Cradling infants on your right is said to be a sign of stress

It is one of the most natural actions in the world – a mother scoops up a baby to hold and comfort it in her arms. But according to new research, cradling could help identify stress that may lead to postnatal depression. New mothers who cradle their infants on the right side of their body may be displaying signs of “extreme stress”. The findings build on previous research showing that most mothers prefer to hold their baby to their left, regardless of whether they are left or right-handed.

The latest study suggests there is a correlation between the minority which holds a baby on the right and a greater likelihood that they are experiencing stress beyond the levels natural in new parents. The researchers say the finding could provide a new way to address postnatal depression.They conclude: “Studying non-verbal cues such as baby cradling could help doctors and health visitors identify which mothers need extra professional support.”

Depression in mothers can have a detrimental effect on the baby’s mental development. The study, published in the online edition of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, was based on 79 new mothers and their babies, who were an average age of seven months. In their own homes, mothers were asked to cradle their babies, an action which, the research established, was not linked to left or right-handedness. They were also quizzed on their mental state. The study found that of the mothers who expressed no signs of stress or depression only 14 per cent preferred to hold their babies to the right. But 32 per cent of the stressed mothers showed a right-sided bias.

Lead author Nadja Reissland, a senior lecturer with Durham University’s Department of Psychology, said early detection of stress was vital. “The way they (new mothers) interact with their child is usually the best indicator of their inner mental state.” Gillian Fletcher, president of the U.K.’s National Childbirth Trust, said the apparent link between cradling side and mental state was interesting, but she would view it with caution in terms of predicting depression.

The Guardian