Until you have a baby, you don’t realize just how much advice and judgment one person could possibly get at once. But then you’re holding that infant in your arms, and suddenly everyone has an opinion about what you should and should not do with your little mush. Some of it is useful, but most of it is, well, freaking awful.
I have never professed to know the perfect answer to raising perfect children (except that perfect children just don’t exist). But I will tell you one critique that you can flat out ignore when you have a baby. It’s the idea that holding a baby “too much” is bad for them in any way, shape, or form. The truth is that you literally can’t spoil a baby, and touch is actually vital for babies to thrive.
Most of us know this instinctually, and don’t need proof, but when we encounter people who tell us to “just put that baby down already,” it’s kind of nice to have some science-y stuff out there to prove them wrong, isn’t it?
Luckily, there have been lots of studies proving that holding babies is good for their health and development. Take this study published in Pediatrics showing that preemies who experienced skin-to-skin had higher IQs, and less hyperactivity and aggression once they became school-age. Or this study, also from Pediatrics, which found that holding babies has huge impacts on their mood, ability to feed, and can even reduce colic.
And now there’s another cool piece of data to add to the mix. A brand new study published in Current Biology looked at the impact of stroking and gentle touch for infants. Researchers from the University of Oxford and Liverpool John Moores University looked specifically at what happened when infants were lovingly stroked while they had their blood drawn.
Their conclusions? Stroking reduced activity in the part of babies brains associated with pain.
That. Is. Awesome. I mean, we all knew that mommy’s and daddy’s kisses and hugs made things better, but it’s great to see science back this sort of thing up.
The research team studied 32 babies, who they divided into two groups. Half of the babies were stroked with a soft brush before they had their blood drawn, and half were not. The half that received the stroking had 40% less pain activity in their brains, said the researchers.
“Touch seems to have analgesic potential without the risk of side-effects,” researcher Rebeccah Slater told the BBC.
Interestingly, there appears to be an “optimal pain-reducing stroking speed,” according to the researchers, which was about 3cm per second.
“Parents intuitively stroke their babies at this optimal velocity,” said Slater.
Well, ummmm, obviously we do!
Slater says she hopes that her team’s research helps medical providers and parents understand the neurobiology behind infant touch – and how necessary practices like skin-to-skin and kangaroo care are to developing babies.
“Previous work has shown that touch may increase parental bonding, decrease stress for both the parents and the baby, and reduce the length of hospital stay,” said Slater. “If we can better understand the neurobiological underpinnings of techniques like infant massage, we can improve the advice we give to parents on how to comfort their babies.”
According to Slater, next up for her team is to study the effects of touch and pain relief with premature babies, who typically have to endure more medical procedures than full-term babies, and who are in need of as much TLC as they can get. Hopefully this research will prove how important giving preemies skin-to-skin time is – not just in terms of bonding, but also in terms of pain relief and physical comfort.
So go ahead moms and dads, snuggle those babies as much as you damn well please. It’s good for them, good for you, and anyone who says otherwise can zip their uninformed lips.