Touch is the first sense that a baby develops within the womb. At just 8 weeks old a baby will withdraw from the touch of a probe. It is also the first sense between mother and baby that is first truly felt by both of them. In the third trimester the mother can feel (and sometimes see) the baby's limbs moving. It is then that the baby will also start to distinguish between light and dark, it is often then at this point that the mother will begin to massage her pregnant belly, sing to her belly or even play some soft gentle music. It is at this point that the foetus/baby will begin to react. Even expectant mothers who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the thought of having a massage and even massaging themselves I am almost certain at some point will have found themselves rubbing their pregnant belly in a comforting way (whether that is a comforting way for them or the baby). I have had many expectant mothers say to me that their baby is "particulary active" however by rubbing their pregnant belly it calms them down. This is the baby repsonding to the mothers touch.
Touch is the first way of an unborn baby and its parents begin to bond, whether this is through the baby moving, the expectant mother using a comforting/nuturing technique to calm her active unborn child or even, purposeful massage or even the dad-to-be feeling the apple of his eye kick for the first time.
When a baby is first born, touch is the first sense to truly develop. A baby will continue to develop and gather information about his surroundings, although most babies can see when first born they have not yet developed adequate focusing skills. Likewise a baby will not be able to differentiate between different sounds. This leaving touch as the first real sense to develop.
Have you ever thought about why an older baby will put new/unfamiliar items in its mouth? It isnt interested in the taste of the new toy, it is trying to get a "feel" for the object. Within the mouth/tongue lie thousands of sensory neurons, these mean the baby can quickly (and without too much logic) be able to gather information about the new object as it has a high concentration of sensory neurons within a small area.
Touch is the first sense to develop, skin on skin. Imagine the sensory stimulation that a baby will feel in the few moments after its born, the outside world is suddenly much louder, colder and brighter than that of the previous 9 months spent curled up in the womb. Suddenly this new born baby is in unfamiliar territory and away from the predictablility and warmth of the mother's womb.
A new born bay is often (as soon as possible) laid on its mother chest after its birth. The skin on a mothers chest in the immediate moments after giving birth is known to be a degree or two higher in order to accommodate the baby. If the baby is too cool then the mothers body will warm them up and if the baby is too warm likewise it will cool them down. Not only being placed on the mothers chest after birth will the baby's temperature be regulated, the heart rate and also breathing will be regualted by the mother too.
Special care baby units are recognising the importance of touch. Even if a baby has to spend its first few days in an incubator, parents are encouraged to place their steralised hand inside the incubator in order to touch their baby. A parent can then develop the bond with the baby even if the baby is not strong enough to be held by its parents.