Why holding your baby is beneficial for their health and mental wellbeing

written by Meena Azzollini

newborn baby in a tender embrace of mother mental wellbeing

Credit:123RF

For a newborn baby, the affectionate touch of parent creates an emotional bond between baby and parent which is difficult to define. But that touch goes a long way in the healthy development of a child, particularly the child’s brain according to previous studies.

Animal studies of early postnatal mother–infant interactions have shown the importance of such physical contact in establishing behavioural outcomes via the modification of DNA.

Children who had relatively little contact with their parent and thus experienced higher distress levels had “epigenetic age” that was lower than expected, given the actual age of the child.

Researchers from British Cumbia, Canada have now for the first time shown in humans that the simple act of touching between parent and child establishes life-long consequences which are deeply rooted in the genetic expression.

Researchers asked parents of 5-weeks olds to keep a diary of their babies’ behaviour such as crying, fussing, sleeping or feeding as well as the duration of caregiving which included bodily contact.

When the children were 4 and a 1/2 years old, the researchers sampled their DNA by taking swabs from the inside of their cheek.

The researchers examined a biochemical modification called DNA methylation, in which some parts of the chromosome are marked with small molecules made of carbon and hydrogen.

These molecules act as “dimmer switches” that help to control how active each gene is, and thus affect how cells function.

External conditions, especially those in childhood can affect the extent of methylation, and where on the DNA this specifically happens.

These epigenetic patterns also change in predictable ways as we age.

There were consistent methylation differences between high-contact and low-contact children at five specific DNA sites.

Two of these sites fall within genes that play a role in the immune system, and the other is involved in metabolism.

But, the downstream effects of these epigenetic changes on child development and health are unknown yet.

Children who had relatively little contact with their parent and thus experienced higher distress levels had “epigenetic age” that was lower than expected, given the actual age of the child.

Such inconsistencies have been linked to poor health in previous studies.

The molecular profile in children who were more distressed and received less physical contact was underdeveloped for their age indicating that they may be lagging behind biologically.

The researchers plan to investigate further if such discrepancies in epigenetic ageing have broader implications for the children’s health and especially on their psychological development.

If further research confirms what they found in this initial study then the researchers emphasise the importance of physical contact with babies, especially for distressed babies.

Close and comforting contact with your infant not only helps soothe them and show them your love, but is also affects your children at a molecular level with huge consequences for their physical and psychological wellbeing in the future.

Source: Development and Psychopathology


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Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!