How Cuddling With Your Baby Affects Your Brain, According To Science

Ad failed to load

The ways in which your baby benefits from your cuddle have long been espoused. From helping brain development, to strengthening feelings of attachment, a mother's embrace is one of the most potent newborn medicines. But what about you, mom? After all, there's something visceral about snuggling your baby. How could you not be getting something out of that coveted cuttle time, besides just "good feels"? If you're wondering how cuddling with your baby affects your brain, have no fear: you're definitely onto something.

When experts talk about "cuddling" and newborns, they often mean skin-to-skin care (SSC) or Kangaroo Care (KC). According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Perinatal Education, cuddling, or SSC, is described as placing an unclothed newborn on their mother’s bare chest, with a warm, light blanket and/or towel covering the newborn’s back. As the study explains, at least an hour of SSC is what The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends all healthy breastfeeding women in hospital settings be provided after having given birth, and that any routine procedures or newborn assessments be done during the SSC period (or afterward).

It is during this initial cuddle period between mother and child, that the "magic" happens. Or, more scientifically, when a mother starts to reap the brain benefits of cuddling, too. The 2014 aforementioned study finds that the chemical oxytocin, which increases significantly during SSC, has equal benefits to mom's and their baby's brains. The increase in oxytocin, the study states, "promotes maternal/newborn attachment, reduces maternal and newborn stress, and helps the newborn transition to postnatal life." And though that last one is more about the baby than mom, technically, if your baby transitions to postnatal life more easily, that will cause less stress on you in the long run.

Ad failed to load
Ashley Batz/Romper

Another study, referenced by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), further highlights the brain benefits a mom can enjoy after cuddling her baby. The 2015 study found that mothers of premature infants who held their babies in SSC (in this case, specifically, inside the pouch of the parent's shirt) for at least an hour reported an objective decrease in stress levels after having cuddled their babies. Dr. Natalia Isaza, a neonatologist, explains to the AAP that decreasing your stress level can potentially have other far reaching effects on things like your health, your relationship with your partner, and your ability to breastfeed. Dr. Isaza states:

"Now we have more evidence that skin-to-skin contact can also decrease parental stress that can interfere with bonding, health and emotional wellness, and the interpersonal relations of parents, as well as breastfeeding rates."
Ad failed to load

But you don't necessarily have to have your baby unclothed (i.e. skin-to-skin) to reap the brain benefits of cuddling. A study published a few years ago in the journal Frontiers in Psychology shows that when moms breathe in the smell of their own newborns, it releases a reward-seeking response in the brain. These are, as The New York Times' blogger Douglas Quenqua writes, "the same dopamine pathways that light up after ingesting cocaine, enjoying food, or other reward-inducing behavior." So when you snuggle your baby, you're also rewarding yourself — technically, in a chemical way.

Ashley Batz/Romper

The next time you cuddle your baby, know that you're not imagining all those magical, relaxing, sweep-you-off-your-feet feelings. Also, isn't it nice to know that while you might feel like you're losing brain cells from all those sleepless nights, at least some good things are happening up there in that noggin' to balance it out.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

The Entire Family Can Enjoy These Movies & Shows Coming To Netflix In June

It's just one of those sad facts of life: every month, shows and movies vanish from Netflix, their varied excitements no longer at your fingertips. But luckily the streaming service is always prepared to fill that content void with lots of new things…
By Megan Walsh

The Reason Why Babies Smile At You Will Seriously Make You Smile

Whether you're currently the recipient of your own baby's sweet smiles or you just seem to be a magnet for baby grins in general, you might find yourself wondering why babies are always smiling at you. Sure, you could be a 'smile whisperer' but scien…
By Kate Miller

8 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say That, Yes, You Are Their Favorite

For a baby to show a preference for a specific person is not only normal, but an essential part of their development. Babies need to form strong attachments to their caregivers for their emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. Usually, but not alw…
By Kimmie Fink

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills