Hold Your Baby

Hold Your Baby

At the breastfeeding group that I volunteer at, the most common non-breastfeeding-related concern (or rather, the most common indirectly breastfeeding-related concern) the new mums have is that they are holding their babies too much. This is an open letter to them, and to all mothers who worry that their babies are spending too much time in their arms.


Dear mama,

I know how you’re feeling. I really, really do. I remember those days pinned to the sofa, enjoying the soft cuddles with my baby but constantly worrying. The laundry, the dishes, the hoovering, the dinner… and of course, the echo of The Baby Experts ricocheting around my head, warning me to put my sleeping baby down, lest they ‘get used’ to sleeping in my arms. Don’t pick them up as soon as they make a noise, don’t feed them more than every two hours and for goodness’ sake never ever let them nurse to sleep.

The thing is though, mama, worrying about these things is wasted time. Precious time that you’ll never get back.

I remember the frustration, and the irrational thoughts that you’ll never get off the sofa/sleep/do anything without a baby attached to you ever again. I remember the guilt – wanting to cuddle your baby but worrying that you’re doing him a disservice by doing so. I remember the patronising smiles from older relatives after they encourage you to try to put your baby down more often, and you tell them you can’t bear to hear them cry.

A baby’s natural habitat is their mother. Your sweet baby grew within you; nine whole months hearing your heartbeat, your voice, your laugh. Your baby doesn’t care about the pretty moses basket you bought him. He certainly doesn’t think much of the bouncy chair, or the crib. And that musical mobile that was supposed to entertain him – forget it!

Hold your baby.

Your baby wants you. More than that, he needs you. He knows of nothing but your warm arms, your sweet fragrance, and how you make all of the bad feelings disappear with nothing but an embrace. You are part of him, and he of you. Nobody knows that little baby better than you do, mama – and nobody knows you like he does.

I promise you that these weeks will fly past at a frightening rate. Before you know it, your tiny little bundle will be a rambunctious child, running you ragged and becoming increasingly hard to pin down for a cuddle. I know everybody says that you’ll miss it when it’s gone and it’s hard to believe that right now, but there’s a reason why they keep saying it. It’s painfully true. Watching your child grow is so bittersweet, and infancy is so fleeting.

Hold your baby. Listen to the instinct within that tells you that your baby belongs on your chest. Let him rest his sweet head on your shoulder, and gaze at his beautiful sleeping face. Listen to the sound of his breathing. Stroke him, kiss him, and adore him. Smell his intoxicatingly sweet, milky breath. Hold him not just in your arms, but also in your heart. Enjoy every single fleeting second while you still can.

Hold your baby. I promise you won’t spoil them. I promise you won’t make them clingy. I promise you will regret it if you don’t.

Image: karindalziel @ flickr


  1. says

    It’s so tragic that the prevailing message out there is: you’re going to spoil your baby.

    Even knowing it’s ridiculous, it can be hard not to dwell on the idea – particularly with all those family members saying, she’s never going to let you put her down! (along with all the newborn sleep deprivation that does a lot to befuddle your common sense). :p

    Keep sharing the right message mama – it needs to get out there! :D And I can definitely add from my experience – hold your baby! All too soon that time will be past…

  2. Barbara says

    Hi Imogen,

    That is just what I want to say to every mum who thinks they are holding their baby too much. So beautifully written.
    I think it is not a non breastfeeding concern. Being near baby helps breastfeeding and being too far apart hinders it. Mums who keep their babies near probably have less breastfeeding issues (only my personal feeling backed up by a very small sample!)

    Best wishes


  3. TheRealMBJ says

    I’m expecting my second and this made me cry. In a good way. I didn’t put DS down, and I got all those comments and feelings but now, looking bak, I see so clearly that is was a precious time that I’ll never get back. I am glad I made the most of it, and regret worrying about it.

    • says

      Thank you for your comment! How wonderful that you went with your instincts :) I wish I had done the same earlier – I didn’t get the courage to flip off the naysayers until #1 was about four months old :(

  4. cathy says

    love love love this. it’s so true, so perfect. now that my ‘baby’ is two, i have to stalk my other mama friends to hold their newborns. there is absolutely nothing like it- the sight, the sounds, the smell of that tiny baby. ahhhhhh…….bliss.

  5. amelia says

    love it! I wish someone had told my mom this when she kept telling me to put down my baby. Thankfully I didn’t listen to her. My response was that the baby cries when I put her down, and that holding her makes us both happy.

    • says

      Good for you! :) How wonderful that you followed your instincts and did what you knew was right for you both. I remember in the hospital after my first baby was born being told by a family member to make sure I didn’t pick him up as soon as he cried or he’d learn that crying got him attention. I smiled and nodded but inside was like… um, okay. I mean, what better way to welcome your child to the world than by telling them that their only means of communication is useless? Sigh.

      Thank you for your comment!

  6. stephanie says

    There have been studies done with rats, where baby rats who were licked and groomed often by their mothers grew up to be healthier and more confident, while baby rats whose mothers ignored them grew up to be nervous and less healthy. Lest you think it is simply genetics (bad mothers have nervous babies), they also tested by switching litters out – giving litters born to “good” mothers over to neglectful mothers, and the litters of neglectful mothers to “good” mothers – the effect was the same. The babies who were groomed grew up better adjusted to life than those that were ignored, regardless of who their birth mother was. Science proving what instinct tells us.

    As a college student, I spent a summer working in a daycare center in the baby room. The two older women who’d worked there for years constantly berated me for holding the babies too much. I wasn’t allowed to hold them and give them bottles (they propped them up in car seats). I couldn’t even hold them on my lap to sit on the floor and play with them or read to them – I had to let them sit or lay alone. They, too, said that holding them too much would make they cry to be held all the time. Even at 19, I knew it was total bunk, and after they left, while I worked the evening shift alone, I held those kids as much as I could.

    • says

      That’s so sad :( I am so glad those little babies had you to look after them!!

      You’re absolutely right, and it can also be seen in the orphanages in places such as Romania where the children are very rarely touched or held. Their growth is stunted and they suffer terrible physical and emotional problems. It is utterly heartbreaking.

      Thank you so much for your comment. It’s really important that people realise that damaging a baby by holding them “too much” is impossible but that it’s perfectly possible (in fact probable) to damage a baby by not holding them enough.

  7. Ophelia says

    I love this! I remember being soooo sleep deprived with a baby that needed help to latch & was waking every 30-90 mins all night long (early weeks) and then – he’;’d fall asleep & at least half the time I wouldn’t say “thank goodness” like a same person, I would be sad that I HAD to sleep, because the bliss of looking at that beautiful sleeping face was what I wanted instead. I absolutely love the Aerosmith song that says “I could stay awake just to hear you breathing
    Watch you smile while you are sleeping
    While you’re far away and dreaming
    I could spend my life in this sweet surrender
    I could stay lost in this moment forever
    Where every moment spent with you is a moment I treasure

    Don’t wanna close my eyes, I don’t wanna fall asleep
    ‘Cause I’d miss you baby and I don’t wanna miss a thing
    ‘Cause even when I dream of you the sweetest dream would never do
    I’d still miss you baby and I don’t want to miss a thing”
    (From Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing”)

    THAT is exactly how having a new baby feels to me – like I am sooo tired, but I dont’ want to sleep because I don’t want to miss a single thing…not a grimace or smile, a wiggle or sigh. it doesn’t last. With my first I just wanted to soak it all in & with my second I was even more keenly aware how fleeting it is. It never gets old to me now that I realize how quickly it’s gone – and once it’s gone, it’s gone.

    • says

      Oh what a beautiful comment :) I freaking love that song. It came on once in the night on the radio when I was sleeping downstairs with #2, and the hormonal tears started flowing almost immediately :’)

      I completely understand what you say about not wanting to miss any of it. It’s like, sleep is great and of course we all want as much of it as possible, but there’s absolutely nothing in this world that can beat gazing at your very own beautiful baby in the half light, watching their lips quiver and their eyelids flicker. It’s just… It’s magic. :)

      Thank you so much for your comment (and for making me feel all broody for a newborn again :P )

  8. Iona says

    My mum always told me enjoy your time with your baby as it’s such a precious time and that babies are for cuddling (as they’re not babies for long) to leave the washing up and everything else. I’m glad I listened to her. Building that bond is a wonderful precious experience and you will never regret it. Cuddle your baby as much as you can.

    • says

      Your mum is very wise! It’s wonderful to hear from people who have such positive influences in their lives with regards to parenting – you hear all too often of older relatives encouraging mothers to practice more detached parenting. You’re absolutely right, there’s no such thing as holding a baby too much!

  9. Helen says

    You’ve made such a good point. There is a season for everything, and the nesting season is for nesting! Holding really IS a breastfeeding issue, though, at least according to some research regarding weight gain in the early days. Babies who were held more in the first few days after birth also GAINED more weight. First of all, being held lowers the baby’s stress hormone levels. Secondly, holding a new baby close makes it easy to know when he or she is in that half-asleep, coming-awake mode that makes nursing so easy. If mom and baby are both lightly dressed, nothing is easier than shifting the baby a little and latching right on. One of the speakers on Gold Con 2011 made this point, and for the life of me I can’t remember which one (probably Suzanne Coulson).
    And btw, it’s normal for a new mom to feel like she never gets dressed,- always has one or both bra flaps down, etc. I had a very gentlemanly Scottish mail carrier while several of our babies were small. We got a lot of registered mail, and he would always knock quietly on the door rather than ringing the bell so as not to wake the baby. He would also politely ignore whatever state of disarray my clothes were in when I opened the door. I was always holding a baby who was either nursing, or had just finished.

    • says

      You’re absolutely right, it really *is* a breastfeeding issue. I should have described it as an indirect breastfeeding issue (versus a direct breastfeeding issue such as sore nipples or bad latch). In fact I think I’ll edit the post to say that. Thank you so much for your comment!

  10. Kelly says

    I love this. I have had older women tell me, “You know, you should put him down sometimes.” I have also had my mom tell me to get my baby used to the Pack ‘n Play so I can get things done around the house. I don’t care about the state of my house. I work full time and when I’m home I want every possible second with my sweet baby.

  11. Teri says

    I don’t breastfeed, and consider infant holding to be a crucial issue. That it’s ignored as a critical issue for bottle-feeding parents is indicative of the anti-bottle environment in developed countries, where formula-feeding parents in particular are deemed inferior parents by health care professionals and fellow parents alike.

    Part of the effect of the increasingly militancy among many lactivists is that good bottle-feeding information has been all but banned from being disseminated. Hospitals don’t teach it, doctors don’t teach it, and you’re a lot more likely to find information on how to trap your own Yeti on the internet than find it. Some health care professionals are prohibited from giving bottle information, or only give cursory information because it’s considered a “booby trap” to even acknowledge the existence of bottles. Yet information about infant holding is crucial for both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding parents, including many who consider themseles exclusively breastfeeding because so many moms pump and give expressed breastmilk.

    Are bottle-feeding parents told to dress down and give skin-to-skin contact while giving a bottle? No. Are bottle-feeding parents told to switch sides as you do when breastfeeding? No. The first I heard of this was long after I’d started bottle feeding from a group of moms on the internet who’d been bullied once too many by lactivists of all stripes. And while I held my baby a lot based on instinct, being called as an inferior mother by the online bully lactivist community and having been given inferior medical care for my baby by two pediatricians because of their anti-formula bias, this was enough to discourage anyone, including me, from even looking at information typically given to breastfeeding moms as an example of how to bottle feed.

    Encouraging infant holding helps breastfeeding moms, of course. But I feel it’s important to make sure that the issue is not just treated as a breastfeeding issue because anyone who bottle feeds needs to know it, and enough of us have been abused by fellow moms and health care professionals that it’s hard to even visit a website about breastfeeding because we’re so weary of harsh treatment.

    • Ophelia says

      I am not sure the point of your rant here on THIS article. This article was nice for ANY mom out there doing any kind of feeding method – it was just about holding your baby without guilt. There was nothing in there worth ranting about breastfeeders. As much as I hear what you are saying – I also see that there is a militant anti-BFing side to life too. Perhaps as a bottle feeding momma you don’t get to see that side – but the fact is – there is a side to life where moms are just plain criticized for whatever they do & that is an unfortunate part of our culture. You don’t rear face past a year? What are you an idiot? You do rear face as long a s possible? What are you planning to do, wrap your kids in bubble wrap forever? blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Even among BFers there is a split between those that think you need to wean at a year or shortly after & those that think you should nurse as long as possible. There is no “one size” to parenting.

      As far as “switching side” – why would you need to switch side while bottle feeding? I BFd & I don’t even switch sides except in the early early days while establishing milk supply. Once I hit a couple of weeks, I do single side feedings only as it increases hindmilk. I have never heard of any reason for switching sides for a bottlefed baby. I suppose it might be good for tortecollis, but am not sure it really is anything critical or even beneficial, as that is just my only guess as to “why”. As a BFing mom – no one told me to do skin to skin either. I read about kangaroo care& did that on my own as did my Dh. If it is any consolation to you – different areas have different cultural norms. Around here all I got was encouragement not to BFd. I was encouraged (by Drs from the very beginning at the hospital) to at least supplement with formula. That national average for babies being formula fed full time, part time or with some supplementation from time to time is well over 90% – so you need to understand that whoever the “militant” group is – they are a small minority when it comes to who is really out there. Last year the rate of “exclusive” BFing through 3 months was 35%. Depending on where you live (like Cali) that could be much higher or the south where it could be much much lower. By 6 months less than half of all babies are getting any breastmilk at all & by 12 months it drop below 1/4 of all babies. http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/reportcard2.htm (I also disagree with the numbers they have in the column for infants receiving formula before two days old – where I live they say it is in the 30% range – but nearly EVERY breastfed baby that I know was supplemented in those first 48 hrs, including my oldest – many times without even asking mom – so I KNOW that number has to be grossly under-reported compared to reality, at least here in my state). The fact still remains though that even by 3 months 65% of infants are either exclusively or partially formula fed & by 6 months 65% are being formula fed entirely. So – in THIS country (the US) the norm is still very much a culture of formula – starting at the Dr’s office on down. So it may feel to you like you are in the minority due to a small group that is outspoken – but you in fact are not in the minority at all. Not by a long shot. :)

      As far as being told you are in “inferior” mom, I am not sure who said it or when but that is ridiculous. Infant formula is an inferior form of infant food when compared to breastmilk because it lacks things that come standard in human milk, but that says NOTHING about the mom or her parenting. That is all about science not matching what nature designed. Just like it is better to eat raw whole foods that have all the vitamins & minerals you need rather than taking vitamins & such…it doens’t mean taking vitamins is bad. It’s just not as good for you. I have friends whose children eat all organic home cooked meals. My friends aren’t better moms than me – but they do in fact feed their children better food than what I do for mine most of the time (and I do give my kiddos vitamins to help make up for that) & “good on ‘em for being able to do so” is what I say. :) We all do what we can do.

  12. Megan says

    Teri- As a mum who is still breastfeeding my 2 1/2 yo I totally feel for you and couldn’t agree more. I really dislike the militancy of the pro-breastfeeding groups: sure, in an ideal setting breast is best but not everyone is able to do it – and ANY reason they give is valid, quite frankly. I do think that some bottle feeding women would probably bf if given more support (and I do mean support, not bullying) but many do give it a really good shot and can’t for whatever reason so shouldn’t be made to feel like failures. And you’re absolutely right- there really should be more info out there to help bottle feeding mums maximise attachment. Maybe you should start a blog?

  13. JC says

    Thank you so much for this. Such a beautiful post. I feel blessed that I’ve followed my instincts and held my son a lot. As I write this he is, aged 7 1/2 months, sleeping softly in my arms. He has a cold and has needed many extra mama cuddles. Stuff the housework :)

    • says

      Aww :) stuff the housework indeed. It’ll still be there in twenty years but your baby won’t! Good for you mama. Thank you for the lovely comment.

  14. Louise says

    How wonderful,this made me cry and feel better and less guilty,I still hold my 11 month old for naps after letting her fall asleep in my arms after a feed,I put her in her co sleeper cot at night (still fallen asleep in my arms)but when she wakes in the night she shuffles in with me for feeds and cuddles, I agree you’d never get this time back,and you’ll never be 90 and think,@i wish I’d done more housework’! Babies are babies for a very short time,I wish more people felt like this, I’ve had very upsetting comments and advice from health visitors

  15. Kristen says

    Read this with my sleeping 1-month old on my lap and unexpectedly cried. Thank you for a beautiful (and reassuring) post!

  16. natalia says

    Beautiful and just what I needed to read as I slowly have to wean my Luciana. Breastfeeding has been one of the best experiences of my life. A bond with luciana has been made….I am dreading giving it up but I have to return to work soon.luci is 5 months now. I didnt think id last 5 days let alone 5 months. So proud of myself and glad I ignored comments that I was holding luci too much….no way…..I have a memory for life.thank you for this lovely letter.natalia liverpool uk x

  17. Angelica says

    I have had several people tell me the exact same thing: don’t hold the baby so much, he’ll get spoiled. I don’t care. He is mine. I do as I please. and if loving him too much is a problem for you, as is my breast-feeding, co-sleeping anti-CIO and anti-vaxing, then so be it.

    I will love my baby boy as I see fit.

  18. Sophie says

    I’m so grateful to my mum who, when I’d just had baby 1 and was worrying about cuddling her too much, laughed and told me there’s no such thing as cuddling babies too much! I also committed the cardinal sin of nursing her to sleep or neither of us would ever have had any lol Three years later and she has no sleeping issues at all and I got to have hundreds of hours of baby cuddles . Now with baby number 2 (8 weeks old) that hour or so before I put her down for the night is specially reserved for us to cuddle :)just typing about it makes me emotional, it us such a very special, wonderful time x

  19. Julia says

    Beautiful!! I love it. The thing that annoyed me the most was people not giving my baby back when she cried or people rolling their eyes saying “she just wants mummy”. I am now finding my assertiveness to reply back and say, yeah and what’s your point? I’m her mum. As I type my 13 month old daughter is snuggled up next to me. She wakes a few times at night but it’s much easier and quicker giving her a quick suck on the boob and a kiss and she’s back to sleep with no tears and no fear or stress. I hear of many other mums trying to make sure bug sleeps in the cot and hours trying to settle. I live our cuddles. She knows her mamma is here whenever and as soon as she needs me. My daughter is so clever and independent, she’ll run as far as she can go, chasing birds and playing in the leaves, waving to people. Unless she feels like we are going to walk into a room and right away people are going to take her from me, then she’s happy. I tell them no now. I say let her come to you and let her adjust. I want her to know she doesn’t have to hug anyone she doesn’t want to and if she needs me all day and night I’m here, I am her mother and that is a mothers “job”. I truely believe being so responsive to her since birth and our bond has contributed to her being such a happy wonderful baby/toddler. She knows she doesn’t need to get upset and cry to get my attention, she just makes certain noises and I respond and it doesn’t need to get to that stage. I love cuddles. Thank you for your inspiring letter.


  1. [...] We all try to do what’s best for baby. There are some people that believe extended periods of crying it out can cause depression in babies (they won’t necessarily cry if they have depression as they’ve given up, some mums see this as the CIO training having worked.) but this is only in extreme cases of prolonged crying/alone time. One 15 cry session won’t so them any harm IMO. Obv not ideal though. babies cry, you might need the loo, or be making yourself lunch, or getting dressed after your shower. Someones you can’t pick baby up straight away. We all do the best we can! All of us! This blog post was nice though to put things in perspective http://www.alternative-mama.com/hold-your-baby/? [...]

  2. [...] It’s normal hun, just try not to expect to much from LO or from yourself. I had days of sitting on the couch while LO dozed on my chest. We invested in a ‘woombie’ and it was one of the best baby purchases we ever made. But even still, at first he just wanted to be cuddled. One of the lovely ladies on here once posted this. I actually read it after LO was bigger and outgrew needing to be cuddled, but its so beautifully written, I cried my eyes out when I read it http://www.alternative-mama.com/hold-your-baby/? [...]

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