Sonya Duffee CLD, CLDT, CCCE, CPD
Touch is an integral part of being human. Every inch of our skin is connected to nerves that relay the sense of touch to our brain for interpretation. Human touch produces a soothing and calming affect. It allows us to feel loved and cared for. Is it possible that there is more to it than we know? Is it usually instinctual to reach out to our children and hold them and nurture them from the start of their life?
Researchers have been discovering the benefits of immediate skin to skin contact for infants at birth, and the impact it has on their emotional engagement and development. Mothers who immediately engage skin to skin touch with their infants at the time of birth have increased maternal behaviour, and develop more confidence in themselves. Caring for their newborn is enhanced and they tend to breastfeed for longer periods of time.
Over the years, medical researchers have discovered the basic biological facts regarding the benefits and necessity of human contact and connection. Being touched brings a sense of safety and comfort in our environment, and it is through touch that healthy brain development occurs. 
There were three areas that became dominant in the research between parent and child, which concluded the need for connection at the start of life. The three areas were as follows:
Brain Development - Studies suggests that touch helps in brain development and produces a calming effect, reducing the stress hormone cortisol, which can be damaging to human brain tissue, effecting learning and memory. Loving affection and touch have been confirmed to develop healthy emotions and neurobiological development. 
Bonding – Connecting with our infant, holding and caressing them with gentle touch, brings a deeper connection to parents. The hormone dopamine, is heightened, producing a feel-good high which also helps your baby to emotionally attach to you. This positive interaction boosts self-confidence and security, and as the child grows, helps nurture his or her ability to relate to others.
Growth and Survival – The first contact an infant has with its mother brings a surge of hormones that can help regulate body temperature and blood sugar levels, as well as lower stress hormones that can inhibit sleep patterns and growth. A lack of touch can lower levels of growth hormone in a child, resulting in an immune system that may be weakened and create other health problems.
Science has identified positive effects of touch for babies and families to also include pain relief, physiological stability in heart rate and temperature of the newborn, infant weight gain and growth, and deeper parent-infant interactions. 
Infants in the NICU or who are born prematurely, greatly benefit from ‘kangaroo care’, (skin to skin with mothers) and receiving gentle touch. Dr. Neil Bergman, a senior medical superintendent states, "Physiology and research provide overwhelming evidence that kangaroo mother care is not only safe, but superior to the use of technology such as incubators. Depriving babies of skin-to-skin contact makes alternative stress pathways in the brain, which can lead to ADD, colic, and sleep disorders, among other things."
It is important for parents to consider their infant’s response to touch. Be conscious of signs of overstimulation, and of the delicate balance of our children’s needs. Signs of overstimulation in infants include crying, fussiness, hyperactivity and being withdrawn. In older infants, this may include clinging or hitting. Babies will often show a spaced out stare, turn away from their parents, or just not engage. The baby’s movements may become noticeably jerky, especially when on the verge of crying.
Touch can be through various means, such as cuddling, massage, gentle caressing of the hair, cheeks and face. Follow your infant’s cues to find out if your child becomes overstimulated and sensitive to touch. Use gentle light touches and gradual adjustments to physical affection. As children develop a sense of self, personal space and boundaries, their desire for affection may change. The positive effects and benefits are numerous! Follow your instinct and bring your child close to you for those warm cuddles, because before you know it, they will be off and running.
- Study titled, "Bodily Pleasure Matters: Velocity of Touch Modulates Body Ownership During the Rubber Hand Illusion” were published online in Frontiers of Psychology. The research was led by Neuropsychoanalysis Centre Director Dr. Aikaterini (Katerina) Fotopoulou from University College London, and Dr. Paul Mark Jenkinson of the Department of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire in the UK.
Sonya Duffee is a certified labour and postpartum doula, doula trainer, childbirth educator and placenta encapsulator with Full Circle Birth Collective. She is a founding member of Full Circle Birth Collective and has been serving families since 1998.
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