My aim with this post is to provide good information about baby development, our parenting instincts, what’s normal and why cuddling our babies and children is not just lovely it’s crucial BUT it could also turn into a bit of a rant because there is some dodgy and dangerous ‘advice’ flying around out there in the big wide world and it is starting to irritate.
In our apparently civilised, advanced society babies are seen as creatures to control, to train, as parents we are encouraged to make our babies independent and self soothing and any parent who cuddles and carries and soothes their babies is seen as giving in, as failing, as making a rod for their own back.
So what do we know?
Here’s what the research tell us…
When your baby is born he has approximately 200 billion brain cells but there are very few connections in his higher brain – these connections are mainly responsible for
emotional and social intelligence.
90% of brain growth takes place in the first five years of life
Early stress (prolonged crying) can create negative changes in baby’s brain which may mean they develop an over-sensitive stress response (stress and anxiety) which can affect them throughout their life.
By the time a baby turns 1: babies cried much less if they had been soothed and attended to promptly whereas babies who had been left to cry, cried more.
If your baby clings to you – it is because he feels unsafe
If we don’t respond to our baby’s needs, this has been shown to interfere with a baby’s ability to form secure attachment bonds. As such, babies may be insecurely attached and they can produce high levels of cortisol in response to stress.
If babies produce high levels of cortisol, children are less able to adapt to new events or to regulate their emotions.
Parents who respond to the needs of their baby before the baby gets distressed are more likely to have a child who is independent rather than the opposite.
Distress in early life and a lack of responsive parenting, can result in a poorly functioning vagus nerve, which is related to various disorders as irritable bowel syndrome.
Your baby is completely dependent on you for everything – food, warmth, comfort, safety – as well as helping him to calm themselves when they are stressed or frightened. When your baby is upset and is comforted by you he will be soothed, and the ability to self comfort is developed. Babies can’t self-comfort in isolation – if a baby is regularly left to cry alone, they learn to shut down and they can stop growing, stop feeling, stop trusting.
If a baby’s stress response is affected, this can also affect the developing brain, cardiovascular system and immune system.
What do we know about being responsive?
Babies grow from being held
Babies show their needs through gestures and cues and, then, through crying
Babies feel secure when they are responded to
Babies are more likely to thrive when they feel safe
Babies who are responded to cope better with stress and change as they grow, they learn to self sooth and regulate their emotions
rocking, swaying and movement
skin to skin
What can you do?
Go with your instincts and soothe your baby, help him to sleep and to settle and don’t give yourself a hard time because you’re not doing anything wrong.
The more you respond to your baby’s needs, she will trust you and the more independent and happier she will be as she grows but if you battle with your baby and encourage her to be independent before she is ready, the more she will cling and be unsettled.
It’s really not easy at times but if your baby can’t settle away from you, if he needs cuddles, he needs security and help to feel safe, soothed and settled. He is not going to achieve this on his own.
Go at your baby’s pace
When you are tired and surrounded by well meaning advice, try to remember that your baby isn’t being manipulative or naughty, she isn’t trying to control you, she just needs you.
The Foundations of Lifelong Health Are Built in Early Childhood: Harvard University
The hormonal costs of subtle forms of infant maltreatment
by Daphne Blunt Bugental, Gabriela A. Martorell and Veronica Barraza