This post is about the importance of positive touch for babies.

It all starts in the womb. Touch is the first sense to develop. A   foetus will withdraw from the touch of a probe at less than 8 weeks gestation. The skin, derived from the same cells as the nervous system, is a perfect instrument for collecting information about a baby’s surrounding environment long before birth. It is then around the 3rd trimester, when the mother can see and feel her baby’s limbs moving around, that a baby will feel touch from outside the womb. He may also detect sounds and distinguish light from dark. This is a great time for a mother to massage her pregnant belly. Sing to her baby, or play some soft, gentle music.

Once baby is born he continues to gather information about his surroundings mostly through his skin. Through touch. Although most babies can see, his sight will not be well focused, nor will he be able to differentiate between too many different sounds.

Babies need touch to survive. Without touch a young baby will die. It is as important to his/her development as food.

Have you ever wondered why an older baby puts everything in his mouth? A baby isn’t interested in the taste of a new toy or a new object, a baby will put the new toy in its mouth to see what it “feels” like. There are thousands of sensory neurons located on the skin of the lips and tongue. So, without yet being able to think logically about a new object, a baby will gather all the information he needs by putting it in his mouth.

So, touch is the first sense to develop. Skin on skin. Imagine a newborn baby’s first moments following birth. How much brighter, louder and colder it must feel to be in the outside world, away from the warmth and predictability of his mother’s womb. The skin on a mother’s chest immediately following birth is known to be a degree or two higher in order to accommodate her baby. If he is too cool her body will warm him up, and if he gets too warm, her body will cool him down. It is not only a baby’s body temperature that will regulate to that of his mother’s, but his breathing and heart rate too. This is why a newborn baby is laid on his mother’s chest where possible following birth.

Special care baby units now recognise the importance of touch. Even before a baby is strong enough to be held by his parents, his parents are encouraged to place a sterilised hand inside the incubator just to touch their baby. It’s instinctive to want to touch, to comfort, to reach out when you love someone or when someone is in need. It is not only of great comfort to the baby, but it can help their development too.

Positive touch not only benefits the recipient, but it is an instant relaxant for the giver too. Scientific research shows us that there is a chemical release of serotonin and dopamine when we touch someone in order to relax them. According to a study published in the Medical Journey of Australia, pet owners who spend time stroking their animals tend to have lower blood pressure readings and cholesterol levels too.

Positive touch doesn’t stop at newborns or pets. At least it shouldn’t stop there.

Aside from the physical benefits of Developmental Baby Massage, such as strengthening the neck and spine, promoting flexibility in the hip and shoulder joints, easing colic and aiding digestion etc., Baby Massage is hugely beneficial for a child’s perception of good touch, and subsequently her self esteem. If we start massaging our children from an early age, receiving positive touch will become as normal to her as brushing her teeth. Break the taboo that positive touch is only used for rubbing something better, or for calming your baby down.

Continued nurturing touch in childhood has also been shown to influence later coping skills. It is not until around 7 months of age when a baby will understand he is a separate being from his mother. This is often when separation anxiety kicks in. Touch your baby, reassure him, tell him he’s ok. Don’t push him away to play if you are in unfamiliar surroundings. Children who are shown lots of physical touch and tactile stimulation tend to grow up into well-adjusted, capable and loving adults. A child without nurturing touch doesn’t have that same level of security and is usually overwhelmed by new experiences.

It is through our skin that we first learn how the world works, how safe and valued we feel as a human being.
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