I believe in holding babies.
This is not about breastfeeding – although breastfeeding our babies means holding them, while bottle-feeding certainly makes it easy NOT to hold babies. (You cannot prop a breast and walk away.)
This is about holding and touching and responding to the youngest of our human race, to teach them about relationships and trust. That runs afoul of much the advice we hear nowadays from our culture that urges separation. Sometimes separation is required for work outside the home, to pay the bills or to preserve a career track. Sometimes separation is encouraged out of a misguided attempt to teach these completely dependent little ones how to be self-reliant. Even more misguided is the fear of adults of being “manipulated” by a baby who is communicating a need for food or comfort.
Babies NEED to feel the loving touch of a mother or other adult. They thrive with the rhythm of her movement and the quick response that is possible when the baby is close. Babies who are held and carried learn instinctively about social interactions. Babies who are carried cry very little. Part of it is the proximity, as the caregiver sees a need, reads baby’s cues and addresses the need quickly. Part is a baby who learns to trust this loving person to respond, whether the need is hunger or a wet diaper or being over-tired. Babies are not supposed to be self-reliant. They are babies. What do babies learn when their cries are ignored or criticized or trivialized? That no one cares. Pediatrician William Sears says that a need that is met goes away. I believe that, too.
Western society has handy gadgets that make parenting easier, but nothing can replace loving arms. I wonder about the downside of that nifty baby swing and baby seat. Like the propped bottle, they facilitate separation and attenuate the instinct we have as mothers and caretakers to protect and respond to our babies. I see mothers pushing carts around stores, babies safely strapped into plastic carriers and crying and crying. Why are our mothers reluctant to pick up their babies? Maybe they are feeling stressed and ignored, themselves. So alienated are we from holding our babies, I saw a device advertised in one a baby gear catalog that enabled mom to hang a plastic car seat from her neck!
People in the United States are re-discovering the sling-style carrier for babies and toddlers. They raise eyebrows in a culture that is used to putting babies into plastic container-like seats. For millennia women have carried their babies as they worked. It was the Industrial Revolution and factory work that required a working mom to leave her baby.
I believe that babies who are held learn about love and trust. I believe they have a sense of relationships and response to another person’s needs without first calculating the worth of those needs. Our culture and our world needs people who connect with others, with trust and love, with generosity. The need for human touch is as basic as food, maybe more so.
I believe that everything we invest in our children is rewarded 10-fold. It matters a lot how we love and teach our little ones. I believe there are no substitutes – no gadget or shortcut – for holding our babies.