It wasn’t all that long ago that parents were advised to hold their babies as little as possible. Feed the baby, then put them down, they were told. Controversial ‘baby expert’ Claire Verity (you may remember seeing her on Channel 4’s ‘Bringing Up Baby’ a few years ago) tells tired parents to feed the baby without ‘excessive cuddling’ and then to put them down in the pram and – get this – leave them outside until the next carefully scheduled feed. She infamously said, “I don’t understand why anyone would want to cuddle a baby.”
And no, she doesn’t have any children of her own. Shocking.
To be fair, Verity’s views are extreme and most people can see that her methods are abusive and damaging. However, there does still seem to be a general consensus in our society that babies shouldn’t be held and cuddled “too much”, lest we spoil them.
I remember being told by several people when my first son was born to make sure I didn’t pick him up when he was crying, or he might learn that his crying gets him attention. Apparently, I was supposed to ‘comfort’ him by patting his tummy whilst he was still laying in the crib, and only pick him up once he’d stopped hollering. This notion completely baffled me. Don’t I want my kids to know that I will come when they need me? Why would I want my children to think that I wouldn’t care if they were distressed for whatever reason? Of course I want my child to learn that his cries get my attention! How else is he supposed to tell me he needs me?
The baby’s basic need for touch is just as real, intense and as valid as his need for food. Physical contact is imperative to his survival.. Think about it – in evolutionary terms, we haven’t changed in a very long time. If we were still living in a location and a manner that made us vulnerable to attack from wild animals, we sure as hell wouldn’t want our precious babies left alone where they could be plucked from their resting place by a hungry beast. Of course, in our modern day society, we mostly don’t have to worry about lions roaming into our homes but our babies don’t know that. Their instincts are still wired to tell them that being alone equals being in danger – so is it any wonder they cry when they’re not in our arms?
There have been many studies citing the benefits (and, in fact, the necessity) of nurturing babies with physical contact. In particular, lots of studies have been carried out on children in orphanages who, heartbreakingly, will be deprived of physical contact for the majority of the time. In almost all cases, the children fail to thrive. Lack of nurturing touch for prolonged periods of time caused the children to develop severe emotional and social problems, and prevented them from growing physically. Obviously this is an extreme example, but it shows the damage that lack of touch can do. There’s never been any case of a child failing to thrive because they were held too much.
It’s hard to accept that our babies need to be physically close to us all of the time, especially when the social expectation for women is to get back to normal life after birth as soon as possible, but there are ways of giving baby what they need while still maintaining your own sanity. A good sling is vital for keeping baby close yet still being able to get on with your day, or chase an older child around. I would never have coped without my woven wrap.
The only way to make a need go away is to meet that need, not to force the child to cope with that need going unmet. If you are struggling, remember this – your baby is only a baby for a very short time. Before long, they will be running away from you, into the big wide world as independent little people. Enjoy the first couple of years when all they want is to be close to you; it will pass in the blink of an eye, and you’ll miss those soft, squishy cuddles like you can’t even imagine.