If you just can’t resist snuggling and cuddling your baby at all times, we really don’t blame you! Their scent, smooth skin, and chubby cheeks are completely irresistible. But, aside from the physical attraction, did you know that there are more psychological and developmental reasons for you to cuddle your baby? In support of today being World Prematurity Day, we're sharing this post to raise awareness of the benefits of skin-to-skin contact within their first 3 months. Although we are aware that many parent's may not have the opportunity to provide skin-to-skin contact straight away if their baby is born prematurely, the World Health Organisation is looking to challenge this - a target has been set to provide at least 50% of the world's low birth-weight babies with kangaroo mother care by 2020, a plan which includes early skin-to-skin contact! Read the blog to find out more.
It’s quite important that you cuddle your child regularly, especially in the first three months of their life, because during this ‘fourth trimester’ they’ll feel most comfortable in a place that’s cosy and warm – similar to the womb environment where they’ve just spent the last nine months.
Having a cuddle session with your little one will allow them to develop a sense of security when around you, and will benefit your personal bond. You might be worried that this will lead to attachment issues as they grow older, but as with most things, moderation is key, and cuddles from dad, siblings, or grandparents will work just as well!
On the other hand, babies who don’t experience cuddling have been found to have markedly lower levels of oxytocin and vasopressin – which might sound a little confusing... but, these two hormones are thought to play key roles in stress and social behaviours.
Touch is one of the first senses that develops in babies, so early skin-to-skin interaction is essential in stimulating their brain. Your child has emerged from the dark, warm haven of your womb, and entered an unfamiliar world with new surroundings including bright lights and confusing sounds – by encouraging their sense of touch, you’re also awakening their brain to these other senses.
The first skin-to-skin contact is the most important. Directly after the birth, if you’ve had an uncomplicated delivery, your baby will be placed into your arms, allowing them to hear the comforting sound of your heart which will help regulate their breathing and heart rate, as well as directing their blood sugar to the correct levels. It will build up their immunity to infections too, as this is the very first time they’ll be completely exposed to the outer environment.
You may not have heard of KMC (Kangaroo Mother Care), but it is a popular World Health Organisation-approved method for mothers (usually of premature or low-birth-weight babies) to use during the first year to help them reach a healthy weight and keep their development on track. This form of care involves continuous skin-to-skin contact between mothers and babies, and exclusive breastfeeding as soon as the baby is born.
According to studies, children that have been exposed to KMC as newborns develop higher IQ’s and general cerebral development than the children that have not.
You’re probably thinking, what does all this mean?
Well, socially, older children/adults who received KMC showed reduced hyperactivity and aggression, lower absences at school and even higher hourly wages as adults! Physical affection ultimately helps older children feel safe and loved, and this is crucial during events such as exams that will occur when they reach school. So, giving them a little hug and letting them know you’re proud of them no matter what will truly work wonders to the neurological cycle.
Of course, not every child has the opportunity of skin-to-skin contact or KMC methods, but that in no way suggests that they will turn out any less brilliant when it comes to their studies, social life or adulthood.
A few more health benefits of cuddling to the child and parent:
- Encourages calmness and relaxation
- Improves sleep patterns
- Reduces discomfort during teething, congestion, colic and emotional stress
- Strengthens the digestive, circulatory and gastrointestinal systems
- Lowers anxiety and stress
- Higher breastfeeding rates
Remember when we mentioned oxytocin and vasopressin?
These hormones are sometimes referred to as the "cuddle hormone" or the "love hormone," because they’re released when individuals snuggle up or are bonding socially. How fascinating!
Do you think giving your baby extra cuddles does more harm than good? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!