When I had my third child in spring of 2016, I wore her in a baby carrier pretty much everywhere. She was happily snuggled up close — and because of this, I could have both hands free to wrangle my two older kids, or to get stuff done around the house. Honestly, baby-wearing was a total game changer for me. Still, I would sometimes field backhanded comments from strangers about my baby being "spoiled" because I chose to wear her. I brushed off the criticism for the most part and continued doing my own thing, and now I'm glad I followed my instincts. A new study shows how cuddling babies can affect their DNA. So parents, don't listen to people who claim you're "spoiling" the. Because it's complete nonsense.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia in Canada collected information from the parents of 94 babies for this new study. Published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, the study asked parents to log the cuddling and touching habits with their children, starting at 5 weeks old — while also keeping track of behaviors like how much they cried and slept. Four and a half years later, researchers collected DNA swabs from the children to analyze a biochemical modification called DNA methylation. This affects how cells mature and express themselves, according to ScienceAlert.com, and can be affected by external factors — like physical contact with a caregiver.
So what did researchers find, exactly? They discovered DNA methylation differences between "high-contact" children and "low-contact" children at five specific DNA sites, according to ScienceAlert.com. Two of these differences were within genes — one related to the immune system and one to the metabolic system. Furthermore, researchers looked at epigenetic age of the children, which is the biological aging of blood and tissue, the publication reports. In kids who hadn't received much contact as infants and had experience more distress in the early years, this marker was lower than expected when compared to their actual age. "In children, we think slower epigenetic ageing could reflect less favourable developmental progres," said Michael Kobor — who was part of the research team — in a news release.
The lead author of the study, Sarah Moore, stressed that more research is still needed to see what these results could mean for children in the long run. “We plan to follow up on whether the ‘biological immaturity’ we saw in these children carries broad implications for their health, especially their psychological development," Moore said, according to Parents. "If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.”
Okay, so I'm not a huge fan of slapping labels on people — but out of all of the different parenting approaches I've learned about, I think attachment parenting probably fits me the best. I've (reluctantly) bed-shared with my first and third children, plus I wore my second and third babies around all of the time. And whenever I read/hear someone slamming these two deeply personal parenting decisions, using the argument that it would "spoil" the children, I can't help but roll my eyes. And hard. They're babies. If they cry out because they need physical reassurance from mom or dad, then you can bet I'll be there to provide that for them. Leaving an infant to cry alone — or to "self-soothe," however you want to spin it — feels completely wrong to me. Especially since the science is on my side, you can bet I'll continue following my instincts (and with full confidence) by offering physical reassurance to my children. Besides, if the worst thing I do as a parent is cuddle my kids too much, I'd say I'm doing all right.
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