Thanks to recent advancements in neurobiology, we know much more about how affectionate touch influences a child’s development. For example, babies cannot learn to self-regulate well without the physical closeness andcontact of the parent. A variety of systems are influenced by caregiver touch as they set-up in babyhood. In fact, affection itself—expressed through touch—is one of the biggest influences on your baby’s genetic code. There are critical windows for gene activation that will only turn on with adequate affectionate touch.
Touch promotes attachment and fuels a number of processes that cause your child's brain to grow. This is why babies who are held more perform better on cognitive tests in years to come. Since this is a mammalian phenomenon, we get our first glimpse of these powerful effects from studies of other mammals. In this informative scientific field, high nurturing is measured by one thing: how much animal mothers lick and groom their pups. Through decades of animal research, higher levels of “lick and groom behaviors” consistently correlate with a plethora of better developmental results for offspring. Our babies are no different in this regard. This human equivalent of nuzzling, kissing, caressing, and cuddling our babies is the pinnacle of parental instinct.
Close physical contact stimulates growth hormones as it relieves stress. Amazingly, a parent’s loving touch almost immediately reduces pain, as pediatricians who let moms nurse through shots know well. Once we see touch as a nutrient, like food, we understand our babies’ needs more profoundly, like one reason babies wake in the night—they literally need a dose of nourishing touch to grow optimally, both mentally and physically.
How to Practice Nurturing Touch:
Remember, touch makes up a communication system in the brain. Think about what your touch is communicating to your child and use touch often to communicate more effectively.
Use only positive touch to communicate comfort, love, understanding, and joy, never punishment.
Hold your baby or have someone hold her as much as she signals that she needs it.
Practice skin-to-skin holding with your baby.
"Wear" your baby during the day.
if you can do it safely (see resources), consider co-sleeping with your baby.
Sleep close to or with your young child as long as you both want to.
Breastfeed your baby and young child whenever they signal they want to and for as long as you both want to.
If breastfeeding is not possible, feed your baby while holding, skin-to-skin when possible.