We’ve all had that annoying relative or friend who complains that we’re holding our baby too much, warning that too much holding will spoil our little cherub, or make them stuck to us like glue for all eternity. Comments like that can definitely get under a parent’s skin, especially at the beginning, when you sort of don’t know what the heck you’re doing and you’re a hot mess of doubt, worry, and hormones.
The good news is that study after study has proven that holding your baby is not harmful in the least, and is actually a vital part of caring for babies in the early days, with long-term impacts on health and development. (So, you can probably politely tell your nosy aunt to shut her trap, mmmkay?)
Just a few months ago, a study came out showing that early skin-to-skin contact leads to improved neurodevelopment, higher IQ, and lower rates of aggression. Skin-to-skin contact has also been shown to increase breastfeeding success, and can even make certain medical procedures less painful for infants.
And now you can add another fascinating bit of research to the list: Last week, a study was published in Current Biology that sheds further light on the importance of skin-to-skin and physical contact between babies and their caregivers. Researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio looked at 125 infants, both premature and full-term, observing and comparing how these babies responded to touch.
The researchers found that overall, premature babies were more likely to have a reduced response to touch than their full-term counterparts. The preemies who had more exposure to painful medical procedures were also more likely to have a reduced response to touch. But preemies who were exposed to what the researchers call “gentle touch” had a stronger response than the preemies who did not receive this contact — and the researchers found that this kind of touch could have positive and long-lasting effects on these babies.
“Our findings add to our understanding that more exposure to these types of supportive touch can actually impact how the brain processes touch, a sense necessary for learning and social-emotional connections,” lead study author Dr. Nathalie Maitre tells Reuters.
In a phone conversation with Babble, Dr. Maitre explains that what the researchers were looking at specifically was “intentional supportive touch,” meaning that the touch had to be from caregivers who were touching the babies as an act of nurturing (i.e., not just diapers changes, feeding, or for other various medical procedures). This included direct skin-to-skin contact.
Dr. Maitre says that “intentional supportive touch,” is “absolutely crucial to babies’ developing brains.” She explains to Babble that for infants, touch is the one of the first senses that develops, before hearing or sight, therefore making it the “building block in early infancy of communication.”
“GENTLE TOUCH, ESPECIALLY SKIN ON SKIN, IS JUST ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS PARENTS CAN DO FOR THEIR BABIES …”