Ever since my daughter was born, I have always enjoyed cuddling her. As such, I have wondered about the effects of cuddling on my baby. Does it help build resilience? Does it improve their physical health?
With my background in psychology, I do know that our brains are malleable and change with experience. However, this is more so the case with younger children.
One misconception that people have about cuddling is that it will “spoil” the child. The idea behind it is that the child will learn to cry in order to be picked up. Research shows that this is not the case. In fact, cuddling and carrying your baby leads to a less stressed child.
The effects of cuddling often start in the “golden hour,” which refers to the 60 minutes after birth. This is important for skin-to-skin contact, bonding, and breastfeeding. So, what are the effects of cuddling on a baby?
When you respond to your baby’s cues with cuddling, you are building an attachment or a strong emotional bond with your child. Cuddling replicates the womb environment, so your child feels safe and warm.
Thus, you will never spoil your child when you cuddle with them or pick them up. You’re building a secure attachment or a strong foundation for future relationships, as well as self-confidence.
According to a study conducted with 125 full-term and premature newborns in Columbus, Ohio, hugs and gentle affection result in positive brain responses and help counteract other traumas.
In addition, this finding means that pre-term babies likely experience early hugs as good instead of overwhelming (while also resulting in positive brain responses). Pre-term babies may receive a lot of pain medications, which affects how they perceive touch (as potentially overstimulating). However, hugs can help counteract some of these negative experiences.
Thus, enjoy that baby and cuddle away as it will only help their brain grow and develop!
When you cuddle your baby, it changes your baby even at the level of DNA. One study conducted in 2017 found that cuddling one’s baby changes them at a molecular level. In particular, cuddling had an impact that lasted for years by changing the babies’ genes.
Specifically, 94 healthy, 5-week old babies were followed by the researchers. Parents kept diaries of when the babies ate, slept, and how much contact the babies received. The researchers then swabbed the children four years later to get their DNA.
Interestingly, the researchers found that the babies who were held less and more distressed had a molecular profile that was underdeveloped for their age. The researchers concluded that this reflected “less favorable developmental progress.” That being said, this may mean that a baby that is held more is more advanced cognitively,
One study conducted in 2000 found that cuddling was almost like a good pain intervention. Specifically, the researchers found that when mothers held their babies close during a heel lance or stick (to obtain a blood sample) were less likely to cry as much and grimace than babies who had the procedure done while swaddled in a crib. In addition, the babies’ heart rates were more relaxed when they were held.
Cuddling and hugs help reduce the stress hormone known as cortisol. In addition, cuddling helps increase the release of oxytocin, which helps build feelings of trust and bonding. Thus, cuddling helps babies feel less stressed and soothed.
In contrast to this, when babies are left in distress for prolonged periods of time, they are not able to regulate these emotions and can result in toxic levels of stress. Too much exposure to stress hormones can result in the development of depression later on in life.
Thus, hugs are important in helping your child regulate their emotions. For instance, babies that are hugged more cry less and sleep better.
Generally, children who are hugged more are more relaxed and better able to regulate their emotions. Regulating one’s emotions is a big part of resilience. Resilience refers to one’s ability to bounce back from life’s stressors and challenges.
One great way to hold your baby close is by using a wrap or a sling of some sort to carry your baby around, as this is a great way to build an attachment and bond. Here are some of my recommendations on the best ones:
Remember that hugging and cuddling are important for your baby’s development from day 1. You can never spoil your baby by always cuddling them and picking them up when they cry. You can actually hurt your baby’s development if you don’t provide that kind of affection. So, hug and cuddle away, as it is crucial for your child’s emotional, social, and physical development!
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Giesler, R. Cuddling does kids (and parents) good. Retrieved from https://www.chla.org/blog/rn-remedies/cuddling-does-kids-and-parents-good
Hugging- 7 Benefits for you and your child. Retrieved from https://www.parentingforbrain.com/children-hugging/.
Marcoux, H. (2019). The more you hug your baby, the more her brain benefits. Retrieved from https://www.mother.ly/news/research-shows-babies-first-hugs-have-lasting-positive-effects-on-their-brains
Pearson, C. (2015). The incredible benefits of simply holding your baby close. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-incredible-benefits-of-simply-holding-your-baby-close_n_5626700fe4b08589ef491176
Trudeau, M . (2010). Human connections start with a friendly touch. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128795325Follow me on social media: