Keep Holding Your Baby: Why Babywearing Is Best For Everyone

Danielle Dent-Breen's picture
Baby Carrier Sling

"If you hold that baby all the time, you’re going to spoil her!" New moms and dads have all had that annoying friend, relative, or neighbor who insists that they are holding the baby too much, and issues the dire warning that they are on the fast track to spoiling the baby. These comments are definitely upsetting, especially in the first days and weeks of parenting, when stress, sleep deprivation, and hormones make a new mom second guess everything she is doing.

Advertisement

Of course, anyone who has held a newborn can easily recognize that delicious new baby smell. There is nothing else in the world quite like it.

But did you know that there are scientifically proven benefits to keeping baby close?

Holding a baby is scientifically proven beneficial.

Study after study has confirmed that it is actually impossible to spoil a baby.

A recent study that took a look at the long-term effects of Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) for low birth weight and preterm infants. KMC consists of continuous skin-on-skin contact between mother and baby, exclusive breastfeeding, and early discharge from the hospital with close follow-up. Those babies were followed up 20 years later, and the study showed that those who were provided KMC during their earliest days demonstrated long-lasting social and behavioral effects, including reduced hyperactivity, aggressiveness, and socially deviant behavior. Parents who had practiced KMC were shown in the study to demonstrate more protective and nurturing behavior toward their children, even 20 years later. Brain imaging also showed structural differences in the KMC group, versus the control group.

Another recent study confirmed the benefits of supportive touch for brain development of preterm babies. Supportive touch, for the sake of this study, was defined as deliberate gentle touch, provided for the sole purpose of comforting a baby. This study showed a direct correlation between affectionate touch and stronger brain response, which can have a positive and long-lasting effect on these babies.

“Our findings add to our understanding that more exposure to these types of supportive touch can actually impact how the brain processes touch, a sense necessary for learning and social-emotional connections,” said lead study author Dr. Nathalie Maitre.

Dr. Maitre says that “intentional supportive touch [is] absolutely crucial to babies’ developing brains.” She says that for infants, touch is the one of the first senses that develops, before hearing or sight, therefore making it the “building block in early infancy of communication.”

Dr. Maitre says that although this study looked primarily at preterm infants, the results can be extrapolated to benefit all babies.

Another study in 2010 showed that children who were raised in some institutional orphanages in Eastern Europe were developmentally delayed, not so much from maternal deprivation, but from sensory deprivation. This study showed that these children, having been raised with very little loving touch, demonstrated the importance of touch in normal child development.

Advertisement

This published study also referenced several other related animal studies that reinforced their claims on a cellular and molecular level.

It reduces maternal stress.

Close contact with their babies releases oxytocin, the “anti-stress hormone” in both mom and baby, and skin-to-skin KMC has been shown in a study presented at the AAP National Conference, 2015 showed measureable and specific decreased stress in the mothers of babies in a level IV NICU. “We found that all of the mothers reported an objective decrease in their stress level after skin-to-skin contact with their babies,” study researcher Dr. Natalia Isaza, a neonatologist, said in a statement.


It helps babies regulate their bodily functions.

KMC has been shown to help newborn babies to regulate their body temperature immediately after birth, at least as well as the use of an incubator. Additional studies have shown that KMC also provides additional benefits such as more predictable sleep patterns, steadier heartrates, and better stress-management skills when children are school-age.

Holding a baby promotes and facilitates breastfeeding.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recommend in their Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative that babies and moms should have skin-to-skin contact in the first hours following birth to promote initiation of the breastfeeding relationship. Even older infants can benefit from skin-on-skin contact to help correct latch problems when breastfeeding.

We are biologically programmed to carry our babies.

Unlike other animals, human newborns are born totally dependent on their mothers. In the book Breastfeeding Made Simple, authors Mohrbacher and Kendall-Tackett explain that human babies are actually born with brains less than 50% of the size of adult brains, while other mammals are born with about 80% of their adult brain size. The claim this is because we have larger brains and relatively smaller pelvises than other mammals, and therefore our babies are born before fully mature, and continue to develop in baby and toddlerhood.

In our Western society, we have been conditioned to believe that a “good baby” tolerates being left alone in fancy infant seats, swings, strollers, cribs, and all of the other latest plastic baby-holding gadgets that deprive them from actual human contact. We have come to normalize artificial baby feeding with formula and bottles and worry that our breastmilk is insufficient when our babies want to eat more often than every so many hours. But babies whose mothers practice “baby wearing”, keeping them close throughout the day are much less likely to be worried about establishment of a healthy breastfeeding relationship and more easily pick up on their baby’s hunger cues.

When we wear/carry a baby, we are providing more than the comfort of the sound of our heartbeat and voice and the touch and warmth of our body. According to research by James Prescott, a developmental neuropsychologist and cross cultural psychologist, "vestibular-cerebellar stimulation (which happens when we carry our babies) is the most important sensory system for the development of "basic trust" in the affectional bonding between mother and infant. It establishes the biological and psychological foundations for all other human relationships." We have learned that carrying infants is a vital part of nature's biological plan for mother-infant bonding, and that it is critical to the development of trust, empathy, compassion and conscience. Carrying or wearing an infant in a sling, keeping the infant in constant human contact, and breast feeding on demand are the biological design for optimal physical, intellectual and emotional human development. Research confirms that carrying human infants develops their intelligence and their capacity for trust, affection, intimacy, and love and happiness.

Listen to your instincts.

When it comes down to it, the most important tool in any mother’s tool box is her own God-given instinct. It is sometimes difficult to understand and acknowledge just how desperately our babies need to be with us, and how much they rely on us for their development outside the womb. The saying goes, “When a baby is born, so is a mother,” and it is true. When a woman becomes a mother, she is reinvented in a way. She may find the constant need of a newborn to be overwhelming at times, and she may wonder why she finds herself feeling unsure of her decisions. Keeping the baby close and being surrounded by loving, caring family and friends eases that transition to the new role. This is where the experience of motherhood is best shared with “seasoned” and supportive mothers who can offer her the best advice of all: to listen to her own heart and keep holding that baby!

Advertisement