Cuddling Does Kids (and Parents) Good
My two boys are ages 13 and 15 and my wife and I sometimes find that they want to spend time in our bed on lazy mornings. It’s a nice way for us to spend time together as a family, which also includes our dog. When our boys were infants, we cuddled and hugged them often, and the simple gesture of warm, heart-felt contact offers a number of health benefits. To learn more about the health benefits of cuddling and hugs, I reached out to Stephanie Marcy, PhD, psychologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Cuddling and a Sense of Security
It’s great if you cuddle your child often, especially in the three months after giving birth. Did you know the first three months of your child’s life are known as the “fourth trimester?” This is because your child emerged from a dark, warm and comfortable place. Cuddling helps replicate the womb environment. Your child will feel safe and warm. “Cuddling helps your baby develop a secure attachment to you. The bond developed has effects later in your child’s life in terms of self-confidence, healthy individuation and exploration, expression of empathy, social relationships and ability to cope with life stressors” explains Marcy. Babies who don’t experience cuddling have been found to have markedly lower levels of oxytocin and vasopressin. These two hormones are thought to play key roles in stress and social behaviors. Lower levels may explain why these children have difficulties forming attachments in adulthood.
Health Benefits of Cuddling (and Touch) for Parent and Child (Tweet this)
As a nurse in the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit, I experience first-hand the benefits of human touch on premature babies, newborns and children. Many of the health benefits to child and parent include:
- Creating a healthy sense of personal boundaries
- Encouraging calmness and relaxation
- Improving muscle tone and circulation
- Improving pulmonary and immune functions
- Improving sleep patterns
- Lowering anxiety and stress
- Reducing discomfort from teething, congestion, colic and emotional stress
- Strengthening digestive, circulatory and gastrointestinal systems
Marcy explains, “For children who are very sick and not strong enough to engage in playful interaction with their caregivers, cuddling and holding is a nice way for parents to feel that they are interacting with their child in a loving and meaningful way. This helps decrease their sense of helplessness.”
Model Kangaroo Care (Tweet this)
Kangaroo care is skin-to-skin contact between your baby’s front and your chest. If your baby is very small or sick, you may be afraid you'll hurt him or her, but you won't. Your baby knows your scent, touch and the rhythms of your speech and breathing. Marcy suggests that holding your baby also promotes breastfeeding because it helps develop the parent-child bond. Kangaroo care can help your baby by:
- Encouraging successful breastfeeding and milk production
- Encouraging weight gaining (When your baby depends on your body to stay warm, they use fewer calories to stay warm on their own)
- Maintaining their body temperature
- Regulating their heart and breathing rates
- Spending more time in deep sleep
- Spending more time being quiet and alert rather than crying (Brain wave patterns associated with happiness have been shown to double when you model Kangaroo care with your baby)
Holding your child is good. No matter what people may say, you cannot spoil a child by cuddling or holding them. Babies who are held often and have their needs met are more likely to have higher self-images and learn they are respected and worthy. As Marcy mentioned earlier, cuddling and contact help your child build self-confidence and social relationships. Additionally, even giving your child a big hug can be a nice way to show love, pride, understanding and support. Go on and do some hugging! It’s healthy!