The Importance of Touch With a Newborn Baby
Advocates of attachment parenting have championed close contact with newborns for years, but recent research confirms that touch is crucial for optimal development no matter what the parenting philosophy.
Touch seems to improve babies’ hormone levels, moods, sleep and possibly even their brain development.
Benefits of close contact with the baby even extend to mothers.
Benefits of Touch for Newborns
Newborns just spent nine months nestled tightly in the mother’s womb, so close contact is comforting to babies who have only known tight spaces.
According to Canadian researcher Ann Bigelow in an interview for “Scientific American,” touch calms babies, decreases crying and improves their sleep, all of which promote healthy brain development.
A research study published in a 2008 issue of “BMC Pediatrics” revealed that skin-to-skin contact with the mother can even have significant pain-relief benefits for premature babies. In addition, skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth may improve breastfeeding success, according to the International Breastfeeding Centre.
Benefits of Close Contact for Parents
Because newborns who are regularly held are calmer and sleep better, mothers also become calmer as a result. Evidence also suggests that skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin in the mother, reduces stress levels and depression and helps the mother be more aware of her baby’s signals.
Similarly, fathers who use infant massage techniques may have a better relationship with their infants. Fathers bond better with the child and have lower stress levels compared to fathers who do not perform infant massage.
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Problems Associated with Lack of Contact
When newborns do not receive enough close human contact, it can disrupt their normal development. For instance, in Romanian orphanages where infants have received little personal attention, long-term emotional and cognitive deficits have occurred from lack of touch.
Studies also suggest that preterm infants who do not receive adequate touch in the neonatal intensive care unit may have longer hospital stays, lower weight gains and decreased developmental scores compared with preterm infants treated with massage.
Ways to Facilitate Regular Contact with Newborns
To provide plenty of skin-to-skin contact with a newborn, parents should spend time with their baby on their bare chests while the baby is naked or clothed only in a diaper.
This type of care is also known as “kangaroo care,” which has been shown to improve breastfeeding, attachment, infant respiration and heart rate. Infant massage is another way to promote close contact with newborns and classes for this may be available at local birthing resource centers.
The practice of baby-wearing, or carrying your infant in a sling or carrier, reduces crying and helps regulate the baby’s respiratory, adrenal and nervous systems, according to Dr. William Sears in “The Baby Book.” Ultimately, more touch relates to better outcomes, so now you have one more reason to snuggle up to your newborn babe.
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