Dear Dr. Debbie,
We took a parenting class before the baby came and the instructor seemed to advocate for swaddling, holding, walking and rocking a newborn. We even followed up on her advice for both my husband and me to do skin-to-skin contact soon after our daughter was born. Now some friends and well-meaning family members are saying we hold her too much. Is there such as think as too much holding?
Don’t miss last week’s column Ethnic identity in adoption — Good Parenting
Dear Snuggly Mommy,
Looking at human infants across cultures and even infant needs across a variety of animal species, holding the baby seems to be what nature intended. An infant’s head fits into an adult’s hand and her body length fills the span of your curved arm. Your face is the perfect distance away for her to gaze into your eyes. Wrap your other arm around her and you can bring her close to your beating heart. A familiar sound. Walking, rocking and gentle bouncing take her back to the life she knew in utero. Gentle motion seems to be important for brain development as well as for her new challenge of working food through her body. And since she doesn’t yet have language to know that she is safe and loved, loving touch and soothing movement are essential items a baby needs from her parents. Not to say that you should neglect everything else. Besides your very important job of caring for the baby, you can still take care of other tasks while baby rides along.
There are many ways to tote a baby around — from simply tying her securely with a towel, blanket or sheet to any one of the manufactured devices that abound on the market today. American babies (and parents) owe thanks to a Peace Corps nurse working in Togo, West Africa, Ann Moore, who fashioned the first Snugli (with help from her own mom) to mimic what she had seen in her travels: cloth slings for mothers to use as they went about other duties while keeping their babies snuggling close.
One of the most well respected organizations concerned with the earliest stages of development, Zero to Three, heartily concurs with the benefits of close physical contact between parent and infant. Holding an infant not only fosters a responsive relationship between you, it induces the brain’s growth hormones.
And the babies seem to like it.
Across cultures, when a baby is carried, the crying stops. If you’d like to add scientific evidence to the weight of this position, share an anthropological perspective on the parenting role. If you go way back in our human family tree, we must be descended from babies who protested at being put down. Those ancient babies whose fussing caused them to be held did not become lunch for the saber tooth tiger. It’s an evolutionary characteristic for our own good.
New parents seem to attract lots of advice — much of it conflicting. Trust your baby on this one.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com