If you’ve had a baby, you’ve almost certainly heard this piece of “advice” from some well-meaning friend or family member: holding your baby too much will spoil the baby! They have to learn how to self-soothe! If you hold your baby too much, they’ll demand to be held all the time! Not only is that really bad parenting advice and not at all helpful to new parents, it’s actually wrong. Scientifically wrong. According to a new study, holding your baby isn’t just normal, it’s actually crucial to their development.
Holding your baby is totally normal and fine, and you’ll be doing A LOT of it in those early weeks and months.
When my babies were born, it felt like all I did was hold them, for hours at a time. But you know what? They needed it, to help them calm down, help them sleep, help them feel safe and secure. And I would do it all again in a heartbeat. My babies are now kids, delighful, infuriating little humans, and they’re not spoiled or rotten because I held them as infants.
A new study reiterates what parents have known for a long time: holding your babies is good, for you AND especially for them.
Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio studied 125 premature and full-term infants, to see how they responded to gentle touch. Their findings are sort of sad: preemies were more likely to have a reduced response to touch. And preemies who had more exposure to painful medical procedures were even more likely to have a reduced response.
But here’s where it gets interesting: preemies who were held and touched more often had a GREATER response to the contact.
According to lead researcher Dr. Nathalie Maitre, consistent gentle touch can help with brain development, especially in preemies. Says Dr. Maitre, “Making sure that preterm babies receive positive, supportive touch such as skin-to-skin care by parents is essential to help their brains respond to gentle touch in ways similar to those of babies who experienced an entire pregnancy inside their mother’s womb.” Dr. Maitre goes on to say that when parents can’t perform the consistent gentle and supportive touch (which is so hard when your child is in the NICU and you have other children or a job and can’t spend every waking moment with them), hospitals should consider using therapists to provide the essential service.
Babies need to be held. This is especially important for premature or medically fragile infants, but even in full-term healthy babies, skin-to-skin and gentle, supportive touch and contact is essential to their development. So hold your babies. This stage will pass soon enough (and you’ll miss it, I promise, arm cramps and all).