We all know that a pat on the back, a peck on the cheek or a reassuring hug can make us feel special, even less anxious. But doctors and researchers are uncovering information that answers more and more questions as to why it is so. Experts say that tactile sensation can help premature babies gain weight, accelerate recovery from illness and even help with regulating our response to stressful situations. Furthermore, new research suggests that touch doesn’t necessarily discriminate between people and objects. Read on to learn more about the important role touch plays in early development even before birth and later as a newborn begins learning about his or her new environment.
The first time you saw your baby was probably on a sonogram. Those first precious pictures show your child’s development from bean to baby. But even at the earliest stages—before fingers formed and ears developed—your baby already had his largest sensory organ: his skin. Even in utero, his skin provided him with information about his environment.
Once born, your baby learns about emotions and caring by the way in which you touch and hold them. In response, he or she visibly relaxes. Later, your baby will begin to learn about his or her surroundings through touch. Weights, textures and temperatures will become familiar to him or her and become associated with different objects. Hence, touch is very important in your baby’s early socio-emotional development.
Adapting to life outside the womb—where everything was cozy and calm—can be overwhelming. Newborns are constantly being introduced to new sights, sounds and tastes. It’s no wonder they feel most secure in your presence or when lying snug in your arms. In fact, medical research has proven that your loving touch has both immediate and long-lasting benefits for your baby. Snuggles, kisses, massages and cradling provide stabilized heart rates, reduced blood pressure and lower cortisol levels. Even without knowing the physiological underpinnings, you’ve no doubt witnessed a happier, calmer baby when the two of you interact in these ways. Even routine activities like co-sleeping and breastfeeding during the early months of their lives equip your baby to better handle mild stressors that may occur later like bath time.