I love cuddling babies. The way they scrunch their little bodies up to fit into the nooks of your body, their sweet little faces looking up at you, and, of course, that delicious baby smell. Someone hand me a baby STAT. Cuddling babies is pure bliss, and yet some people (I’m looking at you, grandparents) will scold you and say that you’re cuddling your baby “too much.”
Well, guess what? There is no such thing as “too much” cuddling. Touch is extremely important to the development of a healthy baby, so next time someone tells you that you’re snuggling with your baby too much, tell them to fuck right off.
Seriously though, if you need to defend your stance on cuddling your baby, you have science on your side. A 2017 study showed the positive effects that gentle touch, like cuddling, had on 125 premature and full term babies.
“Our findings add to our understanding that more exposure to these types of supportive touch can actually impact how the brain processes touch, a sense necessary for learning and social-emotional connections,” lead study author, Dr. Nathalie Maitre of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio told Reuters after the release of the study. The preemies who had gentle touch contact with their caregivers had a better response to touch than preemies who did not.
This may come as a surprise, but according to Maitre, newborn development, especially during those first few months, is heavily shaped by touch, and also sound, because the visual system is still immature. Infants respond best to touch, and that is their earliest way of communicating. Think about that first moment your baby grabbed your finger. That was their way of letting you know that they knew who you were. Even in those early days, they are able to distinguish between mom’s chest, and dad’s rougher skin. How could it be wrong if it’s helping to establish a positive familial relationship, right?
Things like gentle touch, and skin-to-skin contact are crucial for the development of premature and low birth weight babies. Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), which is a three component technique, is one of the earliest ways to set your preemie on a good foundation. The constant skin-to-skin contact provides preemies with proper thermal regulation, which is one of the first benefits.
A study by Pediatrics showed the long term benefits of KMD by revisiting a 20-year study. During the infant and baby stage, those who received KMD had higher breastfeeding rates, improved amounts of mother and infant bonding, and better neurological development. As kids, they were less frequently absent from school, less hyperactive, and had reduced rates of aggression, and as adults, they often had higher IQs and higher pay wages.
If you have a high-needs baby, like my son was, they will need to be held all the time. It was the only way to keep him from screaming his little head off, which he was capable of doing for hours if necessary. Trust me, it’s not fun listening to those high-pitched wails for more than about 30 seconds. Snuggling him gave him the sense of security he needed, and then when he got a little bit older, he was “peace out yo!” and took off like a rocket.
He’s four now, and sometimes, I beg him to come have a cuddle with Momma like he did when he was a baby. If I had ignored his needs for cuddles when he was a baby, he’d probably be a little ball of anxiety now, and frankly, so would I.
That’s another thing: cuddling and snuggling your baby has positive effects for moms too. In October 2015, at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference, a study was presented that showed that skin-to-skin contact and cuddling with their babies reduced new mother’s anxiety. According to Dr. Natalia Isaza, a neonatologist, “We found that all of the mothers reported an objective decrease in their stress level after skin-to-skin contact with their babies.”
So we’re not just doing our babies good, we’re doing ourselves a service too.
But, you’ll spoil him by holding him all the time! This was one of my mother’s favorite things to say to me when my son was an infant. Yes, part of it was because she wanted some grandma time, but really, she’s from the school of thought that believed holding your baby all the time would spoil them.
First of all, it’s a baby, not a gallon of milk. Babies don’t spoil. So, if you’re reading this, Mom, and every other person who utters these words, YOU CANNOT SPOIL A BABY. Did I say it loud enough? It’s science.
In a post on Psychology Today, way back in 2012, Meri Wallace LCSW, who is a parenting expert and child and family therapist said, “The primary developmental need of babies in the first year of life is to bond with their parents and gain the security that their parents will take care of them. Your job as a parent is to give your baby this assurance through your loving care.”
Let’s think about this logically for a second. Babies spend 40-ish weeks curled up inside a warm, squishy, safe place. Then they are thrust into a loud, colorful, cold world. Most adults are uncomfortable in new places, and try to cling to the things and people they know best, so for the love of all that which is holy, why do we try to punish babies for doing the same thing? They want to be near the person they were literally attached to for 40 weeks.
All of this spoiling and self-soothing bullshit is ridiculous. We expect our babies to behave like adults as soon as their out of the womb. Nonsense — that is simply not how they are wired. They can’t even hold up their own heads, how are they supposed to know how to calm themselves down?
Again, don’t we as adults seek out comfort from other humans when we’re upset? Isn’t a hug the best feeling in the world? That’s what cuddling is for a baby; it’s a hug. And there are plenty of ways to hold your baby and still get shit done. Sometimes, it actually helps them sleep or stop crying.
So mommas, keep snuggling your babies. Pretty soon they’ll be big, and then when you try to snuggle them they’ll tell you to go away. So get those snuggles in now while they still want them.