Vital touch-Why our babies need skin to skin contact

Touch must be central to all care babies receive.

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Our skin is a vital sensory organ. It is the first organ developed by a baby in the womb and it is made of the same embryonic tissue as our brains. The skin is as thirsty for sensory experience as the brain, yet the power of touch is often underrated. The effect of skin contact, or the lack of it, can have profound consequences on all the systems of our bodies, and particularly for babies.

Being held, touched and massaged is a natural intuitive way to nurture babies to adjust to the world from the womb and to support their physical and emotional development. Touch is vital for babies’ survival and should be central to any care that babies receive.

Studies have examined many different types of touch (including simple holding, holding in specific positions, massage, and skin-to-skin contact). These studies have shown that gentle touch has positive effects on newborns such as more regulated sleep, distress and activity. Touch stimulates the release of endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin, often referred to as “love hormones”, which promote relaxation and nurture a sense of love and security.

Touch creates vagal tone regulation, improves awake state and motor activity, enhances physiological responses and behavioural organisation. Skin stimulation helps to support vagus nerve function which regulates our body systems helping to rebalance the body after stress. The vagus nerve is the only nerve in the body that branches out into the parasympathetic nervous system in our bodies (eg the circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems.) It is heavily involved in the regulation of our relaxation responses in the body. Its stimulation can help to bring the body into optimum balance for wellbeing, particularly after any episode fear or anxiety.Touch helps babies recover from the stress they experience when they feel anxiety and cry which is why it’s our instinct to pick a baby up and cuddle him when he cries. It offers a way to instant relaxation and help him emotionally regulate.

Over 600 scientific papers have been published on the effects of human touch on babies. Close physical contact has been should to be essential for the survival of infants. When a baby experiences separation from his caregiver, he has lost his “connection compass” and he can become stressed. Studies of babies (human and animal) who have been separated from their mother or caregiver and deprived of human touch and interaction show that there can be serious effects such as delayed growth and development, illness, higher stress levels and issues with attachment.

You can find out more about the benefits and research on touch at our website

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