All infants have a strong and very real need for physical contact. Without it, the deprivation is very real and may be permanent. Your baby’s need for touching and cuddling is like food for physical and emotional growth. Your infant’s need for physical contact strongly suggests this physical/emotional/social being also needs to be “fed.” Without such contact, your child “starves” physically, emotionally, and socially.
What to do? That is fairly simple. Pick up your baby, cuddle him, talk to him and make noises at him. Try to spend a lot of time talking with him and physically interacting with him. When giving him a bottle, hold your baby instead of feeding him in the crib or playpen. Several times a day, pick him up and walk around, sit in a chair and rock, and be sure his playpen or walker is not in a room by itself. It’s better for him to be around other people than to be by himself. Talk with him and encourage other people to do the same. If someone says, “What a nice baby,” ask them if they want to hold your child. Your baby needs maximum physical contact and interaction with a variety of people.
Although you do not hear much about it and parents are usually reluctant to talk about it, some infants do not spontaneously respond to touching and physical contact. They act as if they prefer being left alone, not touched or held, and seem to really prefer being left in their crib or playpen. What then? First, realize this probably specifically has nothing to do with you. Parents say, “There must be something wrong with me since my baby does not want me to hold her.” When baby regularly wants minimal interaction with you, as difficult as it may be to accept, do not take it personally. No one really knows for sure why this happens. Your child still needs to be touched and to be interacted with physically. Continue to pick her up, interact with her, talk and play with her, carry her around, cuddle and snuggle with her, and nurture the capacity of your infant to interact physically with you. If you are patient, gentle, and persistent, your infant most always warms up to you and enjoys the interaction; chances are greater she will relate more spontaneously. Also, encourage others with whom your baby interacts spontaneously to cuddle, talk, and carry her around. The need is real; just because she seems to resist or not reach out for physical contact and affection is no reason to deprive her.
Does this mean you pick her up every time she cries? Yes, for the first few weeks of life, although you are likely not always able to immediately pick her up or sit down and rock her. You may be fixing dinner or talking on the telephone or visiting with a friend or just taking a few minutes to relax. If you usually respond physically to your child, it is not a problem if you occasionally do not pick her up immediately. Should you always hold her and rock her until she goes to sleep? Yes, again, for the first few weeks of life. Your baby should be rocked or held if she is having difficulty going to sleep. After she is four or five months old, though, you need only be sure she is not hungry, does not need her diapers changed, or is not experiencing some other obvious physical discomfort. Once you have assured yourself your child is alright, there comes a time when she needs to learn to go to sleep without being held or rocked. First be sure she is dry and comfortable. Then go out of the room. If she does not settle, it is okay to gently rub her arm or back but do not pick her up again. After three or four such episodes, babies usually begin to develop a better pattern of going to sleep. Leaving a music box playing in the crib may soothe her as she tries to settle down.
When putting your baby down for a nap or to bed, position the child on her back. Just think of the phrase, “Back To Sleep.” This is especially true while she is still too young to raise her head or turn over. This is the best way to avoid her accidentally getting her air passage blocked. Place her on a comfortable but firm surface and be careful there is no bed clothing in which she might get tangled or pressing on her face. Having her sleep in bed with you or putting her on a chair or couch where she might roll into a corner or get stuck between cushions is always a bad idea. Just keep in mind she is very small and can become tangled or smothered quite easily and quickly.
If you are one of those adults who has no natural inclination to pick up babies or otherwise interact with them, there is no reason to feel guilty or self-conscious. A lot of people lack a spontaneous interest in infants. Nonetheless, your baby needs physical contact. You must give it to her as a part of your parenting responsibility. Be careful when you give attention not to be uptight, angry, or resentful, for your baby can pick up these feelings. It may not be one of your favorite things to do; still, your child eventually grows to the point you can talk to each other, do things together, play games, and interact in other ways. For now, though, be physical with your baby – interact.
Children of all ages need physical contact. This does not mean you pick up your toddler every time he wants to climb on your lap. Just talk with him, touch him, and be sure you spend a little time doing this each day. Children start out needing touching and physical contact; and while they continue to need it, physical contact also becomes a means for relating to children. For example, if you want a preschooler to slow down a little, it is more effective if you tell him while touching his arm. If you want to console your child and tell him things are OK, it is more reassuring if you put your arm around him while you are talking with him. Get in the habit of touching your children, playing games that require physical contact, and physically expressing your affection and good feelings.