By Dr Rosie Knowles
Why does carrying matter? There are so many reasons why holding and carrying children matters, on multiple levels (biological, developmental, psychological, sociological, long term health) that it would take a whole book to discuss, even in brief!
Carrying behaviour is normal for the human species; babies are very vulnerable at birth. They are almost “born too early”, as there are many months and even years of maturation needed before human infants are able to control their bodies fully and become able to care for themselves independently. Babies and young children are dependent on their primary caregivers for a very long time.
This is where the “4th Trimester” concept comes from; holding and carrying babies recreates in some part the intra-uterine environment of warmth and safety and containment and allows them to develop new skills from this platform of security. Our human instincts are strong (a baby’s cry tugs at our heartstrings and we feel the urge to gather them up, hold them close and rock gently while murmuring in a soothing way) and we are discovering much of the neurochemical science behind this normal, natural behaviour. Oxytocin release builds loving connection via multiple pathways. Soft touch has helpful effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-axis and cortisol production, reducing pain and modulating the stress response. Gentle and responsive parenting builds and reinforces the neural circuitry as it develops in the child, creating a healthy positive inner thought state that affects long term mental health. Furthermore, building this resilience helps to combat the adversity that so many children experience.
Children need loving nurture in the early neonatal period and long beyond this for normal, healthy development. Carrying babies close to an adult’s body, as human beings have evolved to do, is vital for normal physiological and psychological development. Research into the importance of skin to skin contact, soft touch and responsive parenting, as well as a better understanding of disability reinforces this.
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