Early Experiences Matter

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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

Can holding, cuddling, and eye contact help babies grow and develop?

Q: Can holding, cuddling, and eye contact help babies grow and develop?

A: The positive emotional and physical experiences that a baby has in the earliest years of life are necessary for the growth of a healthy brain. Our expressions of caring through touching, rocking, talking, smiling, and singing are a kind of nourishment for the baby. These experiences, repeated many times over the course of a day, provide the foundation for the brain's early development.

Eye contact—gazing into each other’s eyes-- creates a strong emotional connection that makes your baby feel loved and special. It is also a key way babies engage and explore. They study your facial features and come to understand your expressions. 

As you hold and cuddle your baby, you are letting her know you will keep her safe. This sense of security is what allows your child to feel secure to explore their world. And when she feels you hold and rock her, she takes in your familiar smells and experiences your gentle touch. Research has shown that loving touch stimulates the brain to release important hormones necessary for growth.

Remember-- every baby is different. Experiment with how your baby likes to be held, cuddled or touched. Also keep in mind that making eye contact can be a very intense experience for some babies. They may turn away at times to let you know they need a break. It’s important to look for you baby’s signals that she is overwhelmed. Some common signs are arching her back, looking away, frowning and even hiccupping. When you pay close attention, you will learn your baby’s signals for when she is ready to engage and play, and when she needs calming and quiet. This helps her trust you and learn to soothe and calm herself as she grows. It also protects her from stress that can have a negative impact on her growing brain.




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