Language scientists are now beginning to understand that in many ways, touch is our first language.
Gentle and loving touch can help small babies grow stronger and feel less anxiety. In many hospitals and birth centres, newborns are placed on the mother's chest or abdomen to give them as much skin-to-skin contact as possible.
The touch between the mother and her baby brings them emotionally close – a process known as bonding or attachment. In fact, in one study, premature infants who were massaged while at the hospital gained more weight and were ready to go home with their parents earlier than preemies who were not massaged.
For many of us, babies communicate by crying. Would babies cry less if they were touched more?
New research seems to suggest that increasing mother-baby contact reduces crying. Researchers asked a group of mothers to carry their babies for at least three hours a day. They then compared their crying patterns with a group of babies who were carried the typical one to two hours daily.
The results showed that babies who were carried more, cried less – especially at six weeks of age, when babies typically cry the most. The close bond between parent and baby gave these infants a greater sense of security.
Some parents don’t pick up their babies as often as they could because they are afraid they will spoil them, but nothing could be further from the truth!
Every time you pick up your baby, you let her know that you care and that you understand her needs. So don't hesitate to hold your crying baby.
Carry her on your shoulder and sing her a lullaby. Stroke her head, rub her back tenderly, and let her know that you'll always be there. Whilst holding your baby, softly talking and singing can help to strengthen your bond.
Mum & Dad
Did you know that each parent has his or her own way of touching?
Research has shown that when mothers touch babies, they are usually soothing and calming. Mums most often touch gently – they stroke softly, rock slowly, and hold their babies tenderly. Fathers, on the other hand, tend to engage in more physical forms of touch – they bounce babies on their knees, hold them playfully in the air, or roll around on the floor with them.
Your baby benefits from these two different styles of touch. Together they contribute to your infant's healthy development.
As you spend more time with your baby, you'll learn to read his likes, dislikes, desires and emotions. You'll learn the best time for cuddling, playing and relaxing. If too much playing or cuddling is making your baby irritable, give him a rest and try again a little later – he will let you know when he is ready for attention!
So how important is touch? As our first language, it can help you to create a strong bond with your baby. And a strong bond can help your baby feel more secure, cry less and thrive more. As one of the main ways to help you create a nurturing bond with your baby, touch is very important.
Note: If you feel that you don't have the will or energy to create a bond with your newborn, please talk to your Health Visitor / GP. You may be suffering from postnatal depression, a physical condition for which there is help. Don't think "it's all in your head" and don't do it alone. It's important – for both your sake and your baby's sake – that you ask for help.