The Importance of Physical Contact Between Parents and Babies
Kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin, is a technique originally used to keep babies warm in South Africa so they could be released early from overcrowded hospitals. It entailed a mother holding her newborn baby dressed only in a diaper against her chest to promote his physical well-being. The importance of physical touch for babies is now well established. Skin-to-skin care is promoted in hospitals around the world, and infant massage is encouraged for all parents and babies.
Skin-to-skin care immediately after birth has many physical advantages for an infant. This technique regulates heart rate, breathing and temperature, calms the baby, and promotes breastfeeding and digestion. When the baby is held against his mother, the baby’s skin colonizes with the friendly bacteria of the mother’s skin, offering the baby protection against infection. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports skin-to-skin care especially for premature babies because it promotes breastfeeding and weight gain 1. It is also an opportunity for parents to bond with an infant in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Skin-to-skin care promotes a secure attachment between infant and caregiver. Attachment is the basis for healthy child development and your child’s future relationships. Securely attached babies use their caregiver as a base to explore their world. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, these babies are more cooperative, competent and sociable as children and have more successful relationships as adults 2. Physical touch is a key piece for developing a healthy attachment with your baby. It deepens your bond and helps you develop a better grasp of his cues. It’s a two-way street in which you learn about your baby and your baby feels loved, secure and cared for.
Infant massage enables you to communicate with your baby. When you massage your baby, you can easily listen to her sounds, make eye contact and watch her movements, thereby encouraging parent-baby interaction and bonding. Throughout the first year of life, babies are learning about their bodies. Infant massage assists them in developing body awareness. It also promotes self-esteem because physical touch shows your baby she is loved. Perhaps most exciting for any new parent, infant massage facilitates relaxation. It’s a wonderful addition to your bedtime routine because it helps your baby unwind and prepares her for a long night’s sleep.
Physical touch should not be restricted to mother and baby, because fathers can participate too. Wear a layer of clothing that opens in the front and place your diaper-clad baby in an upright position against your chest or cradle her with her head on your chest. This is especially nice for C-section babies, as the mother does not always have access to the baby immediately after surgery, but Dad does. Once home, fathers can initiate skin-to-skin contact during bottle feedings. They can also give their babies a massage in the morning or after bath time. Physical touch between a father and baby promotes bonding and a healthy attachment between the two.
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