Have you ever heard that cuddling babies too much will spoil them? Well, a recent Notre Dame study has shown this not to be the case. The study found that when parents are affectionate and playful toward their children, those children grow up to be healthier, happier adults.
This is important research for childbirth educators, nurses, and other health professionals who work with expectant parents and those with small children, as it provides insights families can implement immediately but that have long lasting benefits.
In the study, Notre Dame professor of psychology Darcia Narvaez and two colleagues surveyed more than 600 adults. They collected information about each individual’s childhood and examined the relationship between those experiences and their current mental make-up.
What they found was that those whose childhoods were filled with affection, free play, and family togetherness turned out to be more well-balanced adults. They were less depressed, less anxious, and generally had better overall mental health than those whose childhoods were lacking in these areas.
How can the findings of this study help you in your work with parents-to-be and families with little ones?
Explaining the Benefits of Human Touch to Parents
In your childbirth classes, this study can be used to illustrate the importance of being responsive to the needs of babies and small children through holding, touching, and cuddling. The findings may be especially helpful for those who have come to believe the opposite — that providing too much affection spoils children.
By discussing and addressing the differences in the psychological outcomes of adults who grew up with affectionate parental touch versus those who didn’t, you’ll be equipping parents with vital information that could shape their child’s future.
Is it Normal Crying or Something More Serious?
When talking about the importance of touch and of holding babies to comfort them when they’re crying, parents are likely to ask how they can tell if a baby’s cries are an indication of something more serious. Below are some pointers you can offer parents to help them determine if a cry is signaling something beyond hunger, general discomfort, fatigue, boredom, or overstimulation:
When babies are in pain, the cries typically sound piercing and may be accompanied by an arched back. With gas pain, babies will often bring their knees up to their chest and make grunting sounds.
For ear infections, there are several signs parents can look for in conjunction with crying:
- Increased irritability, especially during feedings
- Loss of appetite
- Pulling or tugging at ears
- Ear drainage
- Trouble sleeping or lying flat
Colic is defined by extended periods of unexplained crying that last for three hours or more for at least three days a week during the first few months of life. While the crying can occur at any time, evenings are especially difficult. On average, colic starts at two weeks and disappears about 16 weeks.
Of course, all babies cry, but those with colic do so with an intensity and persistence that’s a departure from typical crying. If a baby’s cries are like earsplitting screams, he is likely colicky. Advise parents to discuss this issue with their pediatrician.
If parents have tried and ruled out mostly everything and their baby is still inconsolable, he may be experiencing reflux. With reflux, the baby’s last meal comes back up from her stomach, often making its way out of the mouth as spit up.
Keep feedings small and burp babies during and after feedings to alleviate reflux. Babies with severe reflux issues may be given prescription medicine by their pediatrician.
No matter what, parents should go with their gut when it comes to their child’s behavior — and it never hurts to call their medical professional for advice.
You Can Make a Difference
Sharing the benefits of human touch with the families you work with and underscoring the need for them to comfort their children will give them more confidence as parents. And when parents apply this knowledge, they can have a tremendously positive impact on the well-being of their child for years to come!