In ancient times, a newborn may have had a leg up on a 21st-century baby. In our modern society, Mom and Dad bring baby home from the hospital, ooh and aah for a bit, dress it and feed it, and then carry it to the nursery. Sleeping down the hall, baby is isolated from his parents' touch during the long nights ahead.
Babies in prehistoric times, however, slept very close to their mothers' bodies. This habit of cosleeping became less popular when civilizations became modernized, especially in Western cultures. During the 18th century, mothers were warned against spoiling their infants by holding them too often or responding too quickly to their cries. The "cry-it-out" approach became the standard.
More recently, a return to cuddles and snuggles has been emphasized. Some exciting research explains why.
Your touch is essential
Interpersonal touch, or touch occurring between two individuals, has been found to be "essential to human existence," according to this article. In his book Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind, Johns Hopkins neuroscientist David Linden explains how our sense of touch directly correlates to our emotions. Touch communicates emotions and it affects the way we interpret people around us. "Interpersonal touch not only has a special role in early human development but continues to be crucial across the span of human social life, promoting trust and cooperation and thereby deeply influencing our perception of others," writes Linden.
What does all this mean for a baby? Your sympathetic touch can alleviate the pain of an infant's immunization, for example.
Why the "crying-in-arms" approach works
As adults, we know that a good cry can be therapeutic. For a baby, those aggravating crying sessions are crucial. They release stress and allow baby to blow off steam. But when regularly left unattended, the baby's cortisol levels can rise and affect his health.
In this article, developmental psychologist Aletha Solter explains the benefits of holding your baby during those crying sessions. If your baby continues to cry after his basic needs have been met, find a relaxing position in a peaceful environment. Hold him gently, talk to him soothingly, look him in the eye, and listen to him. Remember that some crying has no remedy; the baby simply needs to cry. Don't feel guilty, helpless or anxious. If you lack the patience to hold your baby in that moment, try to find someone else to hold him, advises Solter.
When you respond to your crying infant promptly, your baby's sense of trust and security is cemented. Researchers who study "attachment parenting," or providing cuddles during crying episodes, find that babies left to cry unattended become more clingy and demanding by age 1 than babies held while crying, says Solter.
Your baby will grow into a teen with high self-esteem
Solter explains that your patient touches and snuggles with your baby will have a huge pay-off: your child will feel more emotionally connected to you. She'll trust you as a listener, and will bring her problems and emotions to you. Because she'll sense that you love her unconditionally, her self-esteem will be higher.
Your loving touches and snuggles will communicate volumes to your infant.