And, babies need to be picked up, handled and held for just about every activity they do! As an attachment style parent, I’ve had very close contact with my babies all day and night. Physical touch and connection is vital for a baby’s well being.
But where do we draw the line as to what is respectful to a baby’s body or what may be unintentionally violating a baby’s space? Shouldn’t there be a difference in how a stranger enters your baby’s space as opposed to someone the baby knows? And, just because a baby is smiling, does it mean that he’s enjoying the interaction?
I know, I know, again, baby’s are so cute! It’s hard to not want to tickle them or stroke their soft skin or ask to hold them or to squeeze them and poke all their round delicious parts. My son is just about to turn six months old at the time I’m writing this, and man, is he a ham! It’s hard for people to keep their hands off him!
But… babies are people, let’s not forget. Small adorable people, who can’t talk. Would it be ok to go around stroking a stranger’s cheeks? Or, if you saw a cute looking guy in the shops, would it be alright to stick your finger in his hand? No…
I don’t have the right to tickle, poke and prod or do anything that might make my baby feel uncomfortable. And, I feel like I need to protect my small person from other well-meaning people who can’t help but want to do the same.
I’ve had countless strangers approach my babies and try to get a squeeze, or a poke or a kiss! Even when my babies have been tucked away in the baby carrier, and I try to turn away, I’ve had people touch my baby’s toes, plant a kisses on my baby’s head, put a finger in my baby’s soft hand or stroke my baby’s cheeks (their cheeks are amazing, I admit).
Then, people ask for cuddles…
If the baby is tucked away in the carrier, they won’t ask (thank goodness). But, if the baby’s out of the carrier and they ask, I don’t always know what to say. Saying ‘no‘ seems rude. If they could ask my baby and he could answer, then the answer would be straight forward. But, how do I know if HE wants you to hold him? This is not a game of ‘pass the baby‘, this is a little person with feelings!
How would I feel if a giant stranger, who looked, felt and smelled very different from my mother, picked me up? I’m not sure I would like it…
I love the most when people interact with my son by smiling at him and talking. That way, he can simply snuggle his head into my chest if he doesn’t feel like interacting. Or, he can choose to respond by smiling back. Sometimes my son smiles during an interaction with someone, but I have to look at his body language to know if he’s enjoying the interaction. Is he smiling, but tense and pulling and squirming away? Or, is he smiling with his body relaxed? If he’s relaxed, then I know he feels safe and comfortable.
Don’t get me wrong, other people have definitely held my babies, I’m not that uptight and it’s beautiful when the holding is done with awareness. My parents just came to visit from America and my son spent tons of time on their laps. And, some of my good friends, that I see on a regular basis, get cuddles. But, people whom I don’t see often, I just don’t feel comfortable saying ‘yes‘ to when they ask for a casual cuddle. A cuddle is a very intimate thing, in my opinion!
It’s not just strangers who want to poke and prod babies, I think about how often my husband and daughters (or even I) may accidentally invade my son’s body space. My girls love him so much, tthe second I put him down, they’re all over him like white on rice! It’s a tough one, like I said, because babies need to be picked up, interacted with and helped all day long… and we do love to play with him. So, I try my best to nicely remind everyone to look and listen carefully at his cues to see if he starts feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed.
The whole idea of respecting a baby’s body in the way I’m talking about, is a very subtle concept. It’s not to say that we limit the touching or holding of our babies, because babies absolutely need lots of closeness. And, we should act natural around babies! But, is the touching and holding done with awareness? And, does the baby feel safe and comfortable?
We just don’t know what strong impressions are being made in a baby’s brain at such a young age. True, they won’t remember individual events, but they do remember the feeling. I want to make sure that down the track, my children grow up with the feeling that they have felt safe and respected.