Moms are often told not to hold their babies too much — “masasanay sa karga” and they will end up spoiled when they grow up. But experts actually encourage parents to keep their little ones close — skin-to-skin contact offers lifelong benefits, including a brain boost, higher self-esteem, better parent-child relationships, and fewer psychological behavior problems. Now a new study says it can offer babies pain relief, too!
According to a study led by researchers at the University College London (UCL) and York University in Canada, being held by a parent and having skin-to-skin contact “reduces how strongly a newborn baby’s brain responds to a painful medical jab” or procedure. They found that when a parent is holding their baby through clothing, there is more activity in the newborn’s brain in reaction to the pain, compared to when they are held skin-to-skin.
“This work suggests that skin-to-skin contact may actually help protect the brain when babies undergo repetitive skin breaking procedures,” says Rebecca Pillai Riddell, one of the senior authors of the study and a professor at the Department of Psychology in York University.
She adds that previous research suggested that skin-breaking procedures performed on newborns may have an impact on their brain structure. But with skin-to-skin contact, brains are less activated and may minimize the harmful effects of the procedures.
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“We have found when a baby is held by their parent, with skin-on-skin contact, the higher level brain processing in response to pain is somewhat dampened,” shares Lorenzo Fabrizi, another senior author of the study and a senior research fellow for UCL’s Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology Department. “The baby’s brain is also using a different pathway to process its response to pain.”
Though researchers cannot conclude whether the babies actually feel less pain, the study emphasizes the important role that touch plays between parents and their newborn babies. Riddell adds that while the pain might be the same for every child, they process and react to it differently depending on the contact they had with their parents.
It’s widely known that skin-to-skin is crucial for premature infants and those who are taken to the neonatal intensive care unit at birth. It’s why Unang Yakap is part of the essential newborn care protocol — immediately separating the baby from their mother can cause distress. Keeping your child close when they are older doesn’t harm them either — attachment parenting advocates will tell you that it can even contribute to their success.
Ever notice that your baby stops crying the moment you pick him up? That’s because seeing your face, smelling your scent, hearing your voice, and feeling your heartbeat calms them down, according to a study.
So don’t mind what others say and just hug your baby! Not only are you making them feel safe and loved, touching and cuddling them will help them thrive physically and emotionally, and science is there to back you up.