Baby Hugs Are The Best Hugs, Says Science (Really)

by Team Scary Mommy
LWA / Dann Tardif / Getty Images

Growing up my mother insisted on at least three hugs a day. “Hugs make you happy!” she’d say as she snagged me for a hug. I was pretty sullen about that as a teenager, but now that I’m a mother too I have to say I completely agree. Hugs DO make you happier, and I gleefully hug my daughter each time I get the chance.

Did you know there’s hard science behind touch, especially when it comes to infants and babies? A recent Huggies study on “The Power of Human Touch for Babies” notes that “Babies have an innate need to be loved and nurtured and develop trust and attachment.” I’m not sure I need science to make me want to hold my baby, but it sure is nice to have the backup for those nosy relatives that suggest you just put that baby down already. So let’s talk about all the kinds of baby hugs.

The First Hug

I’ll never forget the moment I held my baby for the first time; after a difficult birth, I had to wait a few hours to see her, so you can imagine I was soooo ready when it finally happened. It was the most powerful moment of my life. All the things they say about how you’ll feel the first time your child is in your arms (no matter what route they took to get there) are true. Did you know that hugs also release chemicals in your brain that make you feel good? It’s true, and this video shows it. Both oxytocin and dopamine are released into your brain when you hug. That might explain why I felt the way I did hugging my baby that first time!

Kangaroo Mother Care

Because she was born a bit early, we began doing “kangaroo” hugs, or skin-to-skin contact, right away. This is practiced simply by laying your baby (only wearing a diaper) directly to your bare chest. I cherished these moments so much. I was perfectly content to just sit with her on my chest, stroking her face and head. I could see the little tufts of hair still on her ears perfectly while she lay on me.

The Walkin’ And Rockin’ Hug

We all know this one; you hold the baby and walk or rock or dance, moving gently to help sooth your baby to sleep. No one has stronger thighs than the parents of babies, because you have to do the rocking or dancing with your knees bent. Basically, baby parents do a low squat for several hours a day. In addition, neuroscientist Olivier Oullier says there’s more than just a good feeling with hugging your baby; it also activates the protective instinct that all parents know very well.

The First Time They Hug You Back

Eventually came that magical day when it wasn’t just me doing the hugging. Is there anything more wonderful than a baby hugging you back? Like when they do that sigh and tuck their head beneath your chin and put an arm around your neck? No, I do not think there is. I swear I can still feel the first time my daughter hugged me back.

The First Step Hug

This is a big one! This is a very distinctive hug. It’s the exhilarated hug right after your toddler takes their first steps, and you swoop up your baby, congratulating them with joy at their success—all while feeling a combination of delight and terror at this new development.

The Boo-Boo Hug

With walking comes falling, and lots of boo-boos. Did you know hugging and kissing away those small hurts actually relieve pain? That same study above has found evidence that babies feel less pain if they are “hugged” while undergoing pediatric procedures like vaccinations (this hug is really more of a gentle restraint), so it makes sense that hugs from your parents actually make you feel better when you’ve got an ouchie. Here’s where the science helps, too — those positive brain chemicals, in this case endorphins which relieve pain, are why a boo-boo hug actually DOES make your little one feel better!

The Goodnight Hug

My favorite hug even today, though, is the goodnight hug. Well, it’s a bit more of a cuddle now that my daughter’s getting older, but it’s a sacred time of day where we hug/cuddle while talking or reading before she goes to sleep. These hugs always make me feel more strongly connected to my daughter, probably because they release oxytocin in the brain, causing us to bond. Those are my favorite moments of each day.

I know the science says that hugging benefits babies, but I think there’s plenty of strong evidence that parents do better with more hugs too. So, ask yourself: have you had enough hugs today?

This post is sponsored by Huggies. Huggies — the fastest growing diaper brand in U.S. hospitals — believes deeply in the Power of Hugs, which is why every diaper and wipe is designed to emulate a parent’s embrace. The Huggies No Baby Unhugged program helps ensure all babies get the hugs they need to thrive by supporting hugging programs in hospitals and donating diapers across the country. Learn how you can help at