more and more evidence-based information that continues to demonstrate the plethora of benefits your baby experiences when they are held, attended to and nurtured. As we can see, the benefits have both immediate and long-term impacts. If you’re looking for more information on this topic, we invite you to check out ‘Beyond the Sling’ by Mayim Bialik, ‘Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain’ by Sue Gerhardt and James McKenna’s book Safe Infant Sleep: Expert Answers to Your Cosleeping Questions.
In the meantime, we will always advocate that you and your family make the best choices for you. If this topic has been rattling around in your mind, we hope to have provided you with some helpful information.
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