Why you can’t cuddle your baby too much

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re spoiling your baby by constantly cuddling them.

26 January 2018
By Glynis Horning

Holding your baby close is something most moms want to do instinctively, especially in the first hours and days after birth, and in spite of what some may say about spoiling your child, science has your back.

1. Cuddling calms you

In a study at the Children’s National Health System Hospital in Washington DC in the US, which measured mothers’ stress levels before and after holding their babies skin-to-skin after birth, all experienced a drop in stress levels after cuddling. Researcher Dr Natalia Isaza noted it promotes the new mom’s overall well-being.

2. Cuddling calms your baby

There is strong evidence that newborns placed skin-to-skin with their moms straight after birth make the transition to life outside the womb with greater respiratory, temperature and glucose stability, says Dr Susan Annandale, a paediatrician in Vredenburg, Cape Town.  And a study in the journal Paediatrics found carrying a baby for a “significant portion” of the day reduced the fussiness and colicky symptoms that peak at six weeks. It also boosted the baby’s overall well-being.

3. Cuddling improves baby’s intelligence and behaviour

According US paediatric researcher Dr Raylene Phillips, “skin-to-skin contact activates the amygdala and contributes to the maturation of this vital brain structure”. Another study in Paediatrics found preemies held skin-to-skin in their first weeks were less inclined to hyperactivity and aggression in school, and had higher IQs and larger areas of grey matter in their brains 20 years later. They even earned higher wages. “I work with a lot of learning and behavioural problems,” says Dr Annandale. “And I feel that a baby’s emotional well-being often already starts in utero, and continues with the first skin-to-skin contact after birth.”

4. Cuddling helps you bond

This is true not only for moms, but for dads, according to a US study, which looked at dads who held their babies to their chests after Caesarian deliveries.

5. Cuddling reduces baby’s stress

The babies in that study reportedly cried less, grew calmer, and reached a “peaceful, drowsy state” faster than babies place in cots near their dads. “More organised sleeping patterns are often sustained years later, and babies who were cuddled often also manage stress better when grow up,” says Dr Annandale.

6. Cuddling reduces baby’s pain

“Studies have also shown that babies who were breastfed during immunisations manifested shorter periods of crying and grimacing than those being held down by a nurse,” says Dr Annandale. “Bottle feeding and suckling on a dummy had some calming effect, but not to the same extent. Hospitalisation makes both parents and children feel scared and out of control. Having a parent present to hold a hand or give a hug during a procedure may help lessen the stress of the situation.”

7. Cuddling boosts baby’s immunity and your own

It raises the levels of oxytocin in both of you, and oxytocin strengthens immune systems by lowering your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can compromise immunity. “Regular cuddling has a positive effect on breast milk production and the duration of breastfeeding, and breast milk provides essential immunity to the baby,” says Annandale. “Give your baby love, warmth and breastfeeding.”

But take note

“If your baby wants to be held continuously, there may be a medical problem like oesophageal reflux disease or a urinary tract or ear infection,’ says Dr Annandale. Take him for a check-up.

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images