A new study shows that cuddling your baby (early and often!) has huge benefits when it comes to brain development, especially for preemies.
Good news for all of us with that one friend or family member who likes to scold us for "spoiling" our babies by holding them too often. According to a new study, you can't EVER cuddle your newborn too much. And in fact, touch is crucial to a baby's development and actually has some pretty major benefits when it comes to brain development.
Researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio observed 125 premature and full-term infants to see how they responded to gentle touch and here's what they found: Premature babies were more likely to have a reduced response to touch than the full-term babies. And the preemies who had more exposure to painful medical procedures were also more likely to have a reduced response to touch.
My daughter was a preemie, so this news initially made me sad. But get this: The premature babies who had an increased amount of gentle touch from their parents and/or NICU caregivers actually responded more strongly to gentle touch than the premature babies who weren't touched or held as often. So I guess all those hours I spent every day rocking my newborn baby girl in the chair next to her incubator paid off. Which, according to lead researcher Dr. Nathalie Maitre, is proof that gentle, supportive touch can actually help brain development.
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"Making sure that preterm babies receive positive, supportive touch such as skin-to-skin care by parents is essential to help their brains respond to gentle touch in ways similar to those of babies who experienced an entire pregnancy inside their mother's womb," she explained. "When parents cannot do this, hospitals may want to consider occupational and physical therapists to provide a carefully planned touch experience, sometimes missing from a hospital setting."
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A great idea. And in fact, Dr. Maitre and her colleagues are now designing new ways to provide positive touch in the NICU. In the meantime, go ahead and cradle your baby to your heart's content. Because your touch matters, Mama—no matter what your annoying neighborhood buttinsky has to say about it.
Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.