What Do I Do When My Baby Wants to Be Held All the Time?

Babies love to be held, but should you hold them whenever they want? We asked an expert to weigh in.

There are so many questions in new parenthood—and the answers aren't usually black and white. How long should they sleep? Are they eating enough? Why'd their eyes just do that? Why do their arms fly up in the air all the time? But one of the biggest, and perhaps, one of the most divisive, questions is "Can I hold my baby too much?"

When babies cry, parents are pretty much hard-wired to pick them up and soothe them. It's a biological imperative that it's hard to ignore. That said, real life and your own need for a break can get in the way. Either way, is it OK—or even necessary—to hold them every time they cry? Should we let them get used to not being held when they want to be held? Does it harm them to not pick them up?

It might be appealing to search for hard and fast rules to these parenting questions, but there are many appropriate ways to parent. Ultimately, every family needs to figure out what approach is right for them. Of course, expert recommendations and scientific research can help to inform those decisions. Learn more about what to do when your baby wants to be held all the time.

Mother holding baby daughter at home
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Why Do Babies Want to be Held?

Newborns and young babies, those less than around 4 months old, are in what some experts call the "fourth trimester." It's a time spent becoming accustomed to the world outside their parent's body. During pregnancy, they were held close in a warm, safe environment, with lots of movement where they could hear their parent's heartbeat.

After being born into a loud, cold, wide-open world, it takes some time for them to get used to their new reality—and figure out how to get their needs met. Sometimes, or a lot of the time, they want that same close, warm, safe feeling they had when they were in the womb. Being held is as close as they can get to the comfort they're familiar with. Additionally, research shows that physical touch is calming for babies and facilitates the parent-child bond.

Why Babies Cry

Being away from their safe spot (aka their parents) can be stressful for new babies. Crying is the way they convey that stress and ask to be held or have other needs met. In fact, crying is a baby's primary way to communicate with their caregiver says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). There are hungry cries, sleep cries, and distress cries. Figuring out the language of their cries is how parents learn about their baby's needs and personality and bond with them.

Remember that picking them up is just one possible solution to whatever is upsetting your child. When your baby cries, they likely do want to be held but they may have other needs to address as well. And there are other ways to provide comfort, such as putting them in their bed for a nap, giving them a pacifier, using a swing, giving them a toy, playing music, taking them on a walk, or bathing them. However, if you want to (and can) hold them, that is always an appropriate option as well.

Can I Hold a Baby Too Much?

Whether to hold a baby every time they cry is one of the great parenting debates. Some people say "Yes, absolutely, hold the baby!" While others are firmly in the "You'll spoil them" camp. According to Jennifer Shu, M.D., a pediatrician and co-author of Heading Home With Your Newborn, it's a little complicated.

"It could be considered too much if it negatively impacts their physical development or safety," she explains. "For example, if over-holding limits the baby's chance to exercise and develop their muscles, that would be a negative impact. Also, prolonged sleep while holding could be a safety risk since sleeping flat in a bare crib or bassinet is recommended."

She also adds that the myth that you can spoil a baby by holding them too much isn't quite so cut-and-dried either. Holding "can help build a sense of security and comfort. That said, if it becomes a habit to fall asleep while being held, some babies will have trouble learning how to fall asleep on their own." However, usually, parents aren't holding their children so much that they are impeding them in any way. So, as a general rule, feel free to hold your baby as much as feels right to you.

What If I Can't Hold My Baby When They Cry?

Sometimes, as much as you may want to, you just can't hold your baby when they want to be held. If you're cooking, tending to other children, taking a shower, or doing something that would make holding your baby unsafe, you might just have to let them cry in a safe space until you have a free arm for them. And that's fine, says Dr. Shu.

"It's fine to let babies cry sometimes even if they want to be held, especially if the parent is not available. It can teach delayed gratification," she explains. Plus, sometimes you just need a break as well, which is completely understandable and important to honor. Just be sure that they are left in a safe place (such as their crib) and that a parent or caregiver is checking on them and/or there to talk to them and reassure them.

The Babywearing Compromise

One way to have the best of both worlds—a quiet, comfy baby and free arms—is to wear your baby in a sling, wrap, or carrier. "This can allow babies to be held while freeing the caregiver's arms," says Dr. Shu.

She notes that while babywearing can be a great option, it's important to only do it safely. Caregivers should make sure the baby's airway is not compromised and that the baby is not at risk for injury such as burns from cooking. Babywearing can also change the wearer's center of gravity, she notes, so it's important to be extra cautious to avoid a fall.

The Bottom Line

As long as your baby's essential needs are being met and you actively engage them in a loving way, how much or how little you hold them is entirely up to you. If you want to hold them, do. If you want to put them down, even if they cry, that's fine as well. There is no one perfect way to parent nor is there a perfect amount of holding for your baby. Instead, follow your instincts and give yourself grace as you navigate life with a baby.

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