Babies learn at a crazy pace. In this article, we’ll look at the sense of touch and it’s effects on a baby, what you can do as a parent to improve your baby’s development and some suggestions on activities to include from early on.
My brother was visiting us over the weekend.
He is the Mr. Fix-it-all of the family.
While he does fix most things, he also, in good humor, never fails to rub it in when he does so. Unfortunately, I have been at the receiving end of his jocular jibes very often.
But, I got my chance to get back to him last evening. Having put my baby to sleep, I finally managed to take time out for a shower, only to hear my little angel start crying. I was getting ready to step out and calm my little one when my brother called out that he would take care of the baby.
A few minutes later, I stepped out to see my brother holding the baby trying to calm her down. I stood watching them for about five minutes when with a resigned look he handed her to me. It took my angel a minute to calm down and fall asleep in my arms. The look on my brother’s face was priceless as I smiled and said, “There are things that you cannot fix, but I can.”
Skin-To-Skin Touch : The Golden Hour
Birthing is one of the greatest joys of life. After spending hours in labor, the first time you hold your baby is a moment you’ll remember the rest of your life.
Did you know?
Levels of oxytocin increase during labor and birth of the baby. This helps in creating early bond between the mother and the newborn.
The first hour after your baby is born is called the Golden Hour.
The golden hour is the best time to cement the connection between mother and child. Mothers should spend maximum time with constant skin-to-skin contact to form a strong bond with the baby.
The bond between the mother and the baby forms long before the baby’s birth. It is this bond that creates an instinct in the baby to be close to the mother. A mother’s touch is the most comforting sensation for a baby.
Newborn Guidelines recommend Encourage Bonding
The American Association of Pediatricians now recommends the following guidelines.
- Healthy newborns should be placed in “skin-to-skin” contact with the mother. During this time first round of breastfeeding is established.
- The medical caregivers can conduct the first physical assessment of the baby while it’s on the mother’s chest.
- Mother and baby should remain together throughout the recovery period.
- Conventional procedures such as weighing, measuring, assigning Apgar scores, giving the mother and baby ID bracelets, bathing, injections or blood test should wait until after the first feeding.
Skin-to-skin contact during the Golden Hour and over the coming days is beneficial to both mother and child. It helps improve neurodevelopment outcomes in the baby’s later life.
Touch Is An Early Sense That Develops In The Womb
Touch is an integral sense that helps us experience the world. The phrase ‘touch’ appears in expressions that relate to experience. You call an emotional experience ‘touching’. When you refer to something long forgotten, you say ‘I’m out of touch’.
Did you know?
Touch is the first sense to emerge for your baby. It develops as early as 7.5 weeks.
“Touch is the first sense to emerge in utero, and though far from mature, it is the most strongly developed sense at birth,” says science writer Lydia Denworth.
At 7.5 weeks your baby can first sense touch on lips and nose. This quickly extends to the rest of his body, as she goes from touching her lips or nose to touching the uterine wall, face and rest of the body.
The skin and the receptors therein, constitute both the oldest and the largest of our sense organs.
Touch Helps Infants Learn
Touch is a critical survival sense, as it not only enables a baby to suck, swallow and cough at birth, but also to take in amniotic fluid while in the womb.
Infants learn about their environment through touch. Ever seen an infant grab their own limbs and put them in their mouth? That’s just their way of discovering what’s part of their own body.
Did you know?
The average adult male has around 18,000 square cm of skin, constituting about 16–18% of his body weight.
Kangaroo Care Benefits Newborns
Have you heard of the term “Kangaroo Care”? No, it has nothing to do with the marsupial looking after your little one. It is a caregiving method that originated in Bogota, Columbia. This was due to the shortage of incubators and the risk of infections from shared incubators. Parents tucked the premature baby inside their shirt. This provided the much-needed warmth for the baby.
In fact, Kangaroo care is a very powerful tool in the hands of parents of preterm babies. An Australian mum’s premature born son pronounced dead by the doctors, revived. This achievement was due to holding and giving two hours of loving cuddles to the baby. While this may be a miracle or a one-off case, it does not take away from the beneficial power of skin-to-skin contact.
Infant Massage Common Across Different Cultures
A daily massage is another example of skin-to-skin contact practiced across cultures. This is a common practice in most Indian households. Babies go through a daily massage till they turn a year old. The motivation for massage in different cultures varies.
In India, it’s believed to increase blood circulation, give a good body shape and strengthen the bones.
British infant massage therapists say massage improves bonding between mothers and babies.
New Zealand Maori mothers focus their massage on their baby’s knees and ankles, believing it will make joints supple and their children graceful.
In Bali massage is thought to be particularly helpful for colic relief in infants.
In Russia, it is believed that massage helps in developing the central nervous system.
Massage Benefits for Infants
Research findings show that stroking or massaging provides both immediate and long-term benefits. Some of these include:
- Better sleep and wake cycles
- Improved weight gain
- Reduced apnea
- Enhanced development outcomes
- Enhanced parent-infant bonding
Dads: Use Massage to Bond With Your Baby
Dad and baby could make it an everyday bedtime routine to perform oil massage. This will help your partner feel involved, less stressed and bond with the baby.
Mother’s Touch Benefits Preterm Infants
Mother’s touch can compensate for early neuro-sensory deficits and promote neurodevelopment for low birth weight infants.
Gentle touch is known to reduce distress and crying in preterm infants. Now, NICUs are employing therapists who can provide gentle massage for preterm babies.
The type of massage differs, depending on the condition of the infant.
Preterm infants need a gentle touch without any movement over the limbs. As the infant matures, gentle stroking can be added. The pacifying effect that massage has on preterm infants could benefit their health and reduce their length of time in the NICU.
A study showed that in just five days, massage can promote weight gain and positively alter the distribution of sleep/wake states in neonatal infants.
Moderate pressure massage increases movement of the GI tract and releases digestive juices. It also helps in the release of insulin (a food absorption hormone) and IGF-1(a growth hormone).
Visual-motor skills, neurological developments and gross motor advancements were observed in low birth weight infants if they received mother’s touch during the early caregiving period.
Mother’s Touch reduces crying, promotes breastfeeding and improves gut health
Some benefits of mother’s touch are :
Reduced Crying: Data shows that babies, who receive skin-to-skin touch, cry less. A mother’s touch produces a sense of security in the baby and this is what stops the baby from crying. If the baby is fussy, carry your newborn, in front of you, kangaroo style. The physical closeness recalls the natural state of mom and child(specifically the in utero conditions). In this position, your baby can smell you, listen to your heart and lungs, and feel the warmth of your body.
Promotes breastfeeding : The physical closeness and bonding between mother-baby, promotes secretion of the hormone oxytocin, also called as “love hormone”. Oxytocin helps in establishing lactation. A 2016 study was conducted to study the effects of early skin-to-skin contact on over 3000 mothers and their healthy infants. More women who had early skin-to-skin contact with their babies were still breastfeeding at one to four months after giving birth. Babies held in skin-to-skin contact were more likely to have breast fed successfully during their first breast feed. Breastmilk helps in infants avoid illness, develop immunity and stay healthy.
Body Temperature: Imagine taken out of your warm room and left in the cold outside. That is exactly how a baby feels when removed from the warmth and comfort of the mother’s womb. It requires a similar environment. The best place to receive this much-required warmth is the mother’s chest. Research shows that the skin temperature of a new mother’s chest is a degree or two higher than the rest of her body. Even more astounding is that mothers can thermo-regulate their chest temperature. Depending on the baby’s temperature, a mother’s chest temperature increases or decreases.
Gut Health : Kangaroo care encourages the vagal nerve. This, in turn, enhances the growth in the size of the villi in the infant’s gut. This allows a larger surface area for the inclusion of nutrients. Skin-to-skin touch also helps in balancing the blood sugar levels in the infant.
Physiological Stability : Skin to skin contact is also beneficial for stabilizing breathing patterns, heart rate, and blood oxygen levels.
Long Term Effects Of Mother’s Touch
The quality of emotional bonding during our childhood influences our entire life. Our attachment with our parents defines our personality. The more secure we are in our attachment to our Mom, the more likely we are to experiment with new ideas, take more risks and follow the path less travelled.
So Moms, the day your baby is born you are nurturing a technologist, biologist, artist or who knows maybe a rocket scientist!
Holding your infant helps reduce Post Partum Depression
Many of us suffer from postpartum depression. Our poor partners bear the brunt of our mood swings, insomnia, and anxiety attacks. Holding your baby evokes hormones that reduce this depression.
I am sure this will entice our partners to hand over the baby to us, every time we have a mood swing or are irritable. But, let me remind them that this works, but not always, and definitely not when tired or wanting a break.
Newborns Need Hugs and Cuddles For Development
Compared to other mammals, human babies are born with bare essentials. Only those that it needs to survive. But, with a brain that starts the learning process immediately.
Learning requires an environment conducive to it. For the learning process, it is important that the baby feels secure and comfortable. Imagine yourself trying to learn how to saw wood while wearing roller-skates! Difficult, if not impossible, isn’t it. Well, the same applies to the baby. Creating that environment for the baby is rather simple – a mother’s touch.