The Importance of Touch

The Importance of Touch
Touch is so important to our health and well-being. Think about the times when you've felt sad or alone. Didn't a hug from a friend make you feel better? Likewise, your baby also feels better when held and comforted by your loving touch. In fact, studies show that touch therapy, including massage, contributes to a healthy weight gain, enhanced growth and social development in infants.

Our First Language

In many ways, touch is our first language – a language scientists are now beginning to understand. Being touched in a loving way can help small babies grow stronger and troubled children feel less anxious. In many hospitals and birthing centers, newborns are placed on the mother's chest or abdomen to give them the most skin-to-skin contact. The touch between the mother and her baby brings them emotionally close – a process known as bonding or attachment. In fact, in one study, premature infants who were massaged while at the hospital gained more weight and were ready to go home with their parents an average of six days earlier than premies who were not massaged.

Carrying More Means Less Crying

For many of us, babies communicate by crying. Would babies cry less if they're touched more? New research seems to suggest that increasing mother-baby contact reduces crying. Researchers asked a group of mothers to carry their babies for at least three hours a day. They then compared their crying patterns with a group of babies who were carried the typical one to two hours daily. The result: babies who were carried more, cried less – especially at six weeks of age, when babies usually cry the most. The close bond between parent and baby gave these infants a greater sense of security.

You Can't Spoil a Baby

Some parents do not pick up their babies as often as they could because they are afraid they will spoil them, but nothing could be further from the truth! Each time you pick up your baby, you let her know that you care and that you understand her needs. So don't hesitate to hold your crying baby. Carry her on your shoulder and sing her a lullaby. Stroke her head, rub her back tenderly, and let her know you'll always be there. Talking and singing while holding your baby can help you both to bond. 

The Difference Between Mothers and Fathers

Did you know? Each parent has his or her own way of touching. Research has shown that when mothers touch babies, they are usually soothing and calming. Moms most often touch gently – they stroke softly, rock slowly, and hold their babies tenderly. Fathers, on the other hand, tend to engage in more physical forms of touch – they bounce babies on their knees, hold them playfully in the air, or roll around on the floor with them. Your baby benefits from these two different styles of touch. Together they contribute to your infant's healthy development.

As you spend more time with your baby, you'll learn to read his likes, dislikes, desires and emotions. You'll learn the best time for cuddling, the best time for playing and the best time for relaxing. If too much playing or cuddling is making your baby cranky, give him a rest and check back a little later – he will let you know when he is ready for attention!

How important is touch? As our first language, it can help you to create a strong bond with your baby. And a strong bond can help your baby feel more secure, cry less and thrive more. As one of the main ways to help you create a nurturing bond with your baby, touch is very important indeed!

NOTE: If you feel that you don't have the will or energy to create a bond with your newborn, talk to your doctor. You may be suffering from postpartum depression, a physical condition for which there is help. Don't think “it's all in your head” and don't go it alone. It's important – for both your sake and your baby's sake – that you seek help.

For more articles about caring for your baby, visit THE JOHNSON'S® GUIDE TO NURTURING CARE™.