Will carrying my baby make them clingy?
Short answer: no!
All jokes aside, this is one of the most common concerns new parents have around their new addition. Can you spoil a child? Is there such a thing as holding them too much? What if they never learn to settle themselves without me?
But the science of the matter is that babies grow to be INdependent humans by first being dependent and feeling secure that their needs will always be met. Independence grows out of feeling secure that your foundations will always be there – and in your baby’s case this is you!
The science behind this is Attachment Theory (different to Attachment Parenting!), which originated in the 1950’s with John Bowlby. His work and the continued research in this field has shown that children build secure attachments to people around them from having their needs responsively met. These attachments are mostly built in the first 5 years of life, and children who don’t build a secure attachment in their first five years are at a greater risk of future physical and mental health issues.
The research now suggests that the children who show most distress at being separated from their main caregiver are those who feel their needs aren’t being met rather than the opposite. Those children who appear clingy are the ones who aren’t totally convinced their caregiver will return. Children secure in their foundations and attachments will more often cope with separation more easily than those without. Whilst this obviously is only broadly true – all children are different and some are more anxious and ‘clingy’ than others – it does mean that the often repeated line that carrying creates clingy babies is definitely not true.
Carrying is one tool which can help you build that secure foundation with your child, and thus help to foster future confidence and independence.
Why do babies want to be held all the time?
If you’ve been around babies for any length of time then you’ll notice that many babies enjoy being held. Some babies want to be held all the time, and protest loudly at being put down. Some babies go through phases of wanting to be held constantly but these are short lived. Some babies are somewhere in between, but the vast majority of newborn babies will exhibit some degree of this behaviour at some stage.
What is The Fourth Trimester?
The Fourth Trimester is a concept which covers the period from birth until your baby is 3 months old. The term ‘The Fourth Trimester’ is often used to describe the behaviours which are exhibited by babies who are transitioning from the womb environment to the big wide world. You baby has left a warm, quiet, dark place where they were always rocked and held snugly, to a bright, noisy, cold world full of strange smells, where they are put down in large beds, dressed in strange clothes and moved in and out of car seats. It’s difficult to imagine how confusing and disorientating that must feel to a tiny being.
During this period it is common for babies to only settle on someone, to sleep when held, to enjoy feeling snug and warm and hearing familiar sounds – a heartbeat – and smelling familiar smells. This is all totally normal! If you can, go with it. Enjoy the cuddles, take a rest yourself and dive into some boxsets on the telly.
If you do need to be up and about, because you have older children or other responsibilities that is the point where a sling can be an amazing tool. Using a soft carrier to mimic the feeling of carrying in arms can help your baby feel comforted, allow them to sleep, and allow you to get around more easily.
What about carrying older babies and children?
I’m going to be a bit honest here and say that my 5 year old still likes to nap on Mummy or Daddy. It’s rare, and more common when he’s poorly or particularly tired, but he loves to snuggle up and drift off. This is all totally normal! Both my 3 year old and 5 year old occasionally turn up in bed with us too. This is totally normal – and something I expect will keep occurring for a while yet! They also both like to be held and to be carried sometimes. This is also totally normal! The reasons an older child might want to be carried might be different to a newborn but they still seek reassurance, they still seek security and to them that is still you. It’s also totally normal for older children to want their own space, to be alone, to push you away. They need to have space to understand what makes them an individual and to develop that independence.
As they grow babies and children go through many transitions which can be scary – teething, learning to crawl, sit and walk, their body growing, weaning, learning to talk…. the list is long for small children! During these transition times you may find that your baby or child requires more closeness, more cuddles, more security. It will be a phase, and the length and intensity of the phases will vary with the child. Some may breeze through everything and some might feel like one phase blurs into the next. Your baby will grow and develop and change into an almost unrecognisable child, and they need support to do that.
If you have an older child who still likes to be held a lot you probably also still need to get out and about a lot. A sling can be a great tool even for older children, with options available to fit right up to preschool age and beyond.
My baby is clingy – have I carried them too much?
No! You can’t carry your child too much IF you are being responsive to their needs.
Every baby is different – they are individuals and they have different needs at different times. Babies have individual personalities and some babies have naturally more anxious or nervous dispositions. If you have a baby who is naturally anxious, they may appear to be clingy. If you’ve carried your anxious baby from birth, for years, they may still be clingy. Carrying doesn’t change the fundamental personality of your baby. Carrying is simply a tool which can help you both cope with day to day life.
Some babies enjoy being carried but are also happy playing alone, being put down, exploring the world around them. This is just their personality. They may exhibit ‘clingy’ behaviour in some circumstances and not others, and carrying may just be a helpful practical tool.
Many babies will fall somewhere on this spectrum, and will change as they grow and develop. If you’ve been listening to their cues and meeting their needs then you are doing the most amazing thing in the world for them, and carrying can be a tool to help you do this
Looking for help carrying your baby?
Why not check out our articles, message us through our facebook page or email, or book a consultation with us here at It’s A Sling Thing? Finding the right sling can be a great tool for almost all families. Here at It’s A Sling Thing we offer a postal hire service, consultations, a Try Before You Buy service and many slings for sale too!
For video assistance why not head over to our YouTube channel and subscribe? We have lots of videos on carrying babies in different slings and are constantly adding to our tutorial library.
If you are looking for in person help then try looking up your local sling services.
Further Reading on Child Development