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The Importance of Touch to Your Baby

Katlyn Joy | 6, November 2013

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Everything about a newborn seems programmed to be irresistible to us; their big bright eyes, chubby cheeks and unbelievably soft skin. Touch is our first instinct upon giving birth, in most instances. But is there more to this impulse than we even realize? Yes, there is a whole lot more going on, according to scientific research.

Touch is an important way babies learn about the world and what to expect. According to Zero to Three, touch helps a baby's brain release important hormones that enable the baby to grow. Loving touches are an important way to help a baby develop in a normal, healthy way.

We've long known that the absence of such loving touches can have a detrimental effect on children. A study of Romanian children published in Development and Psychopathology who were adopted from orphanages found that in children aged 6 to 12 years old, the stress hormone, cortisol was much higher compared to Infants that were adopted before four months of age. The study also found that children benefited from placement in a family. But, the longer the time spent the child spent in an orphanage where few adults were available to care for the children resulted in less hands-on care, attention and more problems later in life. However, in time many of the negative effects were diminished.

A small research study from Japan published in the April 18th 2013 online edition of Current Biology, found that babies whose mothers pick them up and carry them became calmer and more likely to stop crying. This in turn led to calmer mothers. Carrying your baby is much more soothing than just sitting and holding your baby. It does not matter whether it's Mom, Dad, grandma or another caregiver; the soothing results are the same.

Skin to skin contact is another positive way to help your baby develop. Babies held close will be able to regulate their breathing, and will find the heartbeat of Mom or Dad calming and familiar. A baby whose own internal thermometer is non-functioning in the newborn stage, also are warmed by their parents' body heat while being held.

The deep eye gazing shared by parents and baby while being held is also an important factor in baby's development. An infant will study our face and learn to recognize patterns, faces, and eventually read emotions in expressions. This is an important skill for social and emotional development.

You will likely have your baby in your arms quite often in the earliest months especially, and this is something you should realize is important to your child. It is not considered spoiling to hold your baby, and often. Consider what your baby responds to, and realize your baby's needs may change depending on his mood, how full his tummy is, how close to naptime it is and so on. If a baby frowns, fusses or arches his back, he is telling you he's had enough. He might need some space or a change in whatever activity is taking place.

Here are some ideas for holding baby:

  • Carry your baby in a sling or front carrier. Many carriers have a variety of ways for baby to be carried. Try them all.
  • Carry your baby in the crook of your arm with her cheek to your chest, eyes gazing at one another.
  • On the shoulder, place your baby's head, supporting the head with your opposite hand while the holding baby's back and bottom with same side arm.
  • Tummy hold on your lap, or lie down and hold baby tummy to tummy, especially as baby begins to get some strength in the neck and is starting to hold his head up.
  • Mimic your baby's expressions and sounds as you hold her; this will help your baby understand what she is doing and organize her movements more.
  • Exercise with baby by walking with him in a carrier or sling. You will be getting the exercise you need, fresh air for you both to enjoy, and your baby will benefit from your closeness and natural responsiveness.

Babies who are held are happier, which makes moms less likely to be depressed. Non-depressed moms are more responsive to their babies. It's a circle of affection and love that benefits everyone.


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