We all know that cuddling your baby is the best thing that you can do. But did you know that skin to skin contact can actually boost their physical and mental health?
New findings on premature babies published in the journal Biological Psychiatry suggests that the general health effects of skin to skin contact (a.k.a. “kangaroo care”) early in life may last longer than just infancy.
Researchers asked 73 mothers to give their babies skin to skin contact for an hour a day during the first two weeks of life. Scientists also looked at 73 premature infants who spent this time in an incubator, without human contact. (Which is the typical standard of care for babies born early.)
It was then found that at age 10 the children who received skin-to-skin contact with their mothers slept better and developed an improved mature nervous system function as infants. Furthermore, these children also showed better hormonal responses to stress, as well as superior thinking skills later on in life.
“Maternal-infant contact in the neonatal period has a favourable impact on stress physiology and behavioural control across long developmental epochs in humans,”* said Ruth Feldman, PhD, co-author of the study.
Studies have suggested that premature birth disrupts brain development and the maturation of certain body systems that are sensitive to human contact and the stimulation normally provided by the mother’s body, the researchers said. These systems, including circuits that regulate stress response, heart rhythms and sleep-wake cycle, have also been shown to be sensitive to contact in animal studies.
Researchers suggest that when parents hold preemies in their arms, it may re-create the closed, caring environment infants would have had if they weren’t born early. Furthermore, these touching episodes may help a baby learn to regulate physical and mental conditions outside the womb.
Findings also showed that the benefits of human contact go both ways. Mothers in the study who maintained physical contact with their babies also reported having a deeper, more caring relationship with their kids than mothers who did not.
*Read the full research paper here
This certainly makes an abundance of sense to me. As I have always said, it was shortly after I began using my stretchy wrap that I found the fog of postnatal depression beginning to dissipate. I didn’t understand it at the time, but the feeling of peace when I looked down to see my baby sleeping on my chest was incredible.