A 2017 study confirms what many parents already instinctively know: You should pick up babies every time they cry.
The research from the University of Notre Dame found that it was impossible to spoil an infant by holding or cuddling him, according to an article at News.co.au.
Instead, kids who are cuddled grow up to be healthier, kinder, less depressed, more empathetic and more productive, according to the research, which studied more than 600 adults and will be published in the journal Applied Developmental Science.
“We can see that in adulthood, that people that are not cared for well, tend to be more stress reactive and they have a hard time self-calming,” University of Notre Dame professor Darcia Narvaez said in the article.
The findings are just what Beaumont Hospital – Royal Oak pediatrician Dr. David Obudzinski would have expected. He always recommends parents respond to their baby’s cries, especially for infants younger than 6 months old.
“The more you respond to their needs like when they cry, the more secure their world becomes for them,” Obudzinski says. “They certainly grow up to be more secure adults and stronger in their own personality and self worth.”
Of course, this goes against some of the popular sleep training strategies parents might hear about that advise letting baby “cry it out” as early as 6 weeks old.
“Under 6 months I would not advise a parent to let the baby cry it out, otherwise you are going to produce more problems for them as they get older. They’re not going to feel as secure in their world,” he says.
Knowing this, parents should brush aside any advice from outsiders about responding too much to their little one’s cries.
“A good rule of thumb is under 6 months you can’t spoil them, so that’s the best thing to keep in mind,” he says.
That said, parents should differentiate between a cry and other noises infants may make when sleeping or trying to get comfortable.
“Newborns will make all kinds of sounds when they come home,” says Obudzinski, pointing out that he learned this lesson himself as a father of twins who were noisy sleepers. “It’s important to not just jump and respond to every sound they make.”
Crying, on the other hand, “means they need something. They have a need,” he says.
And if your baby seems to cry more than usual? Ask your doctor.
“If your baby is crying more than 50 percent of the time, you need to see a pediatrician and talk with the pediatrician about what’s going on,” Obudzinski recommends. “They can help to find out if there’s any other reason for that.”
If you decide to try controlled crying after 6 months of age, it should only be done when a baby is healthy, not cutting teeth and not going through a phase of separation anxiety, common between ages 6 to 9 months. “That’s not a good time to try to establish their sleep patterns at night,” Obudzinski says.
Remember that children need love and affection at all ages. The new research also pointed out that a positive childhood with affection and quality time was linked to healthier adults and better coping skills.
“That’s important for kids as they grow older, too,” Obudzinski says. “I think hugs never grow old … Never underestimate that power of the human touch.”
This post was originally published in 2017 and is updated regularly.