As infants grew used to the swaddled, close quarters of the womb for nine months, they became dependent on touch to feel secure. Their skin, which has over five million sensory cells, thrives on sensation. Touch enhances bonding and facilitates trust between a parent and a child. The calming effect of touch also helps adapt an infant to its new surroundings and to the large and intimidating world.
Conversely, many studies have been done on children raised in orphanages who were not regularly touched as infants or who suffered prolonged periods of time without any human contact whatsoever. The result of this lack of touch was almost always a failure to thrive. Infants who were not soothed and nurtured by touch did not physically grow and developed severe social problems.
Benefits of Touch
A study conducted by Dr. Linda Harrison has found that touch, combined with gentle massage, had a positive effect on infant weight gain and survival rates. Children who were picked up, hugged, cuddled, cradled, and petted or stroked were shown to gain weight faster and began normal developments like crawling and walking earlier. These infants also slept better and were more alert when awake due to an increase in general relaxation. Gently stroking a baby’s stomach in a clockwise direction has been found to promote healthy digestion and can help alleviate gas pains and constipation. Massage can also relieve some of baby’s colic pain and discomfort.
Touching an infant has also been shown to develop and strengthen the attachment between a parent and a baby. This attachment gives rise to increased feelings of security, trust, and comfort. The child learns that his parent is there to love and protect him. He will feel safer and more relaxed, and he will learn to cry only when he has a need to be met. This feeling does not just nurture an infant – parents can also benefit from the relaxing motions of snuggling their baby. Constant touch helps reinforce the parent-child relationship for years to come.
How to Provide Soothing Touch to an Infant
- If bottle-feeding, parents should always hold the baby instead of propping the bottle and letting baby feed himself.
- If the baby is fussy, parents should rock him to sleep in their arms.
- Every time a parent changes their baby’s diaper or gives him a bath, they can use this time to gently run their hands along baby’s arms, legs, face and stomach. Some babies love having their heads massaged during a shampoo.
- During play activities, parents can remind baby of their presence by gently rubbing their backs.
- Parents can take a class in infant massage to learn special techniques for soothing their baby.
- Parents should massage their baby when he is quiet, alert, and receptive. They can make the environment soothing as well with dim lights, classical music, and warm blankets. Parents should pay attention to what their baby likes – some babies prefer hard touch while others prefer a softer one.
- Parents can cuddle baby on their laps during story-time or before bed to stimulate relaxation and promote a deeper sleep.
There are many physical and emotional benefits to touching an infant in a caring, loving manner. Infants who are rarely touched in this way are at risk for failing to thrive physically and socially. Touch has been known to ease the transition between the womb and the real world, and also promote bonding and good health. The special time a parent takes to touch a baby is often remembered for many years.