When your baby is crying or won’t sleep through the night, it’s natural to wonder, “can you spoil a baby by holding it too much?” We’re breaking down the reasons why science says you can’t spoil a baby and why babies need touch.
Am I Spoiling My Baby?
The baby monitor flashes to life.
Baby is awake…and crying.
If you’re in the trenches of life with a baby, there are a lot of questions that run through your mind during those middle of the night wakings:
“Why is she crying now?”
“Should I pick her up or let her cry it out?”
“Is she hungry?”
“Will I spoil her if I rock her to sleep every time?”
“Why won’t she just sleep??”
There isn’t a parent in the world that hasn’t been through the same thing. So you’d think that there would be one simple answer. Ha!
Mention your sleep dilemma and you’re likely to get plenty of opinions and “advice.” And when you’re sleep deprived, you’re pretty desperate to try anything in hopes of getting a little more rest.
You start to question everything you’re doing as a parent. And listening to things that your rational mind knows is crazy. Like when someone tells you not to pick up a baby every time it cries because you’ll spoil it.
Look, I’ve even caught myself worrying that if I pick up my baby every single time they cry that they’ll start doing it just for attention. And then I realize how ridiculous that sounds!
It’s a baby! They’re supposed to cry! And as a parent, we’re supposed to comfort them!
So why are we being told otherwise…ever?!
Let’s Be Clear: Babies Need Touch
Touch is the first sense babies develop, even before they’re born!
Babies start to receive stimulation by touch while still in the womb; and through the first three years of life, every touch helps shape a baby’s brain development.
Touch is absolutely crucial for babies, and despite some of the “advice” out there, there is no such thing as holding a baby too much or spoiling a baby.
Touch Helps Babies Grow
Scientific research and experts like Dr. Sears all agree that touch “stimulates growth promoting hormones” in developing babies. In fact, therapeutic touch is often used to help premature babies put on weight more quickly.
By contrast, babies deprived of touch show markedly stunted development. Even injections of human growth hormone are not effective when babies don’t have consistent human touch and physical interaction.
I’m going to repeat that one more time because it’s pretty incredible: human growth hormone injections will not make a baby grow if they are deprived from human touch.
Babies need touch to grow, so hold them and snuggle them as much as possible!
Touch Helps Babies Sleep Better
A common myth is that holding a baby too much causes them to wake up more at night or not be able to fall asleep on their own.
I think we’ve all probably received advice from a well-meaning friend or relative along the lines of “don’t pick them up every time they cry or you’ll spoil them!”
On the contrary, touch is one of the most effective tools parents can use to sooth a baby! Plus, the idea of “sleeping through the night” isn’t really a thing for babies.
Did you know that both babies and adults wake up an average of 3-6 times every night? The difference is that adults know how to put themselves back to sleep, while young infants do not.
In an article for Motherly, baby sleep consultant Natalie Wiles explains that “protesting during sleep training is usually because baby is frustrated they aren’t getting help to fall asleep.” When a baby wakes up and has trouble going back to sleep, “checking in and comforting baby” is encouraged.
Also, sleep consultants generally advise parents not to try sleep training until an infant is at least 16 weeks old. During this time, dubbed the “4th trimester,” it’s especially important to comfort your baby whenever they need it.
Touch Aids in Babies’ Brain Development
In an interview with Scientific American, Ann Bigelow, a professor and researcher of developmental psychology at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia explains why touch is so important for a baby’s brain. She says, “there are some studies that show their brain development is facilitated — probably because they are calmer and sleep better.”
More Benefits of Touch for a Baby’s Brain Development:
- Touch is so important that some consider skin to be the external nervous system.
- Babies are dependent on touch for exploring the world.
- In addition to baby’s genes, the brain develops and organizes as a reflection of developmental experience.
Related: Baby snuggles benefit you too! Did you know that holding a baby has been shown to lower stress in caregivers? Click here to read more about how baby cuddles relieve stress.
3 Ways to Incorporate Healthy Touch with a Baby
You don’t have to wait until a baby needs comforting for snuggle time, and when it comes to touch, your developing baby can’t get enough!
Try incorporating healthy touch in other ways too:
1. When speaking to your baby
When speaking to your baby, if you add a soft touch, you’ll be sure to get their attention. It also helps strengthen the bonding experience and deepens communication.
This is actually a technique I use with both of my daughters (ages 2 and 8). I’ve found that a gentle touch when speaking to them helps them focus on me, even in a room full of distractions.
2. During Bathtime
A bath is one of the best ways to relax a baby and incorporate touch therapy. It is also a wonderful way to comfort a sick baby during cold season. When our little one has a bug, a warm bath helps clear her airways and brighten her spirits.
Bath time is actually a delight for all of your baby’s senses, and can help you and your baby become more comfortable with each other.
3. Baby Massage
The benefits of massage therapy for your baby are huge:
- stimulates the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin
- aids in brain and emotional development
- soothes and may reduce time crying
Massage may also help your baby sleep better — something that all parents want to hear!
After bath is the perfect time for a massage, but you can do any time of day. Gently work a baby lotion like JOHNSON’S® HEAD-TO-TOE™ extra moisturizing baby cream into baby’s skin.
Soft, even strokes can help calm your baby before bed, and also provides crucial opportunity for development.
You Can’t Spoil a Baby, So Snuggle Away Mama!
If you’ve wondered, “can you spoil a baby by holding it too much?” — the answer is a pretty clear! There is no such thing as holding a baby too much, and you can’t spoil a baby.
Touch is vital to a baby’s growth and development.
So the next time your baby cries, go scoop them up, hold them close, and soak in those moments.
The baby years don’t last forever, and neither does sleep deprivation. But the benefits of those snuggles DO last forever!
- Read This Next: Laying with Your Kids Before Bedtime is Not a “Bad Habit”
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Disclaimer: This post was originally published in 2016 as part of a sponsored collaboration with JOHNSON’S®.