Right side cradling versus left sided cradling: Is the right side wrong?

Category: Bookbug

This week a colleague brought his two month old son in to meet the office. Jamie slept peacefully as he was handed from person to person desperate for a baby cuddle. Jamie is a very chilled out baby so he didn’t mind, probably because he has calm and chilled out parents who were quite receptive to the group of us that had formed. I couldn’t help but notice the way my colleagues held and cuddled him.  When one of my colleagues could tell I was (not-so) subtly assessing the way which he held the baby, he looked at me, and said, “Am I doing it wrong?” No, he wasn’t doing it wrong. And truthfully, that wasn’t even what I wanted to observe.

I was checking to see if he was cradling the baby on the left or on the right. He cradled left, as most people do (regardless of whether they are left or right handed). There have been many speculations as to why people hold infants on the left. Only 11% of adults are left handed. So if you hold a baby using your non-dominant hand, your preferred hand is free to do what you need to do. The heart is on the left, so we hold infants there naturally to soothe them. Both of these are plausible reasons however science tell us that regardless of handedness more people naturally hold on the left.

But there is another point to consider – visual fields and hemispheric brain processing. When we hold an infant on the left then what we see is interpreted mainly through our left visual field and processed through our brain’s right hemisphere. The right hemisphere is responsible for processing emotional responses. As parents want to closely monitor and respond to their infants holding on the left naturally puts us in an easier place to monitor closely the emotions of the baby.

It’s also important to note that research of this nature needs to be conducted with an infant, as opposed to a doll. Infants respond and crave attention. A doll may feel better if the adult chooses to hold it on one side or another but if it cannot respond emotionally therefore the holding bias will not be relevant.

Taking the findings above and interpreting, I can’t help but wonder about feeding. If a baby is breast fed, it will be held on both sides, thus encouraging wider development of both hemispheres and visual fields. A baby who is solely bottle fed is quite likely to be held in the same position for most of its feed – on the side that is most comfortable or feels more natural for the parent. Research is suggesting this is more often than not on the left side.

It’s an area that I find absolutely fascinating. Further studies suggest that the holding bias also depends on whether or not the parent is experiencing depressive symptom. Holding on both sides (as well as actions songs and rhymes on both hands/feet) will no doubt help overall development of babies. It seems the jury may still be out on the exact reasons why we do it. But there is plenty of speculation. For further reading, have a look at the links below as the articles are a great place to start. 

As for baby Jamie, he was just happy for a cuddle. He cooed, gurgled and looked at us all adoringly as we passed him around. I don’t think he noticed if we had a right or left side cradling bias. When I asked a colleague why she was holding on the right, her answer was quite honest: ‘that’s how someone handed him to me, and he’s so tiny I’m afraid to move him’. For him, it was all about cuddles, interaction and love. And that gorgeous little smile he gave when we said ‘bye-bye’.

Further Reading:

Infant-holding Biases in Mothers and Affective Symptoms During Pregnancy and After Delivery by Jacques Vauclair and Celine Scola

Cradling side preference is associated with lateralized processing of baby facial expressions in females by Harriet J. Huggenbergera, Susanne E. Sutera, Ester Reijnen and Hartmut Schachinger

Newborn right-holding is related to depressive symptoms inbottle-feeding mothers but not in breastfeeding mothers by Julien Donnot, Jacques Vauclair, Vincent Brejard