There is something uniquely wonderful about snuggling a baby in your arms. They’re soft, they smell good, and they provide unconditional love. In addition, studies have shown that holding or wearing your baby in a sling can alleviate postpartum depression. However, many parents wonder if it is possible to hold their baby too much.
The answer depends on who you ask. So to help you decide how much you should be holding your baby, we’ll cover both sides of the discussion.
Benefits of Holding Your Baby
Holding your baby benefits you and them. Skin-to-skin contact helps babies form attachments with their caregivers. Doctors recommend that even if you decide to bottle feed, you should take your shirt off while feeding your baby; dads and non-nursing partners can do the same.
Holding your baby also helps you form an attachment with them. Statistically, as many as 15% of new mothers experience post-partum depression; fathers can experience it too. Research points to wearing a baby sling or carrier to combat post-natal depression. Keeping your baby close provides additional skin-to-skin contact time and releases chemicals that make moms and dads feel happier, relaxed, and more confident. In addition, skin-to-skin contact enhances the brain development of newborns.
Many parents choose to use baby carriers if they have a colicky or particularly fussy baby because it allows them to carry on with daily activities hands-free while providing comfort to their little one.
Holding a baby reminds them they are safe and secure, and the gentle movement of rocking or walking can soothe them. When newborns cry, it is important parents respond with touch or by picking them up. Touch offers reassurance and helps calm them.
When Can I Stop Responding to Every Cry?
Babies cry a lot; that’s a fact. Crying and fussing is their only form of communication until they learn to point, move, and speak. When a newborn cries, they are alerting you that something is wrong, so it is essential that parents respond and attempt to discover what is causing their discomfort.
Some people will say that holding your baby too much will spoil them. This belief is a myth, at least for the first several months of their life. Newborns need the constant reassurance that they are safe and cared for to form proper attachment and support healthy brain development.
That said, it doesn’t mean you have to immediately drop what you’re doing and rush to pick them up. For example, letting them cry for a few moments while you finish washing the dishes or use the bathroom won’t cause any psychological damage. Some parents choose to wait a few minutes to see if the baby can settle themselves.
However, the desire or need for parents to respond to every cry should taper around 5 to 6 months. At this point, your baby will have needs versus wants, and if you respond to every want, you will begin to train your child that if they cry and fuss, they get whatever they want.
As your baby grows and develops, it is also crucial to their development that they learn how to self-soothe and problem solve—letting your baby “cry it out” as they get older can aid with sleeping through the night and fostering their independence.
What If I Can’t Hold My Baby All the Time?
As much as you may want to, sometimes it is impossible to hold a baby every time they cry or the entire time they cry. There are chores, errands, and other tasks throughout the day moms and dads have to complete.
While it’s essential to respond to cries alerting you to meal times, diaper changes, and the need for a nap, sometimes babies are just fussy and cranky. If you have a fussy baby that loves to be held, here are some tricks you can try:
- Use a baby swing or vibrating infant seat. The motion of the swing or vibrations of the seat may soothe or rock your baby enough to calm them.
- Use a baby carrier or sling. If you have work that needs to get done around the house, a baby carrier is a great way to keep your baby close. Avoid drinking hot beverages like tea or coffee while holding them in the carrier, and watch out for pets and other dangers below your feet.
- Offer a pacifier. Pacifiers are excellent coping and self-soothing devices for babies. Experts recommend waiting a few weeks before introducing a pacier, so your baby learns how to latch onto the breast properly; however, many babies use a pacifier from the start and breastfeed just fine.
- Play music or sing to them. Babies love music, and it is very soothing to listen to mom or dad sing or hum. Any tune will do, even a made-up one. Plus, listening to music aids in brain development.
- Give them a distraction. Place them in their crib or on a play mat under a mobile and see if you can re-direct their attention. Newborns can see about 12 inches from their face and love bold contrasting colors like black and white or red and yellow.
All babies cry, but some cry more than others. If you have a particularly fussy baby, they may suffer from colic. A colicky baby cries for more than 2 hours a day, usually in the afternoon and evening, for no known cause and doesn’t respond to typical soothing techniques. If you suspect your baby has colic, contact your pediatrician.
When possible, especially during the first few months of their life, parents should pick up and hold their babies when they cry. Offer lots of skin-to-skin contact, talk and sing to them, and engage in bonding time to help your baby develop a secure attachment. Remember, you can’t spoil a newborn by holding them, but it is also ok to set your crying baby down at times if you need a break or to finish a task.