Snuggling Your Baby May Affect Their DNA, Study Says

Little ones' development may very well be influenced by how much (or how little) close, comforting contact they receive, researchers note.

baby snuggled against mom
Photo: Travel_Master/shutterstock

A parent's instinct to hold, care, and coo over their newborn may do more than just tend to their baby's basic needs. In fact, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, all that physical touch may even help shape the baby's DNA.

New parents realize that many of the decisions and moves they make early on with their little ones are sure to have a reverberating effect. The study emphasizes the importance of snuggling—or simply prioritizing close, comforting contact with your infant, similar to the concept of attachment parenting. Learn more how about how holding and cuddling with your baby can promote their development on a biological level.

Research Shows Snuggling Benefits Your Baby

A team of researchers from the University of British Columbia in Canada worked with parents of 94 babies, asking them to keep a log of their cuddling and touching habits with their babies from the time they were 5 weeks old. They also kept records of their newborns' behaviors, such as how much they slept and cried.

Fast forward four and a half years, and the researchers took DNA swabs of the kids to analyze a biochemical modification called DNA methylation, which affects how cells mature and how genes express themselves. The data showed that a baby's DNA methylation could be affected by external, environmental factors, like cuddling with a parent.

Researchers concluded that snuggling your infant can influence epigenetic changes in at least five areas of their DNA, including areas related to the immune system and metabolism. They compared what they found for kids in the "high-contact" group versus those in the "low-contact" group.

As it turned out, those categorized in the latter had a molecular profile in their cells that was underdeveloped for their age, "pointing to the possibility that they were lagging biologically," according to a statement from Michael Kobor, a professor in the department of medical genetics who leads the “Healthy Starts” theme at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

“In children, we think slower epigenetic aging could reflect less favorable developmental progress,” Kobor noted.

The study's lead author, Sarah Moore, a postdoctoral fellow, emphasized the need for a deeper dive investigation. “We plan to follow up on whether the ‘biological immaturity' we saw in these children carries broad implications for their health, especially their psychological development. If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.”

In the meantime, it sounds like science is beginning to show even more conclusively that the more hugs, kisses, snuggles, and simply baby-wearing a parent can do early on, the healthier—and potentially happier—a child will be in the long run.

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