We all know how important it is to hold and cuddle babies. Human touch is a fundamental part of a child's development and growth, which is why there are “Cuddler” programs at hospitals where people can volunteer to cradle newborns. But the clever ways in which babies process and use touch to connect and relax might surprise you.
As What To Expect explained, babies develop touch receptors on their faces (mostly on the lips and noses) prenatally, as early as the 8th week of pregnancy. By the 32nd week, every part of the baby’s body has a sense of touch that’s “sensitive enough to feel a single hair brushing across the body.” (Just typing that made me feel ticklish.)
Below, we take a look at some of the cool, fascinating ways babies use touch to make sense of the strange new world they've just tumbled into.
1. I touch, therefore I am.
Touch helps babies connect to a sense of self, even when they are teeny tiny. In a 2018 study that appeared in the journal Developmental Science, seven month old babies were shown a film of a hand being touched. Doctors monitored the babies brains via MEG while they watched the video. And lo and behold, the hand area of the baby's brain lit up!
Dr. Andrew Meltzoff is the co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington where the study was conducted. He thinks these findings indicate that even at the tender age of seven months, babies have a sense of self. As he told The New York Times, “Babies as young as seven months are able to connect self and other. Their hand is like your hand, their lips are like your lips; I am like you, you are like me.” This distinction "lays the groundwork for imitating", which in turn leads to how a baby learns human behavior, and even how to empathize.
2. Babies would totally be down for a spa day.
You aren't the only one who finds a massage relaxing. We know babies love to be held and caressed, but some studies say a full-on baby massage actually has health benefits. As per the Mayo Clinic, infant massage has been shown to help your baby relax and sleep, as well as positively affect the hormones that control stress. Serotonin goes up, cortisol goes down. Parents offered great tips on how to properly give baby a little rubdown. (And for added cuteness/ridiculousness, might I suggest a baby spa robe?)
3.) Touch is the first baby talk.
Dr. Meltzoff breaks it down thusly: "Long before babies acquire spoken language, touch is a crucial channel of communication between caregivers and babies."
When parents do skin-to-skin, the child is comforted and soothed. When parents touch a baby's cheek, the child turns his head toward the source. Place an object in a baby's palm and he will try to grip it. Well before babies can babble their first "Ma Ma", every touch is sending them signals, and creating the basic foundation for learning.
Babies! They're so smart. Now go blow some raspberries on your little guy's tummy. I'm not entirely sure what this will communicate... that the world is a place of chaos but there is still humor to be found? Perhaps. Either way you're both sure to enjoy the interaction.