Monday, September 12, 2011

How important is cuddling your baby? Very!

I am so looking forward to seeing what my baby looks like and giving him or her lots of cuddles! I was therefore intrigued to hear that Huggies Natural Fit are working with Dr Carol Cooper, accredited expert in the field of parenting, to help parents further understand the importance of cuddling and the cuddle hormone Oxytocin. As well as being a frequent and popular broadcaster, Dr Carol Cooper is a prolific writer of many health and parenting books. She is a practising family doctor and mother of three sons, including twins – so she knows what’s she’s talking about!

Hello Carol. Please tell me about the cuddle hormone and what effect it has?
Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the pituitary gland in the brain. It is best known for making the uterus contract and for producing the ‘let-down’ reflex when breastfeeding, but it also has an effect on the brain and therefore on behaviour. We now know that oxytocin is linked with nurturing behaviour and a calm mood. Crucially, oxytocin isn’t just a female hormone; men produce it too. The reason it has become known as the ‘cuddle hormone’ is that cuddling raises oxytocin levels. This is almost certainly how cuddling enhances bonding, increases contentment and reduces fear.

Do parents cuddle more now than previous generations did?
I suspect they do. In the Cuddle survey I conducted with Huggies Natural Fit, I was pleased to see how many parents cuddle their babies very often in the first six months (97.3%). Many parents know instinctively that cuddling has long term benefits for their baby (over two thirds were aware of long term benefits of cuddling their young child). The thing is, they often don’t know why. In the survey just over a third knew of the link between cuddling and oxytocin.

Comparing cuddling habits with previous generations is more difficult and it depends a lot on which families you look at. Yes, here in the west parents cuddle more than they did in, say, the 1950s when child-rearing was very strict, but there are some parents nowadays who restrict contact with their babies to certain times, in the hope of getting them into a routine at an early age. Of course, for many cultures, cuddling and close contact have always been the norm. Mediterranean, African and south Asian parents rely more on the extended family for help with raising babies so they have probably been less influenced by trends in parenting than most people in Britain and the USA.

How much do babies need cuddling?
It depends entirely on the baby but I would say a lot. In the Cuddle survey with Huggies, 92% of parents cuddled their baby at least 10 times a day. Newborns need the security of a cuddle many times a day, but older babies need that loving touch as well. There’s not much point rousing a sleeping baby for a cuddle but you can easily incorporate cuddling into the other things that you do, such as feeding, bathing, changing, story-telling and so on.

Do babies feel differently about mum or dad cuddles?
I don’t think there’s any evidence that babies feel differently about mums and dads. It depends who spends time with them. The Cuddle survey shows that both parents cuddle their babies a lot - in nearly 40% of cases both parents cuddle the baby an equal amount.

Are there any times you should cuddle less - before sleep or during the night, for example?
Not really. In fact a cuddle before bed is a nice way to make your baby feel secure. However, if you want to encourage your baby to sleep through the night it’s a good idea to make any contact during night-time feeds really unexciting, so your baby realises this isn’t fun-time, it’s sleep-time. Of course when a baby's not getting cuddles, they benefit from being in contact with or wearing the softest kindest nappy and fabrics possible.

Should I be worried if my baby doesn't like being held by friends or other family members? Is there any way to make this experience better for them?
Make sure family and friends hold your baby securely and learn to handle him with confidence, especially if they’re not used to babies. Very young babies may be happier swaddled first. If your baby is tired, don’t pass him around so everyone can get a cuddle – it’s not fair on the baby. If your baby never wants to be cuddled, however, even by you, this would be most unusual and you should talk to your health visitor.

How do you encourage siblings to cuddle one another?
Children learn by example so what you do yourself is vital. You can make cuddles part of expressing yourselves in the family, whether it’s a welcome back after school, saying goodnight to one another, greeting grandparents and friends, or being read a story. Don’t force siblings to cuddle or you will have the opposite effect, especially if one of them is a toddler going through the usual negative phase.

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