Published Date: 11/02/23
Babies Have a Biological Need to Be Close to You
Have you ever noticed that your newborn can be sleeping comfortably on your chest but as soon as you try to sit down, they wake up crying, insisting that you stand, bounce, or walk around with them? Human nature is amazing and this response is part of the fight or flight response.
If a caregiver is standing up and holding a helpless baby, they are ready in case they need to run away from danger. If they are sitting or laying down, it would take more time to get away.
You may know you're not in danger but your infant doesn't...
Read on to learn more or jump to:
Why Does Your Baby Cry When You Sit Down?
Babies Feel Secure When You're Walking
We can learn a lot about human instinct from our ancestors and other mammals.
Back when we were still living in caves, saber-tooth cats, dire wolves, and giant man-eating birds lurked outside, waiting to pounce. These predators helped shape our development. In the comfort of our homes today we don't fear wild beasts, but human instinct hasn't quite caught up with modern living.
Similarly, a study was done showing how baby mice prefer to be held by the nape of their necks by their mothers because it gives them security. Your baby is craving that same sense of safety and security.
Babies and mice also make it easier for mom to escape. Little mice go limp as soon as mama mouse picks them up and our human babies often calm down almost immediately, allowing mom to make a quick getaway. Hopefully that's not really necessary, but if it were, know that your bambino is helping you out.
Being Held Affects a Baby's Heartbeat
Research has been done across mammalian species on the effect of carrying one's young and the results aren't surprising.
Carrying an infant has a calming effect, with a distressed baby's heartbeat immediately dropping once securely in their mother's arms. They also stop voluntary movement and cries dissipate.
You can't argue with biology...
Wonder why baby's fall asleep easily while in your arms? Being held helps regulate their heartbeat.
How Much Do Babies Need to Be Held?
Humans are Meant to Carry Our Young
It's notable that humans are a carry species - meaning we're desgined to carry our young.
We have the largest brains of any primate yet our babies rely on us for a much longer period of time than other animals.
We carry our fetuses for about nine months and any woman who's carried a baby to term will likely say they didn't want to be pregnant longer. Well, for human babies to be born with the cognitive and phyiscal development of our closest living relative the chimpanzee, fetuses would have to gestate for an estimated 18 to 21 months! No thank you...
Carrying Infants Promotes Bonding & Development
Babies need to be held a lot. And some babies want to be held all the time.
Dr. Barbara Howard, assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University told WebMD, "Babies like to be held all the time, especially before they can walk on their own. They can look around, they get to see what the parent's doing, which they find totally fascinating, and that's good for mental development."
And there are studies that prove holding your baby promotes positive development. Research led by Dr. Elizabeth Anisfeld at Columbia University gave mothers either an infant carrier at birth or an infant seat. Mothers who received the infant carrier were more responsive to their baby's vocalizations at 3.5 months and the carried babies had more secure attachment bonds at 13 months.
Should You Use Baby Bouncers and Swings?
For most families, carrying an infant 24/7 isn't practical. Even with a great baby carrier you need a break.
Bouncers, swings, and other devices that allow you to put your baby down for a bit are necessary for some, however most of them are not safe sleep environments. Use them for short periods of time when your child is awake and avoid using them as an excuse to not carry your babe.
It's important to keep in mind the fact that babies can't self-soothe, despite what you may have heard. Stay attuned to your infant's cries and vocalizations while they're hanging out in the swing or bouncer.
Occasional use of bouncers or swings can be a welcome relief for parents.
There's no set number of hours that's right to carry your infant. Every baby has different needs and every caregiver needs to find a balance between meeting their child's needs and meeting their own.
There are multiple benefits of babywearing, like less crying (definitely for baby, possibly for mom). If a carrier is an option, it's an ideal hands-free way tote your tot.
You Can't Spoil a Baby with Love
Children Are Spoiled By Posessions, Not Affection
It's frustrating that people still say, "You're spoiling your baby by holding them."
This tired trope comes from years of misinformation being perpetuated by doctors who told mothers to pick their babies up as little as possible.
We now know that was terrible advice and responding to your baby's cries is nurturing, not spoiling. The benefits of being a responsive caregiver are numerous, and that includes having a baby who is less clingy.
Responsiveness is crucial to help a baby develop secure attachment bonds can have a lifelong impact. In fact, the bond developed between a baby and their caregiver can actually affect romantic relationships in adulthood.
So go on and snuggle your baby and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You can’t spoil a baby with love.
FAQs About Crying Babies
How can I stop my baby from crying when I put her down?
Unfortunately, there's no magic answer here. Your baby needs you to hold her to develop a secure attachment and as she develops it, you'll be able to put her down more easily. In the meantime, enlist the help of family and friends whenever possible, and look into a hands-free baby carrier, which can be a life saver when you need to get things done.
Q: What do I do if my baby wants to be held all the time?
If your baby wants to be held all the time your baby is 100% perfectly typical. We've unfortunately been sold a lie about what to expect from babies. Mothers also used to have a lot of help - it was normal for a child to have up to 12 caregivers in the form of extended family and siblings up until relatively recent times. As much as you can, meet your baby's needs and when a friend says, "Is there anything you need?" say "Yes! I could really use [dinner, a baby sitter for an hour, a shower]" Too often we don't speak up and think we're supposed to be able to do it all...we're not!
Q. How do I teach my baby to self-soothe and self-settle?
Like the many myths we've been told about baby sleep, self-soothing is simply not a skill babies have or can be taught. Self-soothing is all about emotional regulation and baby's brains simply aren't developed enough to do that.
What should I do if my baby cries when put down?
Crying is communication and when you put your baby to bed and they cry, they're communicating that they still need to be in your arms. Crying is also completely normal and it will likely take months before your child feels secure being alone. You can practice putting your baby down in the crib during wake times and patting them gently as well as verbally reassuring your little one that you're there and they're safe.
Always make sure your little one isn't hungry, create a healthy sleep environment, ensuring that the room is dark, a comfortable temperature, and there's little noise.
New parents may want to consider that some babies never like to sleep in a crib and think about co-sleeping as an option.
What is the correct way to put my baby down?
Always put your baby on their back to sleep and try to keep your baby on their backs throughout the night. Make sure that the crib is empty before placing your baby down and keep the room at a comfortable temperature for them to fall asleep in.
At what age do babies stop crying when being put to sleep?
All babies will take different amounts of time to stop crying when being put down. Many infants will be through the worst of the crying by four months old. At this age, your baby may start to sleep for longer hours and putting them to sleep may be easier. But, don't be surprised if your little one isn't ready to nap and sleep without being in contact with your body at that age. All babies are different and their sleep patterns change constantly in the first weeks, months, and even years. Just when it seems you've gotten it figured out and your baby's sleeping through the night, an illness, regression, teething, or other change hits and your baby's back to crying at all hours.
Should I put my baby down drowsy, but awake?
New parents are often given the advice to put their infants down drowsy, but awake. The theory is that if you start this pattern early and do it every time, your baby won't cry when place in their crib to sleep and they'll be more likely to sleep through the night.
While you could certainly try this, it seems that for most parents, weeks are spent following this advice and your child is still crying every time they're set down to sleep, and both adults and infants end up with anxiety around bedtime.
How do I know if my baby has colic?
Colic is frequent, prolonged crying by a healthy child who isn't hungry, in need of a clean diaper, or in obvious pain. Colic is difficult, as listening to the noise of a baby cry at all hours of the day and night can lead to anxiety for mom and dad who are already sleep deprived and stressed. If your baby is crying excessively, first call your pediatrician and schedule an appointment to rule out any medical issues or health concerns.
If possible, set up a network of friends and family who you can call on for support. If someone can watch your child while you get out of the house alone for a few hours, it can help you stay calm when dealing with a fussy baby. Taking care of your mental health is crucial for your parenting so pay attention to how you're feeling and call for help when life with a little one gets overwhelming.
By the time you have a four-month-old, colic will generally pass and your infant will be less fussy.
Does feeding a baby cereal in their bottle help them sleep through the night?
Feeding a baby cereal in their bottle to help them fall asleep and wake less often is an old wive's tale that could be dangerous. Not only can it lead to choking, but your baby's body is still developing and their digestive system may not be ready for solids. When you feed a baby cereal or other solids too early, it can lead to health problems later in life, like obesity.
Instead of feeding your baby cereal at bedtime, create a bedtime routine that they become accustomed to and will associate with sleep.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Crystal is a gentle parenting mama who loves reading, cooking, and exploring new trails with her husband and son. She is from Los Angeles but currently lives in Portland, OR where she is eating all the vegan food. Crystal has been researching best practices in child development, attachment parenting, and baby sleep since her son was born in 2014.