August 29, 2007

Mothers' Baby Cradling Habits a Sign of High Stress

As we've covered in past news items - children's brains are extremely sensitive to stress - and ongoing or frequent stress during early childhood is now believed by researchers to be an important contributor to mental illness.

Today a new study done at Durham University in the UK was announced that new mothers who cradle their baby to their right hand side are displaying signs of extreme stress. This seems like it might be one thing to watch for as a potential indicator of stress in new mothers - but of course this is only one study, and additional studies need to be done to verify these results. If someone feels that they might be stressed - we recommend they review this list of signs and symptoms of stress, and read the following page on how to reduce the stress.

Although most mums feel stressed in the early stages of their baby’s life, the study by Durham University researchers suggests their baby cradling habits are a key indicator of whether this stress could become overwhelming and lead to depression.

Previous research has already shown that the majority of mothers prefer to cradle their baby to their left regardless of whether they are left or right handed.

As at least one in ten women develop post-natal depression, studying non-verbal cues such as baby cradling could potentially help doctors and health visitors identify which mothers are in need of extra professional support before it gets too late.

Experts say that stress in new mothers can lead to depression which can have a detrimental effect on their baby’s mental development and wellbeing.

The study, published in the on-line version of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, studied 79 new mothers and their babies, who were an average age of seven months.

In their own homes, mothers were asked to pick up their babies and cradle them in their arm. They also completed a survey which quizzed them on their mental state. The research methodology established there was no link between cradling side and left or right handedness.

The study found that of the mothers who expressed no signs of stress or depression in the survey, 86 per cent preferred to hold their babies to the left. However, cradling babies to the right was more prominent among stressed mums with 32 per cent showing a right-sided bias.

Lead author Dr Nadja Reissland, a senior lecturer with Durham University’s Department of Psychology, explained why early detection of stress is vital: “Many mothers don’t realize they are suffering from stress, or don’t want to admit they are. The way they interact with their child is usually the best indicator of their inner mental state.

“Mums who are stressed often see what their baby does as negative so they may interpret their baby’s crying as being naughty, when in fact this is normal behaviour. They may even feel the baby is stopping them from living the life they really want to live.

“These sorts of feelings can have a huge impact on the relationship between mother and baby and on the family as a whole. If this stress develops into depression, then the situation can be even worse.”

The research team is following up this pilot study with another study looking at cradling side in a before and after situation with mothers taking their babies for their first vaccinations.

The study was funded by the Children’s Research Fund.

Related Reading:

The Long-term Impact of Stress During Childhood on Brain Development

Resources for Lowering stress and Parenting Skills Information

Preventing Schizophrenia - Risk Reduction Approaches


I can't think of any greater stress to begin with than a 7 month old baby. It would seem that handedness (left or right) would play into the holding position more than this article relates. An interesting approach to getting a research grant.....
my opinion? TOTALLY inconclusive.

Posted by: rustysmom at August 29, 2007 12:39 PM

I wonder what they make of babies strapped to their mothers back working out in the paddy fields in the monsoon all day, or in the scorching heat in the dusty fields in south Africa, or babies strapped to Eskimo mothers out in minus 20 hunting seals..I think babies are far more resilient than we think.

Posted by: Salty Davis at August 29, 2007 02:46 PM

Well crud. Yep, I held both my kids on my right side. Dunno why. Just felt more natural to me. Holding them on my left side was like kicking a ball with my left foot or eating with my left hand.

Do I think it matters - no. But, who knows. Both my kids were breastfed and they both went through a period of a week or so when then both refused the left breast. I had to get pretty creative and a week later they were fine - business as usual. Weird.

Posted by: twinb__ at August 30, 2007 06:24 AM

Sure kids are vulnerable to stress and kids are also more often than not resilient. The baby who got schizophrenia seemed no different than the others and was held the same as the others. His brain must have made him more vulnerable if that's the cause because otherwise either all my children would have had schizophrenia, or none. You keep harping on stress and that is so much b.s. in our real world experience. oh and I held them all on my left side merely because I am righthanded. This research is pathetic like research into cancer being done investigating how the baby was held and what it shows would be how little medical progress there is.

Posted by: 5kids at August 30, 2007 08:58 AM

I think that perhaps it has something to do with bonding as being cuddled on the left puts the baby closer to the heart. This could account for lower stress levels.


Posted by: Motherof2 at August 30, 2007 12:26 PM

Just some more nonsense. And another sign that too many people who have
and affinity toward freudian thinking are attracted to psychiatry and
psychiatric research. I hope valuable research dollars aren't supporting this nonsense.

It makes me sad that research on this horrible disease is not progressing fast enough because of this pseudo-science.

Posted by: Jen at August 30, 2007 06:45 PM

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