You may have heard many people say that it is bad to hold your baby often or to answer every time they cry because you are just going to spoil them.
After hearing this you may find yourself sitting there wondering, “How can I not hold this beautiful creation that I have made all the time?” This is a thought many new parents have and question!
Research has shown that newborns experience the world through touch, therefore showing that touching and holding your baby is important for their developmental process. However, this leaves us with the question… is there such a thing as holding your baby too much? The short answer is no, now let’s figure out why.
The Power of Touch
A study done on 125 infants (born prematurely to full term) that measured their brain responses shows that a baby’s earliest experiences of touch, right after birth, can have lasting effects on the way that they respond to touch once they get home from the hospital.
Touching skin-to-skin with their parents helps newborn’s brains to respond to gentle touch in a similar way that they experienced during pregnancy inside of their mother’s womb, thus providing a sense of comfort and home.
Touch is the backbone of interpersonal interactions and sensory-cognitive development within newborn brains. Out of all of the sensory systems that develop within our bodies, the somatosensory system is the earliest to develop, this is the foundation for higher-level perception and cognitive representations. Providing gentle touches to your infant will help to further this development for their future.
The Importance of Touch for Premature Babies
There are 15 million preterm infants born every year and most of these babies spend their first few weeks of life within the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of the hospital. Babies that are born preterm, between the gestational ages of 24 – 36 weeks, truly need the power of touch to help thrive and grow.
The study showed that preterm babies were more likely than full-term babies to have a reduced brain response when provided with a gentle touch. They noticed that if preterm babies had to go through painful procedures, due to underdevelopment, their brains would respond less to gentle touch later on. This was true regardless of pain medications or sugar that was given to the infant to help make the process easier. They have found that nothing could truly replace a gentle touch.
However, if NICU babies did have gentle contact with their parents or healthcare providers during their first few weeks after birth, they were found to have a stronger brain response to touch. This was only possible however, for NICU babies that were in good enough shape to be held shortly after birth and if they did not have to endure these painful procedures.
They found that these painful procedures created a negative association between tactile experiences for preterm infants and thus creating a different result than the preterm babies that did not have to undergo such treatments.
Touch for Full Term Infants
Studies have found that for full-term infants, born between 37–42 weeks gestational age, that were held often and provided with gentle touches shortly after birth had a stronger brain response to touch than those that did not receive it. They were also found to have a much higher level of brain response to touch than those of premature babies.
Is Holding Your Baby Often Spoiling Them?
The easy answer is no it is not. You can not “spoil” or hold your baby too much within their first year of life. You are developing the idea of “Trust vs. Mistrust” with your newborn. They are learning to trust that when they need something you and your partner are there to provide that need. By answering to your babies cues and needs you are merely supporting their brain function and their trust in the world around them.
By holding your baby, feeding them often, and touching them before they cry they creating the link within their mind that their needs will be met and that they are loved. That is never a bad thing!