Cuddling a baby may seem like a simple act of affection, but it actually has significant benefits for a developing infant. Snuggling, holding, and cradling a baby in those early months provide crucial stimulation for healthy growth.
Research shows that babies thrive on skin to skin contact, cuddles provide warmth as well as the comforting scent of a loving parent (mum or dad). Holding your baby close will enhance bonding, neurological development” and nervous system for learning. Cuddles also release oxytocin, the “love hormone,” which helps reduce stress and promotes feelings of calm and security in babies. While technology offers many conveniences for new parents, there is no substitute for good old-fashioned snuggling when it comes to nurturing a child’s development. Cuddling a baby is one of the simplest yet most powerful ways to boost their well-being and help them thrive.
Cuddling Creates a Smarter Baby:
How Skin-to-Skin Contact Stimulates Brain Development
Cuddling a baby creates the perfect environment for healthy brain development. Skin-to-skin contact stimulates the release of oxytocin, in both the baby and the parent. For the baby, oxytocin promotes brain growth and neural connections.
Frequent cuddles and physical affection also leads to increased production of serotonin, the “feel good” hormone. This helps wire the baby’s brain for positive emotions and the ability to self-soothe. Cuddled babies tend to cry less and sleep better. Touch also activates the vagus nerve, which connects the brain and body. An active vagus nerve is linked to a stronger immune system and improved emotional regulation. Cuddling gives babies the nurturing contact they need to develop a secure attachment style, which shapes their ability to form healthy relationships later on.
How Snuggling Calms Babies and Reduces Crying
Cuddling a baby has remarkable soothing powers. Snuggling, rocking and gently stroking a newborn helps calm their cries and lulls them into a peaceful sleep. As babies develop, cuddling stimulates their senses and supports healthy brain growth. Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin, which helps babies feel secure and content. Cuddling also reduces the stress hormone cortisol, calming a baby and allowing them to rest easy.
Frequent snuggling and cradling in the early months improves sleep-wake cycles and better self-regulation. Babies who get plenty of nurturing physical affection tend to cry less and are often easier to soothe. They are also better able to cope with stress and change as they get older. The benefits of newborn cuddling extend well past infancy. Babies who receive more affectionate interaction tend to be more socially and emotionally adept as children and maintain closer relationships as adults. Simply put, cuddling helps shape a baby’s brain and builds the foundation for lifelong well-being.
Building Secure Attachment Through Cuddling
Cuddling, snuggling and close physical contact helps babies form secure attachments early on. When infants are held, stroked and snuggled, their bodies produce oxytocin, which makes them feel calm and content. Frequent skin-to-skin contact and eye contact also stimulates brain development in babies.
Building Bonds Through Closeness
The responsiveness to an infant’s needs – holding, soothing and cuddling them when they cry is key to establishing a secure attachment. Babies learn from an early age that this closeness will bring them comfort and closeness. This builds trust and the understanding that the world is a safe place. Strong, secure attachments in infancy have significant, long-lasting impacts on a child’s social-emotional development and ability to form healthy relationships later in life.
In the early years, cuddling:
- Stimulates bonding and emotional intimacy through skin-to-skin contact.
- Releases oxytocin to calm babies and reduce stress.
- Enhances brain development responsible for learning, memory, stress modulation.
- Provides warmth, comfort and security essential for growth.
- Teaches babies to interpret facial expressions, make eye contact and read emotional cues.
The nurturing power of cuddles in infancy creates lifelong benefits and bonds. Snuggling up helps shape babies’ brains and builds the foundation for their emotional well-being.
When your baby has their needs met through cuddling and physical affection, it helps them develop a secure attachment to you and their family. Your baby learns to trust, and that the world around them is a safe place. This secure attachment fosters healthy emotional and social development in your infant. As they grow into toddlers and children, they will feel confident to explore the world around them, knowing they have a secure base to come back to.
Providing plenty of cuddles and snuggles in infancy has long term benefits for babies. It helps them become independent, confident, and able to self-soothe as they get older. While it may seem counterintuitive, if you have a well-cuddled baby, you will notice that they tend to cry less and sleep better, since their needs for warmth, comfort and security have been met. They feel assured that a caring parent will be there when they need them.
Infant Rearing Types : Caching and Carrying
There are two main types of infant rearing: caching and carrying. Caching infants are left in a nest or cradle for periods of time, while carrying infants are held close to the mother’s body for most of the day.
For the “Caching” approach, the baby is adapted to long absences from their mother in the cot or cradle; Humans are much closer in behaviour to the continuous feeding, carrying mammals. In fact human milk is identical in fat content to that of the anthropoid apes, a carrying species and our babies suckle slowly, and they cry (often loudly!), when they are distressed or out of contact with our own warm body, just like our mammal ‘relations’! Many researchers claim that this is therefore an indicator that babies’ need for parental contact is innate.
Regardless of your own ‘handedness’ (i.e. if you’re a lefty or a righty), you will probably find that you instinctively hold your baby against your left side where he will find the sound of your heartbeat comforting (remember, this was the noise he heard constantly in the womb!). This is what Mother Nature designed, and she is the ultimate expert!
Carrying your baby in a sling benefits mother and infant greatly, it gives you an extra pair of hands as you keep your baby close and this constant contact also helps you to learn and respond to your infant’s signals. This responsiveness results in less frustration, stress, less crying and more sleeping. Lower levels of stress hormones circulating in a baby’s blood stream result in a more relaxed, happy baby and parent. Constant cuddling, holding and physical affection also stimulates the babies brain development.
The physical closeness and warmth provide comfort and security for infants. As they get older, carrying infants may be more social and independent, as they have developed a strong attachment. The nurturing contact in infancy translates to confidence and security in later life.
In many non-Western cultures, carrying infants is the norm. However, in Western society, caching infants in cots, playpens and carriers is becoming the norm. While caching gives mothers more independence and the option to be hands-free, many experts argue that carrying infants provides superior benefits for long term development.
While cuddling is powerful for babies, snuggling, holding, and gently rocking a baby provides physiological and psychological benefits that promote healthy development throughout their lives. The simple act of embracing a baby causes a cascade of chemical reactions in their little body and brain that help them feel secure, calm, and able to explore the world. Babies who receive more affectionate touch tend to maintain confidence as they grow.
While technology and flashy toys have their place, they can never replace the profound impact of loving human contact and connection. As parents we should make the time to shower our babies with hugs, kisses, and snuggles as much as possible. Our touches, gazes, and whispers shape their rapidly developing nervous systems in ways that will benefit them for a life time. So go ahead, cuddle that baby – their future success and happiness may depend on it.
For more information on buying the right carrier or sling for you, we recommend you review the following;
Carriers and Slings
To find out more you can read BellyBelly’s article: