Importance of Touch in Early Development

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Research shows that the way babies are handled affects the structure of their brain, as well as the functioning of their nervous system. Being lovingly held is the greatest spur to healthy development.

 

Touch is one of the first sources of pleasure for babies. It is also one of the best ways to regulate the baby’s physiological state. This is because the caregiver’s nervous system communicates with the baby’s. When relaxed and coherent, the caregiver will help regulate the baby’s delicate nervous system through touch.

 

There are many other benefits of attuned and caring touch, including the release of oxytocin in the lymph system, which protects against inflammation, and the increased growth of cortisol receptors in the hippocampal area of the brain, which helps to regulate the person’s stress response later in life. 

 

Studies on the effects of infant massage show that the majority experienced greater weight gain and better performance on developmental tasks. Studies also show that preterm infants who were massaged were discharged from hospital on average six days sooner. Massage has also been found to help with sleep-onset problems

 

Potential mechanisms underlying the positive benefits of touch therapy have been explored and indicate that under the right conditions it stimulates vagal activity (a branch of the autonomic nervous system).

 

Infant massage is practiced in most areas of the world, although less so in the West. It is interesting to note that in cultures where appropriate touching is more prevalent, adult aggression rates are lower compared to cultures in which touch is more limited.