New parents realize that many of the decisions and moves they make early on with their L.O.s are sure to have a reverberating effect. Now, a new study published in the journal Development and Psychopathology is emphasizing the importance of snuggling -- or simply prioritizing close, comforting contact with your infant.
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 five weeks old. They also kept record of their newborns' behaviors (think in terms of how much they slept, cried, etc.). 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. is an "epigenetic mechanism" related to "how genes function" and express themselves, notes ScienceAlert.com. DNA methylation can 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, and 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 lead author of the study, 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, 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.