A Tale of Warmth & Love: The Importance of Touch to Infants' development
Touch is our natural, instinctive way of protecting, calming and pampering infants. Many parents know that little ones have an innate need to be touched, to give them a sense of confidence, warmth and love. Sometimes, our hands go out as if their own entities, reaching for infants and wanting to touch them. On the other spectrum are parents who fear too much touching might spoil infants and turn them into over-dependent beings. They feel the need to limit the amount of touching and offer more rigid forms of love. Either way, it is important to know the benefits of touch for the infant - and their parents.
Touch as a driver of infant development
Touch creates a relationship, emotional communication between an infant and their parents, in order to forge a connection and ensure their needs are met. Research shows that touch contributes to positive cognitive, motor and emotional development in preemies and infants and reduces stress. For example, preemies who receive massages gain weight faster. When touch is loving and enveloping, it helps calm the infant, invites sleeps, contributes to neurological development and motor achievement - it even strengthens the immune system.
You’ve likely heard of the ‘First Hug” organization, established to provide warm, loving touch to abandoned infants, knowing (based on research) that touch contributes to normative development. A lack of touching in the infant’s initial stages of life can harm their development, immune system and identity formation.
Studies conducted at the start of the 20th Century in Europe demonstrated how infants who were raised without being touched grew up to experience psychological problems, a lowered IQ, deteriorated to live with mental retardation, or died. This extreme example is meant to illustrate the importance of touch for normal development.
Not only does your infant enjoy and benefit from parental touching, but parents also benefit from being in physical contact with their child: touch calms and reduces stress, improves breast milk products, reduces the symptoms of postpartum depression (in the mother) and enhances the parent-child relationship, which helps with normal functioning. And above all, touch contributes to the development of mutual affection and communication between parents and child.
The parent-child connection develops gradually. The parent’s attunement to the infant’s needs improves with time, which is necessary for normal attachment. The reciprocal process is based on emotional regulation and influences both sides. The greater the relationship, the greater the odds are that the infant’s physical and emotional worlds develop normally.
Petting, hugging, touching & development
It is recommended to touch your infant often, and not just to complete functional activities: hold them even when they’re not crying, massage them, hug and play with them, take time with transitions (between bed and car seat, etc.) and provide them with tactile stimuli of various textures.
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