Touch and Bonding
There is a reason why babies' skin is so infinitely cuddly, soft, sweet, naturally fragrant and "touchable": Babies need to be touched. Parental contact is critical to infants' psycho-social development and well-being. And it's crucial to the bonding process between a mother and her newborn baby in the first moments of life—a process which will continue as the loving tie grows over the weeks, months, and years following birth, another benefit of touch.
The days when babies were whisked away from their mothers immediately after birth should be relegated to the dark ages, assuming mother and baby are both healthy.
Studies in Sweden indicate that there is a predictable sequence of movements an infant will undergo if left undisturbed on his mother's stomach immediately after birth. Richard L. Alade, in his book Effect of Delivery Room Routines on Success of First Breast-feed, describes: "Lipsmacking, head-turning, and salivating—that culminate in the newborn locating the nipple and starting to feed. The infants allowed the leisure to find the breast on their own, are more likely to have correct sucking technique at one hour postpartum than infants separated from the mother for assessments or dressing."
Research also shows mothers following predictable ways of welcoming their babies, first by gingerly touching their extremities with their fingertips, then by using firmer, broader, caressing palm strokes. The mere concept of precise, predictable patterns of parental/infant touch behavior suggests that touch is much more powerful than we had imagined. This natural tool should be encouraged and cultivated in clinical settings.
Touch in Caring for Premature Babies
The increasing focus of pediatricians and child development experts on the role of touch in a baby's physical and psychological development, and the importance of physical closeness to the mother, have sparked a return to knowledge that was inherent to earlier civilizations.
This type of care, consisting of placing a baby upright in constant skin-to-skin contact with the parent's chest, is a classic example. First implemented in Bogota, Columbia, because of poor socio-economic conditions that rendered other forms of care unfeasible, the results were remarkable.
Krisanne Larimer, in her book, Kangarooing Our Little Miracles, says, "Kangaroo Care was found to be an inexpensive and very beneficial experience to babies in Bogota. The mortality rate fell from 70 percent to 30 percent."
Further research conducted at the University of Miami's Touch Research Institute has found that premature babies who get massaged for 10to 15 minutes three times a day, gain 47 percent more weight, show better feeding and sleeping patterns, and are able to be discharged from the hospital six days sooner than preemies who don't get massage.
The studies show that, "Massage affects the vagus nerve, which is connected to the gastric system and stimulates the release of food absorption hormones. Because touch also helps infants have better-organized sleep states, it may also affect growth, since growth hormone isn't released into the bloodstream until a child has been asleep for at least 30 minutes. Preemies who are massaged also have decreased levels of stress hormones."
Dr. Field reports that, "... massaged infants are more active, gain weight faster, and become more efficient. It's amazing how much information is communicable in a touch ..."
A few years ago, NICU nurse Gayle Kasparian became involved in caring for premature twins, Brielle and Kyrie Jackson, born 12 weeks early at a hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, with problems ranging from breathing issues to heart rate difficulties.
One day, when the babies were less than a month old, Brielle became frantic, and nothing worked to soothe her. Nurse Kasparian finally tried co-bedding the babies, and the results were dramatic, as described in Meredith O'Brien's article, "The Rescuing Hug". O'Brien quotes Patricia Maxwell Malmstrom and Janet Poland, co-authors of The Art of Parenting Twins, as saying, "There is considerable evidence that multiple infants who are co-bedded handle the stress of being hospitalized, and of all the procedures they must endure, better than those who are separated."
A photo of Baby Kyrie with her arm around Brielle, dubbed "The Rescuing Hug," ran in Life and Reader's Digest, spiking an increased interest in co-bedding premature twins, yet another demonstration of the very powerful effect of a human's being's touch on another. In Brielle's case, her sister's touch could very well have saved her life.