When it comes to meeting babies’ needs, many parents know instinctively what to do. More and more research is showing that touch is one of the most important needs that babies have for their physical and emotional health.
Ann Bigelow, a professor and researcher of developmental psychology at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, operates a lab that has been conducting research into parent behavior and infant development.
Dr. Bigelow explained to the Scientific American that skin-to-skin contact with babies is important for their development:
“Particularly in the newborn period, it helps calm babies: they cry less and it helps them sleep better. There are some studies that show their brain development is facilitated—probably because they are calmer and sleep better.”
This contact helps mothers and fathers, as well. It reduces their stress level—they report lower levels of depression, they seem to be able to be more sensitive to their baby’s cues and the babies are more responsive to the mother through the whole first three months.
Bigelow believes that the stress-relieving hormone oxytocin is only part of the reason for the benefits for babies and parents. She points out, “On the behavioral level, if you have a baby that is more relaxed and sleeping better, that’s going to relax the mother more.” In addition, “Being touched or hearing a heartbeat is familiar because they heard it in the womb.”
How long do babies need this extra touch? Bigelow points out that in some countries, skin-to-skin contact is the standard. She says babies let parents know when their needs are met because they start to show interest in other things.
Of course, touch itself is something that helps children no matter what their age.
Minnesota parents also know that skin-to-skin contact is more natural during the warm summer months than in our harsh winter temperatures when we often bundle babies up. Slings, fleece pouches and other carriers can help keep baby both close and warm during colder periods.
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