When Rory was born, I would sit and cuddle him for hours. I didn’t have too much of a choice, honestly, as some days it was the only way I could convince him to nap. But it’s not like I fought it all that hard either. I would sit there, back aching, remote out of reach, tea gone cold, pinned down by my human hot water bottle filled all up with love, and think – alongside ‘he’s amazing’ and ‘I made that’ – ‘is it OK that I’m cuddling him this much?’ ‘am I spoiling him?’ ‘will this cause attachment issues as he grows up?’ and ‘there are so many other things I should be doing.’ But here’s the thing, and it’s a thing I wish I’d known then – there is nothing you should be doing more than you should be cuddling your newborn, if that is what you want to be doing. You cannot spoil a newborn (there have been studies!), the only attachment issues you’ll cause is the issue of being loved too much, and yes, it is OK to cuddle that much. Always.
Mum guilt, however, is a powerful and vicious beast. As is mum ‘I don’t know if I’m getting this right so maybe I should just do what everyone else suggests I should do’ shaped fear, in those first few days, weeks and months. And there are many people in this world – well meaning, ill informed people – that will try to ‘help’ you. But words such as ‘you are making a rod for your own back’ if you admit to spending an entire day pinned under your child in front of the telly, don’t help anyone. So I’ve gathered some reasons why cuddling your newborn all day is not only OK, but a brilliant idea, to help you through the newborn cuddle-guilt haze. Some of these examples are extreme, admittedly, but what better way to get your point across if challenged?
- Cuddle deprivation can lead to stunted physical growth. A 1952 study concluded that otherwise healthy infants – receiving the required amount of nutrients – can suffer from a lack of physical growth, both height and weight wise, if deprived of human touch/cuddles.
- A 1946 study concluded that babies can die without physical displays of love, such as cuddles. Psychologists, Spitz and Wolf, studied 91 infants living in orphanages, with the aim of discovering why they were dying before they turned one, despite receiving accurate nutrient amounts, and good medical care. Findings showed that the deaths were, in short, due to a lack of physical affection. Anecdotally, findings are supported by the influx of deaths that followed the popularisation of a parenting manual by Dr Luther Emmett Holt in 1894. The book suggested that children before 6 months should not be played with, and infants with a nervous disposition should be largely left to their own devices. Which is terrible advice, honestly. Snuggles save lives.
- A 1969 study concluded that cuddles are as important as food. Psychologists, Harlow and Harlow, conducted an experiment with newborn monkeys, to test whether they craved cuddles as much as milk. They were set up in cages, with two surrogate ‘mothers.’ Both had the same face, but one was wrapped in a towel, to make them cuddly, and the other was wire mesh. Both provided milk, but a preference for the towelled mother was prevalent – to the point that the baby monkeys would often cling to the towelled mama, even when it was the wire one providing food. They concluded that the baby monkeys needed cuddle type comfort just as much as, if not more than, they needed food. Human babies share the same desire to be held.
- Cuddles are great for bonding. There is a big push on breastfeeding being the way new mums bond with babies. But what if you’re not in a position to breastfeed? And what if you’re not the biological mother? Cuddling releases the same hormone as breastfeeding. It’s called oxytocin, and is often referred to as the ‘cuddle’ or ‘love’ hormone. Which says it all. When cuddling, your brain releases oxytocin, and so does your baby’s brain – oxytocin strengthens bonds. So cuddling improves your bond with your baby.
- Cuddles give you time to recover from childbirth. If you’ve just given birth, you’ve just been through a massive trauma. Often, no-one will say this to you, because they’ll be too busy gushing over your baby. But you are a person too, and you need time to recover, and what better way to recover than by cuddling a tiny squishy person, watching your favourite show, and having a hot drink? Self care is never a waste of your time. And cuddles are the ultimate in self care.
So grab yourself a thermal flask filled with your favourite tipple, make sure the remote is nearby (don’t fall victim to Netflix’s judgmental ‘are you still there?’ prompts) stick a pillow under your back if you’ve just given birth, pull a blanket over you both and settle in for a snuggle, safe in the knowledge that you are doing your best, and that outdated advice re caregiver-infant affection can be ignored. Cuddling really is the best, lowest effort way to interact with your newborn. And it’s absolutely what they’d ask for if they could answer the question ‘what do you want to do today?’