Touch benefits newborn babies: how your contact can make a difference

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Touch benefits newborn babies: how your contact can make a difference

Did you know that science has shown that early contact and touch benefits newborn babies?
Do you remember the moment of your birth? Probably not. The experience of being born is one of life’s greatest mysteries. But one thing is certain: the path any human travels is affected significantly by the way in which their arrival in the world was greeted.

How touch benefits your new baby

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume you have a brand-new son. Being born must have been as stressful for him as it was for you, so the first time you touch your baby you can calm him, lowering the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in his body. The first time he feels your skin against his, other hormones race through his little body that benefit his health and help regulate his body temperature. Touch benefits newborn babies by helping them to sleep better, encouraging their brains to start functioning and even making them less fearful or inhibited later in life. So says health, nutrition and parenting writer Bridget Coila, who explains that oxytocin, the bonding hormone, rises in a newborn’s body when it experiences physical contact with its parents. That, in turn, increases the feelings of attachment between members of its new family. The newborn is, after all, ‘coming out of a very restrictive environment, so anything that simulates him will comfort him – being touched or hearing a heartbeat is familiar because he heard it in the womb,’ says Coila in her article The effect of human contact on newborn babies. The events surrounding birth have the potential to set the stage for patterns of subconscious thought processes and behaviours that persist for a lifetime.

Breastfeeding: the closest touch of all

Knowing how touch benefits newborn babies and how important skin-to-skin contact is with your new baby, it’s little wonder that breastfeeding is one of the best forms of positive reinforcement and comfort you can give him. Not only is his hunger being satisfied, he feels relaxed and secure. And that’s fertile ground for optimum physical and psychological development as he grows. According to neonatalist Dr Raylene Phillips, ‘Normal babies are born with the instinctive skill and motivation to breastfeed and are able to find the breast and self-attach without assistance when skin-to-skin … the first breastfeeding usually occurs within the first hour after birth.’

Coila also advises new moms to hold their newborn baby close to their skin for the initial few days (a process called ‘kangaroo care’) to help improve its ability to breastfeed and grow. For premature babies especially, the benefits of touch include helping them survive and thrive, leading to better survival rates for these infants.

Benefits of touch for the parent

Moms whose newborns are placed on their bare chests also feel the stress of the birth slipping away and, it has been reported, these mothers are less likely to develop post-natal depression. They seem to become more sensitive to their baby’s prompts. And this goes for fathers too – both parents feel the benefits of touch.

In fact, it appears that new moms are actually primed for this first contact with their baby. Coila reports on recent research that shows that, in mothers who have just given birth, ‘the skin area on their chest is a degree or two higher than the rest of their body, creating a natural warming area for the newborn.’ It’s as if the mother has the ability to thermoregulate for the baby. ‘If the baby’s temperature drops, the mother’s temperature rises, and if the baby’s temperature rises, the mother’s drops. There seems to be a connection between mother and baby from the birthing process itself.’

baby and dad sleeping‘Mothers who hold their newborns skin-to-skin after birth have increased maternal behaviours, show more confidence in caring for their babies and breastfeed for longer,’ says Phillips, who regards the first hour after birth so highly she calls it ‘The Sacred Hour’.

‘Mothers who hold their newborns skin-to-skin after birth have increased maternal behaviours, show more confidence in caring for their babies and breastfeed for longer,’ says Phillips, who regards the first hour after birth so highly she calls it ‘The Sacred Hour’.

What if infants don’t receive human contact?

Babies who are denied physical contact with other humans in their first days or weeks of life often suffer from health problems related to this deprivation. For example, children placed in orphanages generally fail to thrive, despite being given food and shelter. Newborns denied physical contact with other humans can actually die from this lack of contact.

What if infants are not touched?

Babies who are denied physical contact with other humans in their first days or weeks of life often suffer from health problems related to this deprivation. For example, children placed in orphanages generally fail to thrive, despite being given food and shelter. Newborns who are not held and cuddled and touched by other humans can actually die from this lack of contact.

What type of contact or touch benefits newborn babies?

Healthy, effective contact with your baby includes cuddling, gentle massage, stroking and simply holding. Such contact with between your partner and your new baby promotes family bonding and makes the baby feel more secure and relaxed. Babies welcomed like this generally develop better psychologically and socially later in life. And one of the best benefits of touch? We all love cuddles and hugs.

What if you’re too depressed to cuddle your baby?

According to Anne Bigelow, a professor and researcher of developmental psychology at St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, babies get used to the one person who is most familiar and will react closely to their mood. If a mother is depressed and is unresponsive to her baby’s cues, the baby will respond both physically and psychologically. There’s nothing wrong with the baby; it is just responding to what it’s experiencing. Always seek care from your healthcare practitioner if you are feeling depressed.

Acknowledgements & Photo credits

Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.

References

  1. Coila, B. The effect of human contact on newborn babies. http://www.livestrong.com/article/72120-effect-human-contact-newborn babies/
  2. Harmon, K. How important is physical contact with your infant? Scientific American. May 2010. www.scientificamerican.com/article/infant-touch/
  3. Phillips, R. The Sacred Hour: Uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact immediately after irth. Newborn and Infant Nursing Reviews (NAINR). 2013;13(2):67-72. www.medscape.com/viewarticle/806325

Photos

  1. Photo of father touching baby’s hand courtesy of RitaE / Pixabay.com
  2. Photo of baby and dad sleeping courtesy of Vera Kratochvil / PublicDomainPictures.net
By | 2017-11-28T17:52:09+00:00 February 24th, 2015|Baby health, General health, General topics, Wellness|