Holding Babies Changes Their DNA So Snuggle Up

by Mary Katherine

When my oldest son was born, our family was lucky enough to live within an hour’s drive of his grandparents.

Looking back on those early days of parenting, I am so grateful for our access to that support system. I don’t know how we would’ve survived without them. Over the first year of Benjamin’s life, his grandparents invested unlimited hours snuggling, holding, and caring for him. The child was never put down. It became somewhat of a joke.

“You can’t spoil a baby!” they would proclaim. My husband and I would roll our eyes and laugh.

They were certainly okay testing the limits of that theory.

As my son grew older, his little ears folded out like Elmer Fudd’s, and we all joked that those hours of snuggling up against his JoeJoe had resulted in some kind of DNA transfer by osmosis. They weren’t blood related, but they certainly favored. And the joke always warmed my stepfather’s heart.

Of course, as anyone who has sat through sixth grade Biology class knows, a person’s genetic makeup isn’t altered by snuggling with family members. I mean, that would be fun…but it’s just not a thing.

However, science has recently shown that snuggling can impact DNA–in other, very important ways.

A new study coming out of the University of British Columbia shows that how often a child is touched can leave lasting, measurable effects. We are talking at a molecular level. To produce this data, scientists at the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute followed about 100 infants over the course of four years. Parents were asked to keep a journal following their children’s behavior (eating, sleeping, crying, etc.), and then they were asked to detail how often they provided care that included physical touch.

When the children were four years old, scientists swabbed the inside of their cheeks, collecting DNA. These samples were then compared to determine the differences between children who were held often and those who were not. According to the press release, the team examined a biochemical modification called DNA methylation, which affects how the cells function and mature. What they found was significant.

The children who received less physical touch had a lower “epigenetic age”–less molecular maturation–than would be expected for their age. Such a discrepancy has been linked to poor health and negative growth patterns in children. With this data, an easy correlation was made: Children who are touched less have negative health implications on a cellular level.

Lead author Sarah Moore said that, “If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.”

Now, I’m not a scientist, but I am a parent. And I’m willing to bet good money that Dr. Moore’s further research will likely reaffirm what mamas already know: Babies need to be freaking snuggled.

I mean, if they weren’t made for holding and cuddling and loving on, why on Earth would they smell so good and feel so squishy and be so dang wonderful?

OMG, I’m about to throw away my birth control just thinking about it.

Here’s the thing, y’all. This emerging data shouldn’t shock any of us–especially parents. Our brains are hardwired to know that when a baby is crying, they need physical comfort. It is heartbreaking to imagine a baby being ignored when they are in distress. I can’t even think about it without getting all itchy.

Give me all of those heavenly smelling babies, and I’ll make it my job to rock and snuggle them until the cows come home. In fact, I’m about to reach out to Dr. Sarah Moore and offer my services in the event they redo this study. #BestJobEver

I mean, mamas. All we needed was one more reason to scoop up our chubby little love-muffins and hold them a bit longer, right? Well, here we have it: Holding our babies affects them on a molecular level. So snuggle up, mamas.

Doctor’s orders.