We like to think that newborns first learn about love when they feel their parents' touch when they are held and cuddled for the first time. Now, a new study published in the journal, Current Biology, shows how skin-to-skin contact is vital especially for premature babies.
The researchers specifically looked at "intentional supportive touch" or touch that comes with nurturing, as opposed to just nappy changes feeding, or for medical procedures.
Researchers observed 125 premature and full-term babies and compared how they responded to a light puff of air and a “fake” puff of air and then measured their brain responses. Lead study author Dr. Nathalie Maitre of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, explained that if the babies’ brain can respond to this type of touch, they would also be able to tell the difference between different textures.
The research found that preemies were more likely to react less to the send of touch compared to full-term babies. However, it also showed that premature infants who spent a lot of time having gentle physical contact with their parents or caregivers improved their response to touch compared to premature babies who were not given the same kind of support.
"Our findings add to our understanding that more exposure to these types of supportive touch can actually impact how the brain processes touch, a sense necessary for learning and social-emotional connections," lead study author Dr. Maitre told Reuters.
"Gentle touch, especially skin on skin, is just one of the most important things parents can do for their babies," she tells Babble.
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Touch is one of the first senses that a child develops. It is one of the ways he learns about the world and communicates with his parents. A baby who is sensitive and responds to touch sensories, for example, recognizes his or her mother's loving hands, his father's chest, or a sibling's kisses versus a table or the bed.
Another recent study published in Pediatrics found that skin-to-skin contact benefits babies' health and cognitive intelligence even later in life. It is one of the first few studies that hints on the long-term benefits of kangaroo mother care.
Researchers from the Grand Challenges of Canada did a follow-up on preemie babies who were part of a 20-year-old study. The researchers tracked the 716 babies who participated in the study and compared their progress with a control group that didn’t receive the kangaroo care.
It found that adults who received early skin-to-skin contact as newborns had a higher intelligence quotient than those who did not. They also showed decreased hyperactivity and aggression, lower absences at school, and even higher hourly wages as adults.
"This study indicates that kangaroo mother care has significant, long-lasting social and behavioral protective effects 20 years after the intervention," lead researcher Dr. Nathalie Charpak, of the Kangaroo Foundation in Bogotá, said in a statement. It also claims that skin-to-skin contact gives premature babies a better chance of thriving in life -- and at no cost; parents just need to hold their newborns often.
The results of these two studies need investigating. But they illustrate the indisputable benefits of skin-to-skin contact with your baby's life. Past studies have already shown how skin-to-skin contact between mother and child immediately after birth increases the chances of breastfeeding success and facilitates bonding.