Need another excuse to cuddle with your baby? Science says so!

mom and baby playing and snuggling
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We already know closeness with baby brings joy and comfort to both mom and her little one. Now, new research out of the University of Notre Dame says babies who are shown affection and loving support early on actually have a better chance of growing up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. Time to snuggle!

For the study, published in Applied Developmental Science, researchers asked adults questions such as: How much did they receive physical affection? Play freely outside and inside? Do things as a family inside and outside the home? Feel supported?

These are all indicators of what professor of psychology Darcia Narvaez calls the "evolved developmental niche." She explains, "Humans evolved with a nest of care for their young that matches up with the maturational schedule of the child. It was shaped over 30 million years ago and modified through human evolution. We call it the evolved developmental niche."

Wondering if you've appropriately created such a niche for your baby? Narvaez says these are the key elements:

  • Soothing, naturalistic perinatal experiences
  • Responsiveness to a baby's needs including sensitivity to the signals of the baby before the baby cries
  • Constant physical presence with plenty of affectionate touch
  • Extensive breastfeeding
  • Playful interactions with caregivers and friends
  • Community of affectionate, mindful caregivers

Researchers were able to conclude adults who said they received more physical affection and interaction during childhood exhibited less depression and anxiety, as well as more empathy and compassion toward others. But adults who said they didn't receive mindful care, or grew up without a soothing environment, had poorer mental health, and showed more social distress and less empathy.

Narvaez explains: "Our research shows that when we don't provide children with what they evolved to need, they turn into adults with decreased social and moral capacities. With toxic stress in childhood, the good stuff doesn't get a chance to grow and you become stress reactive. It's hard to be compassionate when you are focused on yourself. We can see adults all around us who were traumatized or undercared for at critical times."

Please hold while I go hug my girls!

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.