Science tells us that skin-to-skin contact is not only essential to strengthen the bond between parents and the newborn child, but it also boosts breastfeeding, regulates baby’s heart rate, helps adapt to life outside the womb, regulates temperature, and provides many other health and developmental benefits.
In addition, a medical study confirmed that the more you hug your kids, the more their brains develop!
Children are always looking for an excuse for hugs and kisses, but research has shown that physical affection is good for many other things too, including brain development. A medical study by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio researched brain responses to physical touch of 125 babies, both premature and full-term newborns.
The study indicated a stronger brain response in babies who received more affection from parents and hospital staff, compared to other babies who were deprived of physical warmth.
According to Dr. Nathalie Maitre of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and one of the authors of the medical study, “A gentle touch, especially skin on skin, is just one of the most important things parents can do for their babies.”
Premature babies, in particular, are more receptive to brain response when they are hugged or gently touched. Dr. Maitre stated, “Making sure that pre-term babies receive positive, supportive touch such as skin-to-skin care by parents is essential to help their brains respond to gentle touch in ways similar to those of babies who experienced an entire pregnancy inside their mother’s womb.”
The study also suggests that early childhood hugs help offset traumas newborns may experience. Babies, particularly premature infants, experience early exposure to hugs as pleasant rather than overwhelming, and register stimulating and positive brain responses.
The concept of physical contact is particularly important for premature babies since various studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact is known to enhance “prematurely-born infants’ physiological organization and cognitive control” for the first 10 years of life.
The medical study also finds that early medical procedures affect the perception of touch, making hugs additionally important to children born with medical challenges. Such children need to undergo painful medical treatments, and based on the results of the research, hugs can help counteract these negative experiences. The survey indicates that skin-to-skin care is crucial for babies spending extensive periods in neonatal intensive care units. When children are stuck in the NICU, it is not always possible for parents to even touch their offspring.
In such cases, the results of the medical study provide valuable guidance to hospital staff on the importance of physical touch to NICU infants. Dr. Maitre added, “When parents cannot do this, hospitals may want to consider occupational and physical therapists to provide a carefully planned touch experience, sometimes missing from a hospital setting.”
Parents who support their children at the NICU often feel extremely helpless, but knowing that a gentle hug and a loving touch will do wonders for their child can give families some hope and control over a very distressful situation.
With scientific research confirming that soft physical contact can help ease the pain of a needle and other medical traumas, then that gives families and medical personnel even more reason – not that they need any – to freely dispense cuddles to children in need.
Other studies attest to the power of touch and their lasting effects in children. Infant massage is known to improve babies’ sleep patterns, generate feelings of love and security, enhance digestion and bowel movements, increase weight, and improve children’s neurological function.
In essence, the medical study shows that affection is vital for the development of the brain. Actions that may be taken for granted, such as cradling a baby for comfort or rocking a baby to sleep, are significant to achieving a child’s physical, emotional, and mental milestones.
So if you’re the kind of parent who likes hugging their kids, don’t stop now! Those playful hugs are important – they’re not only making our hearts grow bigger, they’re also helping boost your children’s brains!