Can you spoil a baby by holding them too much? What the Research Shows
Parenting,  Slow Living

Can you spoil a baby by holding them too much? What the Research Shows

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As moms we can’t help but want to hold and cuddle with our new little ones constantly. Their little hands and feet are just begging to be kissed and their baby cries melt our hearts.

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So many of us have our motherly instincts questioned by friends, family, neighbors, or even total strangers.  I’m sure many of us have heard that if our baby wants to be held all the time that they are manipulating us or that we are going to end up with a spoiled baby (as if babies are milk that can be left out too long or something).   It leads us to wonder ‘can you hold a baby too much?’ or when to stop holding baby all the time.

So – is it possible?

Can you spoil a newborn by holding them?

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The simple and short answer (that most of us instinctually seem to know when we bring our little ones home) is that you can’t spoil a baby.

Babies are used to being constantly cared for and kept safe and warm when they are inside us. They are constantly with us and have come to know the sound of our voices and the smell of our skin. When a baby is born they go through a huge change where they are no longer in the safety of our bodies and now have to experience the world in a new way.

Sounds are louder, lights are brighter and they will feel so many new sensations, even within their own tiny bodies.  It must be completely overwhelming sometimes.

In a new world, with new experiences, the only way a baby has to communicate with us is through crying and touch.

Holding your baby allows them to feel safe as they know you are the one who carried them for the last nine months. They recognize your smell, and your voice, and the feel of your skin makes them feel close to you. But holding your baby close not only has a soothing and comforting effect on them, but can actually affect them mentally, socially, academically and physically.

One study done by Pediatrics  showed that skin to skin contact throughout the first few months, especially skin to skin during the first few hours after being born, can have social and behavioral  benefits for both the child and their mother. Increasing the bond between the two.

The study also showed that the skin to skin contact can increase the babies IQ in the first year. A follow up on this study also showed that these benefits were still evident 20 years later.

Another study shown by Current Biology  also showed that gentle touch can have a positive influence on perceptual, cognitive and social development in infants and young children.

So all those kisses and gentle hugs you are giving your baby are actually doing more for your little one than just showing them love. You are actually helping shape their future towards success and emotional intelligence with every little touch.

As parents we sometimes forget that small things can add up to big outcomes when it comes to our babies.

But that again raises the question, can I hold my baby to much?

If little things add up can holding my baby one too many times add up to a spoiled child?      

Researchers have good news for us!  It’s actually impossible to spoil your infant with cuddles, kisses and holding. Experts say that “Contrary to popular myth, it’s impossible for parents to hold or respond to a baby too much… Infants need constant attention to give them the foundation to grow emotionally, physically and intellectually.”

Kevin Nugent, director of the Brazelton Institute at Children’s Hospital in Boston and a child psychologist stated that Responding to baby’s cues “isn’t a matter of spoiling, It’s a matter of meeting the child’s needs.”

Many recent studies show that gentle touch can help premature babies recover and develop faster.

Dr. Nathalie Maitre told Science Daily, “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.”

Studies done by Dr. Nathalie Maitre also show that premature babies are less likely to react to gentle touch, probably due to the fact of the trauma their bodies have been through.

But with consistent touch, even if it’s just stroking their back or holding their hand, the infant will start to react more and more to being touched and they can quickly catch up with full term babies.

But the benefits of holding your baby constantly aren’t just for the baby.

The more a mother holds her baby the stronger the connection she will feel to her little one.

Many women, after giving birth, suffer from what is known as the baby blues. This is caused by the drastic change in hormone levels after giving birth, and although you are excited and in love with your baby, the baby blues can leave you with a feeling of disconnect and some women even feel a form of loss or depression.

For most women these feelings will go away after a couple of weeks, when hormone levels even out, but for some women it can lead to postpartum depression.

Ergobaby’s  new study shows that mothers who did skin to skin with their babies consistently during the first month scored lower on the depression scale (meaning they were happier and less depressed).  None of the women, who did skin to skin with their baby everyday, were found to have depression severe enough to be classified as clinical.

HelpGuide states that it may be harder for women suffering from postpartum depression to bond with their babies, and they are less likely to hold them as often.  Women who suffer from postpartum depression who actively try to hold their babies more often tend to have a stronger bond with their babies releasing endorphins that create feelings of happiness and a decrease in depression.

The benefits of holding a baby don’t end with just the babies and mothers.

Constant touch and interaction with the father can have just as many health and bonding benefits with fathers as it does with mother and baby.

Most babies aren’t born with a strong attachment to their fathers in the same way they are with mothers. But, through gentle touch, the bond between infant and father can become just as strong.  Being held by their father can give a child just as many health and academic benefits.

So, can you spoil a baby?

Research not only strongly says that you aren’t spoiling a baby by holding them but also that you’re actually helping your baby develop in a healthy way by holding them.  So, instead of worrying if we are spoiling a baby, we can focus more on ways to hold a baby that will allow us to get things done while also meeting our baby’s needs.

I personally love to use baby carriers to keep my babies (and toddlers!) close while also having my hands free to do chores, play with older children, and get outside for some fresh air and exercise.

Maybe instead of asking ‘how much should I hold my baby’,  the question we should be asking is ‘do I hold my baby enough?’.  This small shift in perspective could mean a big difference to how we respond to our baby’s needs.

The truth is that your baby is only little for a short time, so don’t hesitate to pick them up and hold them for as long as you like.  It won’t be long before your baby has outgrown your arms.  And, if anyone tries to tell you that you’re spoiling your baby, you can smile and know that the research shows you can’t spoil a baby with too much love.

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Alexis is a wife and mom on a journey of gentle parenting, slow living, and lower toxicity in a laid back way.

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