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July 22, 2024

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power of touch

Babies and the Healing Power of Touch

The healing benefits of skin-to-skin have been acknowledged for premature infants for years. But science shows that touch boosts the wellness of full-term and older babies too.

The comfort of a hand in your hand. The soothing quality of being held. A newborn lying on his father’s bare chest. The healing power of touch is well documented. It can lessen pain, worry and depression, according to new research recently published in the journal Nature Human Behavior. And there have been a lot of claims that touch is something that we all need, but what’s at the root of it and what does that mean for your baby?
ย  ย  In 2022, European researchers looked into touch, strokes, hugs and rubs. They combed through 137 studies including adults, children and infants who experienced physical touch compared to those who had not. The positive effects of touch were particularly noticeable in premature babies, who โ€œmassively improveโ€ with skin-to-skin contact, said study conclusions. But long before this study, doctors and nurses understood about the value of kangaroo care for premature infants. Now skin-to-skin is used for all babies. And something else โ€” for longer.ย 

Babies and the Healing Power of Touch

In 2023, following a review of pediatric research, the World Health Organization recommended touch therapy for preterm or low-birth-weight infants following birth to start as soon as possible and last eight hours or more at a time for the first few days of Baby’s life.
ย  ย  Other similar studies on the impact of closeness between caregiver and infant have found that touch helps to develop communication, enhances the caregiver’s ability to respond to their baby, and fosters bonding, secure attachment and neurodevelopment.
ย  ย  ย Additional research backs this up. For instance, in a 2017 study, researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital observed 125 premature and full-term infants to see how they responded to gentle touch, like the kind they would get cuddling with a parent compared with how they reacted to touch from things that are not as gentle, like having a medical procedure done or getting an IV put in.
ย  ย  The study showed that infants who were touched gently showed more brain response than the infants who received negative touch stimuli. In other words, the type of touch matters to babies. Therefor, infants who receive plenty of cuddling and loving touches will have brains that develop more effectively than babies who do not.

Skin-to-Skin

Most new parents know that itโ€™s important to practice skin-to-skin contact (kangaroo care) with their newborn because hospitals promote it following birth.
But what about older babies? Does a 3-month-old baby still benefit from skin-to-skin contact? Research is saying yes. The benefits of skin-to-skin contact can continue well beyond the first few months and throughout Baby’s first year if parents (and their comfort zone) are open to it.ย  ย  ย 
ย  ย  Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin, the hormone that expresses positive feeling, while lowering cortisol levels (the stress hormone). ย 
ย  ย  This means that while you practice skin-to-skin contact with your baby, whether they are one day old or 12 months old, you will both feel more relaxed and connected. This simple and healing practice is one of the best ways to improve your babyโ€™s physical and emotional development.ย 

Healing Power of Touch: Bonding Benefits and More

Skin-to-skin is a great practice for Dads, too, especially those who feel sort of left out when mama’s doing the breastfeeding and undertaking lots of new baby tasks.ย  ย 
ย ย  ย  Just 10 minutes of skin-to-skin contact with mom or dad reduces Baby’s cortisol, and increases levels of the “cuddle hormone,” which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to make babies feel calm and safe, says Susan M. Ludington, R.N., whohas been studying kangaroo care since 1988 and conducted the United States’ first research study of the method.
When you have one of those day when Baby is fussy and just won’t settle, work a little sking-to-skin in. Sometimes your baby needs that extra comfort to help them be calm, feel safe, or overcome whatever they are going through. Itโ€™s really never too late to comfort your child with skin-to-skin. Extra hugs, snuggles, warmth and comfort can help their bodies regulate.
ย  ย  Skin-to-skin continues to enhance bonding and promotes breastfeeding. Additionally, skin-to-skin can help your baby relax, breastfeed longer, and continue to promote your milk supply.
Older babies tend to breastfeed less, but may also want to breastfeed more at any time due to needing extra comfort, illness, or other reasons. So, skin-to-skin is helpful in encouraging breastmilk production โ€” especially if there was a dip in your milk supply.
On difficult days, skin-to-skin care may be the perfect remedy. Maybe take time for a little rocking and singing with your arms wrapped around your little one. They will feel the extra love and comfort, and that everything is fine.
ย  ย  If you love skin-to-skin contact, it’s good news that some health and development experts recommend it for at least three months for full-term babies and six months for preemies.

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About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.