Why Asian Moms Don’t Want You To Hold Your Baby


Being a first-time mom and the first daughter in my family to have a baby, I expected much nagging from my Chinese-Vietnamese family. For the first few weeks of my baby’s life, my husband and I had to tolerate a barrage of small Asian women telling us a number of things that we should do, shouldn’t do, and are doing wrong. The one advice that was most commonly shared was to not hold our baby too much because that would spoil her. When my baby cried when my parents were over at my house, they would try every which way to get her to stop crying instead of just picking her up (by the way, after several weeks of visiting her, they learned that their method was very ineffective).

“Don’t hold her too much.  If you do, she won’t EVER let you put her down!”

Almost every single relative relayed this vital baby lesson to us as if it was the only thing that was important for us to know. Considering that I am a mom who loves holding, wearing and napping with baby on me, this really irritated me. And, I mean, it irritated me so much, I would lay awake in the middle of the night fuming. I hate not only unsolicited advice but especially advice that makes absolutely no sense to me. But after I had a recent conversation with my mother about why she could not hold my brother much when he was a baby, it framed the “don’t hold the baby” advice into  real-life context for me.

When we moved to America from Vietnam in 1989, my father went to work at a restaurant while my mother stayed home raising my siblings and me. She took a job sewing clothes—it was a job where she could work at home on her industrial machine and got paid for each item that she completed. And so she sewed during the day while taking care of my infant brother who was born soon after we moved here, my sister who had just started elementary school and me, age three at the time when we moved here. It was no wonder she didn’t want my baby brother to get too used to being held too much…she couldn’t physically hold him because she had to work during the day and take care of two other kids at the same time! After hearing her account of raising us, I felt much more empathy towards her and the other women in my family who had to juggle multiple roles while caring for their babies.

Still, this simple story does not fully explain why my Asian family does not want us to overly attend to our babies, nor does it justify letting babies’ cries be ignored. I am almost certain that the women in my family believe in the outdated practice of letting newborns cry and learn to self-soothe although modern science shows that newborns are not capable of self-soothing and need comfort through human touch. I am also sure they are unaware that research shows that responsive parenting during infancy generates human beings who are more confident, capable, and caring. I have to be forgiving of them for not well-read and informed about the science of babies. And I have to remind myself that they raised children in social and economic contexts that are different from mine—and many women do not have the ability to attend to their babies even if they wanted to!

And so here I am, a middle-class, first time mom with the luxury of not having to work for three months and my primary job during this time is to dote on my child. Thank goodness that I actually HAVE the time to just sit there and hold my baby while she is napping. Thank goodness I do not have to ignore her cries because I am caring for other children or working.

I can relish in this beautiful window of time when I can be alone with her, become in tuned with her, and let her know she is loved. Right now, I don’t have anything more important to do besides to rock, bounce, nurse, and hug my baby. The laundry can wait until the next nap time (and thank goodness, I have a baby who can entertain herself for short periods of time when I need to attend to other things). In this moment, the only thing I want to do is gaze at the beautiful sleeping baby that is my daughter and hold her for as long as I want.

  • CarrieAnne Johnson

    Thank you for sharing! It’s always interesting to understand where other perspectives come from. I’ve been fortunate to experience how “attachment parenting” techniques – a fancy name for an age-old parenting philosophy – benefit our children. A baby’s first fear is separation, naturally so, instinctually because they are easy targets for predators. A held baby can hear the parent’s heartbeat, can use the parent or caregiver’s body heat to regulate temperature, can sleep more soundly and grow faster because that’s baby’s needs are being met immediately. As the child develops, if a child cries, even for an emotional reason, *validating* that child’s feelings – telling them it’s OK to have such feelings, will allow them to calm themselves much more quickly, and be able to process such emotions the next time they encounter them. Often times I hear parents who say their child is just “overly dramatic” and so they don’t attend to their child’s cries, letting them scream by themselves. But often it’s BECAUSE the child never received the emotional assurance (and LOVE) they were seeking from their parent in the first place which drives them to such excess. You’d be amazed at how quickly children calm down when someone just gets down to their height, talks to them like a PERSON, and says “It’s ok to feel how you feel”. Every time I’ve done this, kids – total strangers to me – calm down immediately. Some give me hugs, some feel great and go back to playing, and some give me a look like “how come you’re the first adult to treat me like a person”. Mind you, I don’t work with kids – I’m just a mom who’s had plenty of interactions at my child’s schools, parks, children’s museums and such. It’s great that research such as that quoted above is helping convince people to treat children like people and to attend to their needs the way we once did.