The human touch, in this case skin-to-skin contact, sometimes called “kangaroo care”, is essential for healthy physical and psychological development. Holding a newborn, and even more so a premature baby, against skin on the chest of an adult, usually a parent, increases the probability that the baby will grow healthier across the board.
Many studies now show that touching facilitates growth and development in children, especially in those deprived of normal touch interaction and sensory stimulation, such as premature babies.
A 2010 article in the journal, Paediatrics & Child Health, states that, after only 15 to 20 minutes of tactile contact per day for 10 weeks, institutionalized orphan children were found to grow faster than the children who were not stimulated. Premature babies and children in orphanages are often deprived of warm human contact.
Simply stroking a baby’s body for five minutes, then gently flexing the limbs upward for five minutes, followed by another five minutes of stroking, has enormous positive effects on the infant. Repeating this procedure three times a day for 10 days resulted in greater growth and development in the stimulated infants than in those who did not receive the extra touching and contact.
Newborns who benefit from “kangaroo care”, which means they are carried upright against the bare chest of the person carrying them, or who receive frequent physical attention and emotional engagement, spend more time awake and active, and respond better to behavioral and reflex tests. The babies are also better able to regulate their heart rate and are calmer, which facilitates their brain development.
Plus stimulated infants stay healthier. They continue to rank well on mental and motor assessment tests and have fewer minor motor and sensory abnormalities. One study, mentioned on the Psychology Today website by Christopher Bergland in early 2014, found that: “At ten years of age, the children who had received skin-to-skin (KC) maternal contact as infants were healthier across the board showing: more regular sleep patterns, better neuroendocrine response to stress, more mature functioning of the autonomic nervous system and better overall cognitive control.”
It’s clear and documented that the human touch, including gentle strokes and emotional and loving engagement, provides long-term health benefits in babies. In adults too!