Harvard research: “Children Need Touching”

Here are the opening paragraphs from a 1998 article in the Harvard Gazette:

America’s “let them cry” attitude toward children may lead to more fears and tears among adults, according to two Harvard Medical School researchers.

Instead of letting infants cry, American parents should keep their babies close, console them when they cry, and bring them to bed with them, where they’ll feel safe, according to Michael L. Commons and Patrice M. Miller, researchers at the Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry.

The pair examined childrearing practices here and in other cultures and say the widespread American practice of putting babies in separate beds — even separate rooms — and not responding quickly to their cries may lead to incidents of post-traumatic stress and panic disorders when these children reach adulthood.

Breastfeeding advocates have known for a long time that responding to babies’ cries supports successful breastfeeding. Because babies do the work in breastfeeding (mothers just create access and a supportive environment), breastfeeding relies on responsiveness to what babies communicate.

I was happy to see that there is research on this topic relating to mental health (not just feeding choices). I’m sad that the research is over a decade old and still not widely publicized. Maybe it’s just hard to go against cultural beliefs.

I still need to track down the actual studies that this article is based on. I’m looking forward to reading them. I’m hoping that they are good quality research — and I hope even more that there have been follow-up studies in the last 11 years.

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