“Don’t you ever put that baby down?”
“Aren’t you going to spoil him?”
“Start teaching him to self-soothe now, before it’s too late.”
Yup, these were things actually said to me when my babies were newborns. Nope, not even when they were a few months old. When they were itty-bitty babies fresh out of the womb, I had strangers, family members — and yes, even doctors — question whether I was going to spoil my babies by holding them all the time.
Looking back, I know how absurd these statements were. My boys are 4 and 9 now, and whiz by me so fast I have to beg them to sit down and cuddle in my lap like they did all those years ago. At the time, though, I didn’t know for sure that my babies would be totally independent eventually, so the critique definitely got under my skin.
The thing is, holding my babies almost 24 hours a day like I did in those months was not exactly a choice. It was a necessity. If I put my babies down, they wailed their little heads off.
Maybe I could have let them do that, and maybe they would have learned to soothe themselves somehow, but every instinct in my body told me that if my baby was crying, he needed to be picked up. And I went with those instincts, despite the fact that I sometimes received dirty looks and judgment.
Turns out, my instincts were absolutely correct. Babies do need to be held whenever they fuss — and not just because they’re sweet and cuddly and their hair smells like heaven. It turns out there’s a ton of research out there to back up the claim that you literally cannot spoil a baby. In fact, holding babies is actually vital for their health and development.
Just a few weeks ago, a study came out in Pediatrics that looked at the effects of skin-to-skin contact on premature infants. It took the long view, looking not just at the immediate effects of holding preemies against your skin in their early weeks, but also how it affected these babies 20 years down the road.
The preemies who experienced skin-to-skin had higher IQs, significantly larger areas of gray matter in the brain, and even earned higher wages at their jobs than those who did not experience skin-to-skin care. The skin-to-skin cohort also showed less propensity toward hyperactivity and aggression in school and were less likely to experience school absences.
Of course, this study looked specifically at premature babies, who are especially vulnerable and in need of TLC. But studies on full-terms babies have similar findings.This 2012 study from the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group’s Trials Register showed that full-term babies who experienced skin-to-skin care in their early days had better cardio-respiratory stability, higher breastfeeding rates, and decreased crying.