When Cuddles Won’t Cure Your Baby

5:25 pm |

Before I had kids, I had a very vivid picture of what I assumed parenting a newborn would look like.

In the mornings I would get my baby out of her crib, and bring her into my bed to cuddle. After a few minutes of cuddling (she’d be cooing the whole time, of course), she’d close her little eyes and drift back to sleep.

Come 10am, we’d both pull ourselves out of bed, and she’d sit in her bouncy seat while I made breakfast and got myself ready for the day. We’d play a bit, maybe cuddle on the couch for a while, both of us wrapped in a fuzzy, warm blanket.

When she’d start to get sleepy, we’d move to her room, where I’d swaddle her up, and gently rock her. She’d yawn, look up at me with her beautiful blue eyes and give me a huge grin before closing her eyes and nodding off to sleep.

So long as I made myself available to her, day and night, she’d be OK. As long as she could see me, smell me, have me hold her, cuddle her, rock her, she would never need to cry, except on the rare occasions she was sick or teething.

If willingness and intent were what it took to be a good mom, I was going to be GREAT. I was going to be a full-time stay at home mom, and give my baby whatever she needed, and because of that, things were going to be just fine.

Remember, that was my DREAM of what motherhood would be like.

And when you read it, don’t you almost believe it’s possible? That if we make ourselves available to our kids, no matter what they need, that everything will go smoothly?


Here’s a more accurate account of life with my firstborn (who’s now 8):

Aliya was a bit colicky during her first few months. Not nearly as colicky as many babies though; She’d have a few evenings a week of inconsolable crying, and would eventually fall asleep around 11pm and  be out for the night (I know, rough, right?).

She wasn’t excessively fussy most days, thank God. She would have stretches of being content, and usually put on a good show when friends and family were around.

She would sit in her bouncy seat in the bathroom while I showered, sit quietly in front of Baby Einstein DVD’s while I made dinner, and could generally be distracted and entertained by some basic adult interaction. I can’t really complain.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Well, remember my dreams of cuddling in bed, rocking my baby to sleep, etc, etc.?

Aliya would have none of it (apparently we didn’t share the same dream).

Sitting on my lap? Maybe. If we were sitting in front of the TV.

Rocking her to sleep? Ya, I tried that for a while. Problem was, it got to the point that I’d be rocking her madly for 45 minutes and she’d only become more and more agitated. She’d be squirming, kicking, fighting out of my grasp, fussing.

Cuddling with her on the couch, wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket? HAHAHAHAHA (do I need to say more?).

Having her lay her little head on my shoulder while I carried her? Not on your life. There was absolutely no way in hell she’d allow that. It was facing out, or nothing. Those were her terms. She needed to see what was going on around her at all times.

Holding and comforting her when she was upset? Try laying her on the floor when she was upset. THAT was what calmed her.

Before I had kids, I assumed that all babies were cuddly. Isn’t this what we’re taught? Isn’t this what we see on TV?

Don’t we assume that holding, cuddling and rocking are the ways our baby will feel loved by us?

Maybe instead, it’s the way we WANT our babies to feel loved by us. Or maybe it’s the way WE feel loved by our babies. I don’t know.

Don’t get me wrong – All babies need cuddling. All babies need to be hugged, held, soothed, carried.

But some babies can’t get enough. It’s their ‘love language’. As long as you’re holding them, they really ARE OK most of the time.

But what do you do when your presence doesn’t calm your baby? When holding him doesn’t seem to help? When he prefers to be in his crib or on a blanket rather than your arms?

  1. Grieve over the fact that this isn’t how you thought parenthood would be. Then, accept that this is the way your baby is, and don’t try to change him. Not all adults are cuddly, not all kids are cuddly, so why do we expect all babies to be cuddly?
  2. Don’t stop cuddling. All babies need cuddling, just maybe not in the way we imagined. For instance with Aliya, she loved being carried, as long as she was facing out. That wasn’t nearly as much fun for me (I would have preferred her to snuggle in with her little face buried in my neck). But I did it anyway, because that was how I imagined she felt loved.
  3. Value your baby’s strengths. Sure, Aliya wasn’t cuddly. But she was sure independent, and I believe those went hand-in-hand. She was highly alert, aware, and bright. Those same traits that were visible in her from 3 weeks of age are still there: She’s fiercely independent, social, always has to be in the middle of the action, and still doesn’t seem to ‘need’ cuddling the same way her brother does (There is hope though – she’s become much more cuddly as she gets older).

When she was a baby, I didn’t get to show her that I loved her in the way I WANTED to show her.

I did, however, show her by taking care of her needs, playing with her, making her laugh, and most importantly, by giving her the freedom to be a bit independent when that’s what she wanted.

And I think that if you’re doing that, THAT’S a great mom.


Holly Klaassen has been running The Fussy Baby Site since 2007. Inspired to start the site after giving birth to her second child, the site aims to provide support and information to parents of fussy, colicky, high need or 'spirited' babies and kids. The main message of this site? You are not alone! When Holly isn't writing for The Fussy Baby Site, she can be found writing for other businesses on topics related to digital marketing, social media, business, and of course, parenting.

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Category: General Parenting, High Need Babies, Stories

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  1. Yelli says:

    Thank you for writing this. I, too, shared the same motherdream of cuddling both of my children to sleep and comforting them in my arms when they needed reassurance. The reality was that neither of my boys cuddled at all. ever. In fact, I took my son to the Doctor when he was cuddling me because I knew something must be wrong! Sure enough, even with no other symptoms besides him holding me as I dreamed motherhood would be, he had a serious ear infection. sigh.

    Regardless, I know now that every child is different and has different needs. And like you, I discovered I like finding out what their likes and dislikes are and encouraging them to be themselves was far more fulfilling (most of the time) than my pre-child dreams of what parenthood would entail.

    • Holly says:

      Great attitude Yelli 🙂 I still find myself feeling a tiny bit sad when I think about what ‘could have been’, but I love both my kids like CRAZY and wouldn’t change them for anything. It’s so neat to watch who they are becoming!

  2. Krista says:

    My baby has never been a cuddler either. My husband still tries, daily, to get her to snuggle into him in the morning, but it always results in her screaming. Set her down on her own though, and she’s happy as a clam. I guess it’s just the way some babies are. For every downside, there’s an upside too – Everly will go to sleep on her own if I lay her down in her bed and give her her teddy. I know a lot of parents whose kids will only fall asleep on them, or after prolonged rocking. You just have to enjoy their strengths and sneak a cuddle in when you can!

    • Holly says:

      Ya, forcing a non-cuddly baby to cuddle usually doesn’t go over very well, but good for him for trying 😉

  3. Samantha says:

    Totally can relate to this one… now that my baby is a toddler he likes to be held and likes to cuddle… but as an infant – he wouldn’t let me hold him if his life depended on it. I even had to prop him and the bottle to feed – he wouldn’t let me hold him. If he was freaking out and I tried to comfort him it just escalated… once he actually started cuddling it was SO wonderful… it still isn’t for long but so much better then nothing – I will never take those small moments for granted…