What your baby feels:
The sense of touch is one of the first to develop and is operational by the time a baby is born. Infants use touch to learn about their environment. The gentle touch of a parent can not only soothe babies but actually help them grow. "Nurturing touch releases growth hormones," explains Duke University researcher Saul Schanberg, M.D., Ph.D. "In infants who are deprived of that touch, the genes that react to these hormones shut down." In other words, these infants actually stop growing -- a phenomenon that has been documented in understaffed orphanages. By contrast, Dr. Schanberg's research with premature infants has demonstrated the remarkable healing powers of a parent's touch. "Our studies have found that being held and caressed actually helps preemies grow more quickly," he says.
What's more, gently massaging a baby has been shown to reduce levels of a stress hormone called cortisol. Researchers at the University of Minnesota discovered that babies who were given twice-weekly massages over a six-week period tended to be less irritable and to sleep more soundly than other babies.
Boosting your baby's skills:
You can help your baby develop his own sense of touch by letting his fingers come into contact with different textures: soft and cushiony, smooth, bumpy -- being careful, of course, to keep him away from extreme temperatures and rough textures. And you can use your own touch to communicate your love. Massage your baby by gently kneading his arms, legs, hands, and feet. Or calm him by cradling him in your arms. Feeling the warmth of your skin and the gentleness of your caress is the easiest, most natural way for your infant to bond with you.