Science Shows it's Impossible to Hold Your Baby Too Much


Let me tell you, there is little better in this world than the deep satisfaction of a baby cuddle. We just brought baby number three home from the hospital and there is a tight competition among us all to see who can get the most cuddles.

As friend after friend has come by our home in recent days, they have all wanted one thing: a baby snuggle. It makes sense, babies are the best.

My wife jokes that doctors should start subscribing baby snuggles to stressed-out individuals — but that’s because there really is something to it.

Science has some great news for us: baby cuddles help the developing baby brain. It was the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio whose research made the breakthrough after they studied 125 premature and full-term babies.

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One of the ways they measured this was by doctors attaching a soft EEG net to measure the brain’s activity in response to soft puff of air on the skin, compared to a fake puff — since a puff of air wouldn’t trigger any pain receptors.

The research yielded some interesting results, including the discovery that preterm babies respond less positively to touch than full-term babies. But touch is still incredibly important to preemies — especially in those fragile, early months.

Touch is especially important for pre-term babies because a lot of the handling they receive at the beginning of their lives is not necessarily all nurturing — a lot of it is care-related, and they receive many painful medical procedures that full-term infants don’t.

This has a cumulative effect as well, with researchers finding that the more pain these babies encountered once they were out of the womb, the less likely they were to respond positively to cuddles later.

“Making sure that preterm babies receive positive, supportive touch such as skin-to-skin care by parents is essential to help their brains respond to gentle touch in ways similar to those of babies who experienced an entire pregnancy inside their mother’s womb,” said lead researcher Nathalie Maitre.

Hospitals have been encouraging skin-to-skin contact between babies and their parents, but these results supply even more reason to continue that trend. Even fathers are getting in on the “kangaroo care.”

And this touch goes beyond just the baby’s developing brain. Being cuddled as a baby can make children calmer, smarter, and more well-adjusted.

“What parents do in those early months and years are really affecting the way the brain is going to grow the rest of their lives, so lots of holding, touching and rocking, that is what babies expect,” said Dr. Narvaez.

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“They grow better that way. And keep them calm, because all sorts of systems are establishing the way they are going to work. If you let them cry a lot, those systems are going to be easily triggered into stress.

“We can see that in adult hood, that people that are not cared for well, tend to be more stress reactive and they have a hard time self calming,” she concluded.

Of course it’s not just babies that touch has been proven to benefit. Even us adults can find our stresses and anxieties melting away as we cuddle those babies.

Hugging can help soothe the soul. If you are reading this, please cuddle a baby (with permission, of course!) or hug your family, friends, and loved ones. It will do your heart — and theirs! — good.

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