A HISTORY OF THE THEORY OF PRENATAL ATTACHMENT

Source: A HISTORY OF THE THEORY OF PRENATAL ATTACHMENT

John Bowlby’s theory of human attachment has become widely applied across disciplines and across the stages of human development. This discussion explores the evolution of an application of Bowlby’s theory to the experience of pregnancy, from both maternal and paternal perspectives. Although the theoretical construct of maternal-fetal attachment (MFA) requires continued theoretically-driven research, existing studies have associated this proposed construct with health behaviors, marital relationship, depressive symptoms, and the postpartum mother-infant relationship, pointing toward its relevance for academicians and clinicians devoted to the service of women and infants. This is a scientific article on Bowlby’s theory of attachment. Click on the title and it will take you there.

The Importance of Skin Stimulation for Babies

Skin Stimulation Is Important for Mammals

Skin sensitivity is the earliest-developed and most fundamental functions of the body. Nurturing stimulation of the skin is, in fact, essential for adequate organic and psychological development, both for animals and for human beings. When asked what he thought of infant massage, anthropologist Ashley Montagu commented, “People don’t realize that communication for a baby, the first communications it receives and the first language of its development, is through the skin. If only most people had realized this they would have all along given babies the kind of skin stimulation they require.”

Behaviorally, mammals tend to fall into “cache” and “carry” types. The caching species leave their young for long periods while the mother gathers food. The infants must remain silent during those times so as not to attract predators, so they do not cry. For the same reason, they do not urinate unless stimulated by the mother. In addition, the young have internal mechanisms that control their body temperature. The mother’s milk is extremely high in protein and fat, and the infants suckle at a very fast rate.

In contrast, the carrying species maintain continuous contact with their infants and feed often. The babies suckle slowly, urinate often, cry when distressed or out of contact with the parent, and need the parent to keep them warm. The mother’s milk content is low in protein and fat, so infants need to suckle often. Humans are designed like the carrying species; in fact, human milk is identical in protein and fat content to that of the anthropoid apes, which are carrying species. Our infants need to be in close physical contact with us as much as possible.

No Colicky Kittens!

Physically, massage acts in much the same way in humans as licking does in animals. Animals lick their young and maintain close skin contact. Animal babies that are not licked, caressed, and permitted to cling in infancy grow up scrawny and more vulnerable to stress. They tend to fight with one another and to abuse and neglect their own young. Licking serves to stimulate the physiological systems and to bond the young with the mother. A mother cat spends more than 50 percent of her time licking her babies—and you will never see a colicky kitten! Without the kind of stimulation that helps their gastrointestinal system begin to function properly, newborn kittens die.

Scientists have seen behavior and responses in animals that parallel the growth and development of our own young, and these parallels are truly fascinating. In animals, the genitourinary tract will not function without the stimulation of frequent licking. Even the number of times a mother licks her young and the amount of time spent in each area are genetically determined.

Animals Benefit with Higher Immunity

When the infant mammal receives early skin stimulation, there is a highly beneficial influence on the immunological system. In one experiment, rats that were gently handled in infancy had a higher serum antibody standard in every case. More simply stated, these animals had a much greater ability to resist disease.

Equally important for our purposes was the behavior of these gentled rats. As Ashley Montagu wrote in Touching:
When handled, the gentled animals were relaxed and yielding. They were not easily frightened. . . . The researcher who had raised them . . . did so under conditions in which they were frequently handled, stroked, and had kindly sounds uttered to them, and they responded with fearlessness, friendliness, and a complete lack of neuromuscular tension or irritability. The exact opposite was true of the ungentled rats, who had received no attention whatever from human beings . . . these animals were frightened and bewildered, anxious and tense.

Among other important findings, rats that were gently handled for three weeks after weaning showed a faster weight gain than other rats under the same conditions, and those that were handled gently were physically much more resistant to the harmful effects of stress and deprivation.

In one study, rats with their thyroid and parathyroid glands (endocrine glands that regulate the immune system) removed responded remarkably to massage. In the experimental group, the rats were gently massaged and spoken to several times a day. They were relaxed, yielding, and not easily frightened, and their nervous systems remained stable. The control rats, which did not receive this type of care, were nervous, fearful, irritable, and enraged; they died within forty-eight hours. Another study with rats showed a higher immunity to disease, faster weight gain, and better neurological development among those that had been gently stroked in infancy.

Moving up the animal scale, dogs, horses, cows, dolphins, and many other animals have also shown remarkable differences when lovingly handled in infancy. The touch of the human hand improved the function of virtually all of the sustaining systems (respiratory, circulatory, digestive, eliminative, nervous, and endocrine) and increased “touchability,” gentleness, friendliness, and fearlessness. Writes Ashley Montagu: “The more we learn about the effects of cutaneous [skin] stimulation, the more pervasively significant for healthy development do we find it to be.”

Harry Harlow’s famous monkey experiments were the first to show that for infants, contact comfort is even more important than food. Infant monkeys were given the choice of a wire mother figure that provided food or a soft terry-cloth figure that did not provide food chose the terry-cloth mother figure. Human infants with failure-to-thrive syndrome exhibit the same type of behavior: though given all the food they need, they continue to deteriorate if they receive no intervention that involves emotional nurturing, contact comfort, and care.

In nearly every bird and mammal studied, close physical contact has been found to be essential both to the infant’s healthy survival and to the mother’s ability to nurture. In the previously mentioned studies with rats, if pregnant females were restrained from licking themselves (a form of self-massage), their mothering activities were substantially diminished. Additionally, when pregnant female animals were gently stroked every day, their offspring showed higher weight gain and reduced excitability, and the mothers showed greater interest in their offspring, with a more abundant and richer milk supply.

Skin Stimulation Is Important for Human Babies

Evidence supports the same conclusions for humans. Touching and handling her baby assists the new mother in milk production by helping stimulate secretion of prolactin, the “mothering hormone.” The process begun at the embryonic stage thus continues, allowing a natural unfolding of the baby’s potential within the safe and loving arms of his mother.
Nurturing stimulation of the skin—handling, cuddling, rocking, and massage—increases cardiac functions of the human infant. Massage stimulates the respiratory, circulatory, and gastrointestinal systems—benefits especially appreciated by the “colicky” baby and his parents.

A baby’s first experience with the surrounding environment occurs through touch, developing prenatally as early as sixteen weeks. Nature begins the massage before the baby is born. As opposed to the extremely short labors of most other animals, it has been suggested that a human mother’s extended labor helps make up for the lack of postpartum licking performed by other mammal mothers. For the human infant, the contractions of labor provide some of the same types of preparation for the functioning of his internal systems as early licking of the newborn does for other mammals.

Touch impacts short-term development during infancy and early childhood, and it has long-term effects as well. Through this contact, newborns are able to learn about their world, bond with their parents, and communicate their needs and wants. Eighty percent of a baby’s communication is expressed through body movement. When parents engage in appropriate touch, young children have an improved chance to successfully develop socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Infants who experience more physical contact with parents demonstrate increased mental development in the first six months of life compared to young children who receive limited physical interaction. This improved cognitive development has been shown to last even after eight years, illustrating the importance of positive interactions. Infants who receive above-average levels of affection from their parents are shown to be less likely to be hostile, anxious, or emotionally distressed as adults.

Studies with premature babies using techniques similar to those taught in this book have demonstrated that daily massage is of tremendous benefit. Research projects at the University of Miami Medical Center, headed up by the Touch Research Institute’s founder, Dr. Tiffany Field, have shown remarkable results. In one study, twenty premature babies were massaged three times a day for fifteen minutes each time. They averaged 47 percent greater weight gain per day, were more active and alert, and showed more mature neurological development than infants who did not receive massage. In addition, their hospital stay averaged six days less. After many years of study and observation, the International Association of Infant Massage has established guidelines for using massage and holding techniques with premature babies.

Dallas psychologist Ruth Rice conducted a study with thirty premature babies after they had left the hospital. She divided them into two groups. The mothers in the control group were instructed in usual newborn care, while those in the experimental group were taught a daily massage and rocking regime. At four months of age, the babies who had been massaged were ahead in both neurological development and weight gain.

The natural sensory stimulation of massage speeds myelination of the nerves in the brain and the nervous system. The myelin sheath is a fatty covering around each nerve, like insulation around electrical wire. It protects the nervous system and speeds the transmission of impulses from the brain to the rest of the body. The process of coating the nerves is not complete at birth, but skin stimulation hastens the process, thus enhancing rapid neural-cell firing and improving brain-body communication.

In 1978 transcutaneous oxygen monitoring was developed, which enabled physicians to measure oxygen tension in the body through an electrode on the skin. It was discovered that hospitalized infants experienced tremendous upheavals in oxygen levels when subjected to stress. Touch Relaxation, holding techniques, and massage (as covered in my book Infant Massage: a Handbook for Loving Parents) have been found to mitigate these fluctuations, and these methods are being used in hospitals routinely now to help infants maintain a steady state through the stresses of diaper changes, heel sticks, and other intrusions.

New research demonstrates similar results every day, confirming what age-old tradition has told us: infants need loving touch. Lawrence Schachner, M.D., a professor in the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami School of Medicine, advises that touch can benefit babies with skin disorders such as eczema. “It may furthermore improve parent-baby interaction,” he says. Dr. Tiffany Field concurs. She notes that loving touch triggers physiological changes that help infants grow and develop, stimulating nerves in the brain that facilitate food absorption and lowering stress hormone levels, resulting in improved immune system functioning. A report by the Families and Work Institute states that the vast majority of connections between brain cells are formed during the first three years of life. The report concludes that loving interaction such as massage can directly affect a child’s emotional development and ability to handle stress as an adult.

Loving skin contact and massage benefit mothers and fathers as well. In addition, research has shown that mothers whose pregnancies were filled with chronic stress often have babies who cry more and for longer periods than those whose pregnancies were peaceful and supported.
Men who make the effort to bond with their infants by giving the mother loving massages, talking and singing to the baby, feeling its movements in their partner’s belly, attending classes with their partner, and reading up on infant development and psychology tend to be more attentive and accomplished fathers.

THE NEUROSCIENCE OF CALMING A BABY

Research published in the journal Current Biology shows that infants experience an automatic calming reaction when they are being carried, whether they are mouse pups or human babies.

Kumi Kuroda of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Saitama, Japan says, “From humans to mice, mammalian infants become calm and relaxed when they are carried by their mother.”

Being held in a mother’s arms is the safest place for a baby to be, and the mother can have peace of mind knowing her baby is happy, content, and relaxed. The fact that babies are neurobiologically wired to stop crying when carried is a part of our evolutionary biology that helps our species survive.

This study is the first to show that the infant calming response to carrying is a coordinated set of central, motor, and cardiac regulations that is an evolutionarily preserved aspect of mother-infant interactions. It also helps to have a scientific explanation for the frustration many new parents struggle with — a calm and relaxed infant will often begin crying immediately when he or she is put down.

With my babies, swaddling them created a compact posture and a sense of security that triggered a relaxation response when they were put back down. After massaging them every day for a few weeks, using “Touch Relaxation” (a conditioned response), massage time was another way they relaxed, and their sleep was sooner and more deeply than before.

Kuroda and colleagues determined that the calming response is mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system and a region of the brain called the cerebellum (Latin: little brain). The researchers found that the calming response was dependent on tactile inputs and proprioception. Proprioception is the ability to sense and understand body movements and keep track of your body’s position in space. They also found that the parasympathetic nervous system helped lower heart rate as part of mediating the coordinated response to being carried.

Both human and mouse babies usually calm down and stop moving after they are carried, and mouse pups stop emitting ultrasonic cries.

The idea that the familiar calming dynamic was also playing out in mice occurred to Kuroda one day when she was cleaning the cages of her mouse colony in the laboratory. She says, “When I picked the pups up at the back skin very softly and swiftly as mouse mothers did, they immediately stopped moving and became compact. They appeared relaxed, but not totally floppy, and kept the limbs flexed. This calming response in mice appeared similar to me to soothing by carrying in human babies.”

The cerebellum is always on guard to protect your body from danger and prepare you for ‘fight-or-flight’ by keeping track of everything going on in your environment. Scientists have known for years that the cerebellum is directly linked to a feedback loop with the vagus nerve which keeps heart rate slow and gives you grace under pressure. As adults, we can calm ourselves by practicing mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation which puts the cerebellum at peace and creates a parasympathetic response of well being. This appears to be the same response that occurs in infants when they are being carried.

The only time during the day that the cerebellum is allowed to let down its guard and go offline is during REM sleep when your body is paralyzed to prevent you from acting out your dreams. It makes sense that being picked up and carried would send automatic signals that allow the cerebellum to relax and create healthy vagal tone which would lower heart rates in infants.

The researchers believe that these findings could have broad implications for parenting and contribute to preventing child abuse. “This infant response reduces the maternal burden of carrying and is beneficial for both the mother and the infant,” explains Kuroda. She goes on to say, “Such proper understanding of infants would reduce the frustration of parents and be beneficial because unsoothable crying is a major risk factor for child abuse.”

“A scientific understanding of this infant response will save parents from misreading the restart of crying as the intention of the infant to control the parents, as some parenting theories—such as the ‘cry it out’ type of strategy—suggest,” Kuroda says. “Rather, this phenomenon should be interpreted as a natural consequence of the infant sensorimotor systems.” If parents understand that properly, perhaps they will be less frustrated by the crying, Kuroda says. And that puts those children at lower risk of abuse.

 

THE NEUROSCIENCE OF CALMING A BABY

Research published in the journal Current Biology shows that infants experience an automatic calming reaction when they are being carried, whether they are mouse pups or human babies.

Kumi Kuroda of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Saitama, Japan says, “From humans to mice, mammalian infants become calm and relaxed when they are carried by their mother.”

Being held in a mother’s arms is the safest place for a baby to be, and the mother can have peace of mind knowing her baby is happy, content, and relaxed. The fact that babies are neurobiologically wired to stop crying when carried is a part of our evolutionary biology that helps our species survive.

This study is the first to show that the infant calming response to carrying is a coordinated set of central, motor, and cardiac regulations that is an evolutionarily preserved aspect of mother-infant interactions. It also helps to have a scientific explanation for the frustration many new parents struggle with — a calm and relaxed infant will often begin crying immediately when he or she is put down.

With my babies, swaddling them created a compact posture and a sense of security that triggered a relaxation response when they were put back down. After massaging them every day for a few weeks, using “Touch Relaxation” (a conditioned response), massage time was another way they relaxed, and their sleep was sooner and more deeply than before.

Kuroda and colleagues determined that the calming response is mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system and a region of the brain called the cerebellum (Latin: little brain). The researchers found that the calming response was dependent on tactile inputs and proprioception. Proprioception is the ability to sense and understand body movements and keep track of your body’s position in space. They also found that the parasympathetic nervous system helped lower heart rate as part of mediating the coordinated response to being carried.

Both human and mouse babies usually calm down and stop moving after they are carried, and mouse pups stop emitting ultrasonic cries.

The idea that the familiar calming dynamic was also playing out in mice occurred to Kuroda one day when she was cleaning the cages of her mouse colony in the laboratory. She says, “When I picked the pups up at the back skin very softly and swiftly as mouse mothers did, they immediately stopped moving and became compact. They appeared relaxed, but not totally floppy, and kept the limbs flexed. This calming response in mice appeared similar to me to soothing by carrying in human babies.”

The cerebellum is always on guard to protect your body from danger and prepare you for ‘fight-or-flight’ by keeping track of everything going on in your environment. Scientists have known for years that the cerebellum is directly linked to a feedback loop with the vagus nerve which keeps heart rate slow and gives you grace under pressure. As adults, we can calm ourselves by practicing mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation which puts the cerebellum at peace and creates a parasympathetic response of well being. This appears to be the same response that occurs in infants when they are being carried.

The only time during the day that the cerebellum is allowed to let down its guard and go offline is during REM sleep when your body is paralyzed to prevent you from acting out your dreams. It makes sense that being picked up and carried would send automatic signals that allow the cerebellum to relax and create healthy vagal tone which would lower heart rates in infants.

The researchers believe that these findings could have broad implications for parenting and contribute to preventing child abuse. “This infant response reduces the maternal burden of carrying and is beneficial for both the mother and the infant,” explains Kuroda. She goes on to say, “Such proper understanding of infants would reduce the frustration of parents and be beneficial because unsoothable crying is a major risk factor for child abuse.”

“A scientific understanding of this infant response will save parents from misreading the restart of crying as the intention of the infant to control the parents, as some parenting theories—such as the ‘cry it out’ type of strategy—suggest,” Kuroda says. “Rather, this phenomenon should be interpreted as a natural consequence of the infant sensorimotor systems.” If parents understand that properly, perhaps they will be less frustrated by the crying, Kuroda says. And that puts those children at lower risk of abuse.

INFANT MASSAGE: STRESS AND RELAXATION

Infant massage is one tool we have to help reshape our child’s interpretations of the world, to release her pain, grief, and fear, and to open her up to love and joy.

Touch meets a baby’s needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.

In our great-grandmothers’ day, when a baby developed a fever, the outcome was uncertain. Each century’s children have been plagued with some debilitating disease. Though many contagions have been eliminated through improved environmental conditions and medicine, our century is characterized by a more subtle and insidious malady — stress.

Stress can begin to affect a baby even before he is born. The levels of stress hormones that are constantly present in a woman’s bloodstream directly affect her unborn infant, crossing the placenta to enter his own bloodstream. Studies have shown that prolonged tension and anxiety can hamper a pregnant woman’s ability to absorb nourishment. Her baby may be of low birth weight, hyperactive, and irritable.

If we understand that our experiences and reactions influence our own biochemistry by sending life-enhancing or fear-producing chemicals throughout our bodies, it is not difficult to understand that these chemicals are also sent through our unborn baby’s body. Her cells receive this “information” and program her structure accordingly. Thus, even before birth, a baby can unconsciously perceive the world as a place of anxiety and stress, to fight or be victimized by, or a place of safety and love, to enjoy and fully experience. This is not to say all is lost if life circumstances are less than perfect. Infant massage is one tool we have to help reshape our child’s interpretations of the world, to release her pain, grief, and fear, and to open her up to love and joy. As we evolve to be more conscious beings, we understand more deeply how important our mental states are, both to our own health and longevity and to our children’s health, longevity, intelligence, and ability to experience and give love and joy.

Babies born centuries ago in more primitive cultures had the advantage of extended families, natural environments, and relatively little change. Our children, born into a rapidly advancing technological world, must effectively handle stress if they are to survive and prosper. Thus must give them every opportunity, from conception on, to learn positive, adaptive responses to stress and to believe in their own power and adaptability.

We certainly cannot eliminate stress, nor would we wish to, for in the proper doses it is an essential component in the growth of intelligence. Let’s see how this works. In times of stress, the pituitary gland produces a hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), which activates the adrenal steroids, organizing the body and brain to deal with an unknown or unpredictable emergency. In experiments with laboratory animals, this hormone has been found to stimulate the production of many new proteins in the liver and brain — proteins that are instrumental in both learning and memory. On being given ACTH, the animals’ brains grow millions of new connecting links between the neurons (thinking cells). These links enable the brain to process information.

The stress of meeting unknown situations and converting them into what is known and predictable is essential for our babies’ brain development. But stress is only part of the cycle that enhances learning. Without its equally important opposite — relaxation — stress can lead to overstimulation, exhaustion, and shock. When stress piles upon stress without the relief of an equal portion of relaxation, the body begins to shut out all sensory intake and the learning process is completely blocked. As neuroscientist Bruce Lipton described, between the two choices — protection-related or growth-promoting — protection-related biological behaviors kick in, thus preventing growth or learning.

How does this apply to infant massage? First, massage is one way we can provide our children with relaxing, joyful experiences. Through the use of conditioned response techniques similar to those developed for childbirth by Lamaze and others, we can teach our babies how to relax their bodies in response to stress. The ability to relax consciously is a tremendous advantage in coping with the pressures of growing up in modern society. If acquired early in life, the realization response can become as much a part of our children’s natural system as the antibodies that protect them from disease.

Stress is a natural part of an infant’s life, but often our babies are not able to benefit from it as much as they could. Our fast-paced society overloads them with input, but it is unacceptable for them to cry to release tension. This double bind leads to many frustrated babies with a lot of pent-up tension and anxiety.

Massage helps babies practice handling input and responding to it with relaxation. Watch an experienced mother massaging her baby. You will see both stress and relaxation in the rhythmic strokes and in the baby’s reactions. The infant experiences all kinds of new sensations, feelings, odors, sounds, and sights. The rumbles of his tummy, the warm sensation of increased circulation, the movement of air on his bare skin — all are mildly stressful to him. The pleasant tone of his mother’s voice, her smile and her touch are relaxing and relieve the discomfort of encountering these new sensations. The reassures him that the world outside the womb is, as Dr. Frederick Laborers says, “still alive, and warm, and beating, and friendly.”

A daily massage gradually raises an infant’s stimulation threshold. Babies who have difficulty handling stimulation gradually build tolerance. High-need babies begin to learn to regulate the manner in which they respond to stressful experiences, which reduces the level of tension they develop throughout the day. Colicky babies are calmed and able to relax their bodies so that tension doesn’t escalate their discomfort. A regular massage provides our babies with an early stress management program that will be valuable to them in years to come.

INTO ADULTHOOD

Psychologists study the types of attachments we form in our infant as predictors of the types of relationships we will have as adults. People whose infancy was secure, who were held and listened to, who had good eye contact with their parents, and who were generally cherished tend to have healthier relationships with others. Getting close to others is easy, and they have no problem with interdependency (the ability to depend on and be depended on, appropriately). They have happy, trusting relationships; their romances last the longest and end in divorce the least often of groups studied. On the other hand, babies whose attachment bonds are insecure or anxious are later less sympathetic to others and less effective in getting support and help from other people. Their relationships lack trust and intimacy; jealousy and commitment problems and fears undermine friendships as well as marriages. People whose bonds are constantly broken in infancy have a much greater risk of becoming sociopathic criminals in their adulthood unless they receive serious intervention at an early stage.

The bonds of trust and love, the lessons of compassion, warmth, openness, and respect that are inherent in the massage routine will be carried by your child into adulthood. Especially if your parenting practices reflect the same values of infant massage, your child will be more likely to respond to others with compassion and altruism and to experience life as a joyful adventure in which he has the opportunity to love and be loved — to help others and extend himself in genuine service to humanity.

© 2019 Vimala McClure

The Importance of Skin Stimulation for Babies

Skin Stimulation Is Important for Mammals

Skin sensitivity is the earliest-developed and most fundamental functions of the body. Nurturing stimulation of the skin is, in fact, essential for adequate organic and psychological development, both for animals and for human beings. When asked what he thought of infant massage, anthropologist Ashley Montagu commented, “People don’t realize that communication for a baby, the first communications it receives and the first language of its development, is through the skin. If only most people had realized this they would have all along given babies the kind of skin stimulation they require.”

Behaviorally, mammals tend to fall into “cache” and “carry” types. The caching species leave their young for long periods while the mother gathers food. The infants must remain silent during those times so as not to attract predators, so they do not cry. For the same reason, they do not urinate unless stimulated by the mother. In addition, the young have internal mechanisms that control their body temperature. The mother’s milk is extremely high in protein and fat, and the infants suckle at a very fast rate.

In contrast, the carrying species maintain continuous contact with their infants and feed often. The babies suckle slowly, urinate often, cry when distressed or out of contact with the parent, and need the parent to keep them warm. The mother’s milk content is low in protein and fat, so infants need to suckle often. Humans are designed like the carrying species; in fact, human milk is identical in protein and fat content to that of the anthropoid apes, which are carrying species. Our infants need to be in close physical contact with us as much as possible.

No Colicky Kittens!

Physically, massage acts in much the same way in humans as licking does in animals. Animals lick their young and maintain close skin contact. Animal babies that are not licked, caressed, and permitted to cling in infancy grow up scrawny and more vulnerable to stress. They tend to fight with one another and to abuse and neglect their own young. Licking serves to stimulate the physiological systems and to bond the young with the mother. A mother cat spends more than 50 percent of her time licking her babies—and you will never see a colicky kitten! Without the kind of stimulation that helps their gastrointestinal system begin to function properly, newborn kittens die.

Scientists have seen behavior and responses in animals that parallel the growth and development of our own young, and these parallels are truly fascinating. In animals, the genitourinary tract will not function without the stimulation of frequent licking. Even the number of times a mother licks her young and the amount of time spent in each area are genetically determined.

Animals Benefit with Higher Immunity

When the infant mammal receives early skin stimulation, there is a highly beneficial influence on the immunological system. In one experiment, rats that were gently handled in infancy had a higher serum antibody standard in every case. More simply stated, these animals had a much greater ability to resist disease.

Equally important for our purposes was the behavior of these gentled rats. As Ashley Montagu wrote in Touching:
When handled, the gentled animals were relaxed and yielding. They were not easily frightened. . . . The researcher who had raised them . . . did so under conditions in which they were frequently handled, stroked, and had kindly sounds uttered to them, and they responded with fearlessness, friendliness, and a complete lack of neuromuscular tension or irritability. The exact opposite was true of the ungentled rats, who had received no attention whatever from human beings . . . these animals were frightened and bewildered, anxious and tense.

Among other important findings, rats that were gently handled for three weeks after weaning showed a faster weight gain than other rats under the same conditions, and those that were handled gently were physically much more resistant to the harmful effects of stress and deprivation.

In one study, rats with their thyroid and parathyroid glands (endocrine glands that regulate the immune system) removed responded remarkably to massage. In the experimental group, the rats were gently massaged and spoken to several times a day. They were relaxed, yielding, and not easily frightened, and their nervous systems remained stable. The control rats, which did not receive this type of care, were nervous, fearful, irritable, and enraged; they died within forty-eight hours. Another study with rats showed a higher immunity to disease, faster weight gain, and better neurological development among those that had been gently stroked in infancy.

Moving up the animal scale, dogs, horses, cows, dolphins, and many other animals have also shown remarkable differences when lovingly handled in infancy. The touch of the human hand improved the function of virtually all of the sustaining systems (respiratory, circulatory, digestive, eliminative, nervous, and endocrine) and increased “touchability,” gentleness, friendliness, and fearlessness. Writes Ashley Montagu: “The more we learn about the effects of cutaneous [skin] stimulation, the more pervasively significant for healthy development do we find it to be.”

Harry Harlow’s famous monkey experiments were the first to show that for infants, contact comfort is even more important than food. Infant monkeys were given the choice of a wire mother figure that provided food or a soft terry-cloth figure that did not provide food chose the terry-cloth mother figure. Human infants with failure-to-thrive syndrome exhibit the same type of behavior: though given all the food they need, they continue to deteriorate if they receive no intervention that involves emotional nurturing, contact comfort, and care.

In nearly every bird and mammal studied, close physical contact has been found to be essential both to the infant’s healthy survival and to the mother’s ability to nurture. In the previously mentioned studies with rats, if pregnant females were restrained from licking themselves (a form of self-massage), their mothering activities were substantially diminished. Additionally, when pregnant female animals were gently stroked every day, their offspring showed higher weight gain and reduced excitability, and the mothers showed greater interest in their offspring, with a more abundant and richer milk supply.

Skin Stimulation Is Important for Human Babies

Evidence supports the same conclusions for humans. Touching and handling her baby assists the new mother in milk production by helping stimulate secretion of prolactin, the “mothering hormone.” The process begun at the embryonic stage thus continues, allowing a natural unfolding of the baby’s potential within the safe and loving arms of his mother.
Nurturing stimulation of the skin—handling, cuddling, rocking, and massage—increases cardiac functions of the human infant. Massage stimulates the respiratory, circulatory, and gastrointestinal systems—benefits especially appreciated by the “colicky” baby and his parents.

A baby’s first experience with the surrounding environment occurs through touch, developing prenatally as early as sixteen weeks. Nature begins the massage before the baby is born. As opposed to the extremely short labors of most other animals, it has been suggested that a human mother’s extended labor helps make up for the lack of postpartum licking performed by other mammal mothers. For the human infant, the contractions of labor provide some of the same types of preparation for the functioning of his internal systems as early licking of the newborn does for other mammals.

Touch impacts short-term development during infancy and early childhood, and it has long-term effects as well. Through this contact, newborns are able to learn about their world, bond with their parents, and communicate their needs and wants. Eighty percent of a baby’s communication is expressed through body movement. When parents engage in appropriate touch, young children have an improved chance to successfully develop socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Infants who experience more physical contact with parents demonstrate increased mental development in the first six months of life compared to young children who receive limited physical interaction. This improved cognitive development has been shown to last even after eight years, illustrating the importance of positive interactions. Infants who receive above-average levels of affection from their parents are shown to be less likely to be hostile, anxious, or emotionally distressed as adults.

Studies with premature babies using techniques similar to those taught in this book have demonstrated that daily massage is of tremendous benefit. Research projects at the University of Miami Medical Center, headed up by the Touch Research Institute’s founder, Dr. Tiffany Field, have shown remarkable results. In one study, twenty premature babies were massaged three times a day for fifteen minutes each time. They averaged 47 percent greater weight gain per day, were more active and alert, and showed more mature neurological development than infants who did not receive massage. In addition, their hospital stay averaged six days less. After many years of study and observation, the International Association of Infant Massage has established guidelines for using massage and holding techniques with premature babies.

Dallas psychologist Ruth Rice conducted a study with thirty premature babies after they had left the hospital. She divided them into two groups. The mothers in the control group were instructed in usual newborn care, while those in the experimental group were taught a daily massage and rocking regime. At four months of age, the babies who had been massaged were ahead in both neurological development and weight gain.

The natural sensory stimulation of massage speeds myelination of the nerves in the brain and the nervous system. The myelin sheath is a fatty covering around each nerve, like insulation around electrical wire. It protects the nervous system and speeds the transmission of impulses from the brain to the rest of the body. The process of coating the nerves is not complete at birth, but skin stimulation hastens the process, thus enhancing rapid neural-cell firing and improving brain-body communication.

In 1978 transcutaneous oxygen monitoring was developed, which enabled physicians to measure oxygen tension in the body through an electrode on the skin. It was discovered that hospitalized infants experienced tremendous upheavals in oxygen levels when subjected to stress. Touch Relaxation, holding techniques, and massage (as covered in my book Infant Massage: a Handbook for Loving Parents) have been found to mitigate these fluctuations, and these methods are being used in hospitals routinely now to help infants maintain a steady state through the stresses of diaper changes, heel sticks, and other intrusions.

New research demonstrates similar results every day, confirming what age-old tradition has told us: infants need loving touch. Lawrence Schachner, M.D., a professor in the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami School of Medicine, advises that touch can benefit babies with skin disorders such as eczema. “It may furthermore improve parent-baby interaction,” he says. Dr. Tiffany Field concurs. She notes that loving touch triggers physiological changes that help infants grow and develop, stimulating nerves in the brain that facilitate food absorption and lowering stress hormone levels, resulting in improved immune system functioning. A report by the Families and Work Institute states that the vast majority of connections between brain cells are formed during the first three years of life. The report concludes that loving interaction such as massage can directly affect a child’s emotional development and ability to handle stress as an adult.

Loving skin contact and massage benefit mothers and fathers as well. In addition, research has shown that mothers whose pregnancies were filled with chronic stress often have babies who cry more and for longer periods than those whose pregnancies were peaceful and supported.
Men who make the effort to bond with their infants by giving the mother loving massages, talking and singing to the baby, feeling its movements in their partner’s belly, attending classes with their partner, and reading up on infant development and psychology tend to be more attentive and accomplished fathers.

THE NEUROSCIENCE OF CALMING A BABY

Research published in the journal Current Biology shows that infants experience an automatic calming reaction when they are being carried, whether they are mouse pups or human babies.

Kumi Kuroda of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Saitama, Japan says, “From humans to mice, mammalian infants become calm and relaxed when they are carried by their mother.”

Being held in a mother’s arms is the safest place for a baby to be, and the mother can have peace of mind knowing her baby is happy, content, and relaxed. The fact that babies are neurobiologically wired to stop crying when carried is a part of our evolutionary biology that helps our species survive.

This study is the first to show that the infant calming response to carrying is a coordinated set of central, motor, and cardiac regulations that is an evolutionarily preserved aspect of mother-infant interactions. It also helps to have a scientific explanation for the frustration many new parents struggle with — a calm and relaxed infant will often begin crying immediately when he or she is put down.

With my babies, swaddling them created a compact posture and a sense of security that triggered a relaxation response when they were put back down. After massaging them every day for a few weeks, using “Touch Relaxation” (a conditioned response), massage time was another way they relaxed, and their sleep was sooner and more deeply than before.

Kuroda and colleagues determined that the calming response is mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system and a region of the brain called the cerebellum (Latin: little brain). The researchers found that the calming response was dependent on tactile inputs and proprioception. Proprioception is the ability to sense and understand body movements and keep track of your body’s position in space. They also found that the parasympathetic nervous system helped lower heart rate as part of mediating the coordinated response to being carried.

Both human and mouse babies usually calm down and stop moving after they are carried, and mouse pups stop emitting ultrasonic cries.

The idea that the familiar calming dynamic was also playing out in mice occurred to Kuroda one day when she was cleaning the cages of her mouse colony in the laboratory. She says, “When I picked the pups up at the back skin very softly and swiftly as mouse mothers did, they immediately stopped moving and became compact. They appeared relaxed, but not totally floppy, and kept the limbs flexed. This calming response in mice appeared similar to me to soothing by carrying in human babies.”

The cerebellum is always on guard to protect your body from danger and prepare you for ‘fight-or-flight’ by keeping track of everything going on in your environment. Scientists have known for years that the cerebellum is directly linked to a feedback loop with the vagus nerve which keeps heart rate slow and gives you grace under pressure. As adults, we can calm ourselves by practicing mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation which puts the cerebellum at peace and creates a parasympathetic response of well being. This appears to be the same response that occurs in infants when they are being carried.

The only time during the day that the cerebellum is allowed to let down its guard and go offline is during REM sleep when your body is paralyzed to prevent you from acting out your dreams. It makes sense that being picked up and carried would send automatic signals that allow the cerebellum to relax and create healthy vagal tone which would lower heart rates in infants.

The researchers believe that these findings could have broad implications for parenting and contribute to preventing child abuse. “This infant response reduces the maternal burden of carrying and is beneficial for both the mother and the infant,” explains Kuroda. She goes on to say, “Such proper understanding of infants would reduce the frustration of parents and be beneficial because unsoothable crying is a major risk factor for child abuse.”

“A scientific understanding of this infant response will save parents from misreading the restart of crying as the intention of the infant to control the parents, as some parenting theories—such as the ‘cry it out’ type of strategy—suggest,” Kuroda says. “Rather, this phenomenon should be interpreted as a natural consequence of the infant sensorimotor systems.” If parents understand that properly, perhaps they will be less frustrated by the crying, Kuroda says. And that puts those children at lower risk of abuse.

 

INFANT MASSAGE: A HANDBOOK FOR LOVING PARENTS – NEW EDITION!

I am happy to announce that the new updated, expanded edition of Infant Massage: a Handbook for Loving Parents has been released by Random House. It is available on Amazon.com and from most bookstores.

CHAPTERS:

  1. Why Massage Your Baby?

  2. Your Baby’s Sensory World

  3. The Importance of Skin Stimulation

  4. Stress and Relaxation

  5. Bonding, Attachment, and Infant Massage

  6. The Elements of Bonding

  7. Attachment and the Benefits of Infant Massage

  8. Especially for Fathers

  9. Helping your Baby (and you) Learn to Relax

  10. Your Baby’s Brain

  11. Music and Massage

  12. Getting Ready

  13. How to Massage Your Baby

  14. Crying, Fussing, and Other Baby Language (including cues, reflexes and behavioral states

  15. Minor Illness and Colic

  16. Your Premature Baby

  17. Your Baby with Special Needs

  18. Your Growing Child and Sibling Bonding through Infant Massage

  19. Your Adopted or Foster Children

  20. A Note to Teen Parents

BACK MATTER INCLUDES:

References and Recommendations

Resources

Author Bio

The Importance of Skin Stimulation for Babies

Skin Stimulation Is Important for Mammals

Skin sensitivity is the earliest-developed and most fundamental functions of the body. Nurturing stimulation of the skin is, in fact, essential for adequate organic and psychological development, both for animals and for human beings. When asked what he thought of infant massage, anthropologist Ashley Montagu commented, “People don’t realize that communication for a baby, the first communications it receives and the first language of its development, is through the skin. If only most people had realized this they would have all along given babies the kind of skin stimulation they require.”

Behaviorally, mammals tend to fall into “cache” and “carry” types. The caching species leave their young for long periods while the mother gathers food. The infants must remain silent during those times so as not to attract predators, so they do not cry. For the same reason, they do not urinate unless stimulated by the mother. In addition, the young have internal mechanisms that control their body temperature. The mother’s milk is extremely high in protein and fat, and the infants suckle at a very fast rate.

In contrast, the carrying species maintain continuous contact with their infants and feed often. The babies suckle slowly, urinate often, cry when distressed or out of contact with the parent, and need the parent to keep them warm. The mother’s milk content is low in protein and fat, so infants need to suckle often. Humans are designed like the carrying species; in fact, human milk is identical in protein and fat content to that of the anthropoid apes, which are carrying species. Our infants need to be in close physical contact with us as much as possible.

No Colicky Kittens!

Physically, massage acts in much the same way in humans as licking does in animals. Animals lick their young and maintain close skin contact. Animal babies that are not licked, caressed, and permitted to cling in infancy grow up scrawny and more vulnerable to stress. They tend to fight with one another and to abuse and neglect their own young. Licking serves to stimulate the physiological systems and to bond the young with the mother. A mother cat spends more than 50 percent of her time licking her babies—and you will never see a colicky kitten! Without the kind of stimulation that helps their gastrointestinal system begin to function properly, newborn kittens die.

Scientists have seen behavior and responses in animals that parallel the growth and development of our own young, and these parallels are truly fascinating. In animals, the genitourinary tract will not function without the stimulation of frequent licking. Even the number of times a mother licks her young and the amount of time spent in each area are genetically determined.

Animals Benefit with Higher Immunity

When the infant mammal receives early skin stimulation, there is a highly beneficial influence on the immunological system. In one experiment, rats that were gently handled in infancy had a higher serum antibody standard in every case. More simply stated, these animals had a much greater ability to resist disease.

Equally important for our purposes was the behavior of these gentled rats. As Ashley Montagu wrote in Touching:
When handled, the gentled animals were relaxed and yielding. They were not easily frightened. . . . The researcher who had raised them . . . did so under conditions in which they were frequently handled, stroked, and had kindly sounds uttered to them, and they responded with fearlessness, friendliness, and a complete lack of neuromuscular tension or irritability. The exact opposite was true of the ungentled rats, who had received no attention whatever from human beings . . . these animals were frightened and bewildered, anxious and tense.

Among other important findings, rats that were gently handled for three weeks after weaning showed a faster weight gain than other rats under the same conditions, and those that were handled gently were physically much more resistant to the harmful effects of stress and deprivation.

In one study, rats with their thyroid and parathyroid glands (endocrine glands that regulate the immune system) removed responded remarkably to massage. In the experimental group, the rats were gently massaged and spoken to several times a day. They were relaxed, yielding, and not easily frightened, and their nervous systems remained stable. The control rats, which did not receive this type of care, were nervous, fearful, irritable, and enraged; they died within forty-eight hours. Another study with rats showed a higher immunity to disease, faster weight gain, and better neurological development among those that had been gently stroked in infancy.

Moving up the animal scale, dogs, horses, cows, dolphins, and many other animals have also shown remarkable differences when lovingly handled in infancy. The touch of the human hand improved the function of virtually all of the sustaining systems (respiratory, circulatory, digestive, eliminative, nervous, and endocrine) and increased “touchability,” gentleness, friendliness, and fearlessness. Writes Ashley Montagu: “The more we learn about the effects of cutaneous [skin] stimulation, the more pervasively significant for healthy development do we find it to be.”

Harry Harlow’s famous monkey experiments were the first to show that for infants, contact comfort is even more important than food. Infant monkeys were given the choice of a wire mother figure that provided food or a soft terry-cloth figure that did not provide food chose the terry-cloth mother figure. Human infants with failure-to-thrive syndrome exhibit the same type of behavior: though given all the food they need, they continue to deteriorate if they receive no intervention that involves emotional nurturing, contact comfort, and care.

In nearly every bird and mammal studied, close physical contact has been found to be essential both to the infant’s healthy survival and to the mother’s ability to nurture. In the previously mentioned studies with rats, if pregnant females were restrained from licking themselves (a form of self-massage), their mothering activities were substantially diminished. Additionally, when pregnant female animals were gently stroked every day, their offspring showed higher weight gain and reduced excitability, and the mothers showed greater interest in their offspring, with a more abundant and richer milk supply.

Skin Stimulation Is Important for Human Babies

Evidence supports the same conclusions for humans. Touching and handling her baby assists the new mother in milk production by helping stimulate secretion of prolactin, the “mothering hormone.” The process begun at the embryonic stage thus continues, allowing a natural unfolding of the baby’s potential within the safe and loving arms of his mother.
Nurturing stimulation of the skin—handling, cuddling, rocking, and massage—increases cardiac functions of the human infant. Massage stimulates the respiratory, circulatory, and gastrointestinal systems—benefits especially appreciated by the “colicky” baby and his parents.

A baby’s first experience with the surrounding environment occurs through touch, developing prenatally as early as sixteen weeks. Nature begins the massage before the baby is born. As opposed to the extremely short labors of most other animals, it has been suggested that a human mother’s extended labor helps make up for the lack of postpartum licking performed by other mammal mothers. For the human infant, the contractions of labor provide some of the same types of preparation for the functioning of his internal systems as early licking of the newborn does for other mammals.

Touch impacts short-term development during infancy and early childhood, and it has long-term effects as well. Through this contact, newborns are able to learn about their world, bond with their parents, and communicate their needs and wants. Eighty percent of a baby’s communication is expressed through body movement. When parents engage in appropriate touch, young children have an improved chance to successfully develop socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Infants who experience more physical contact with parents demonstrate increased mental development in the first six months of life compared to young children who receive limited physical interaction. This improved cognitive development has been shown to last even after eight years, illustrating the importance of positive interactions. Infants who receive above-average levels of affection from their parents are shown to be less likely to be hostile, anxious, or emotionally distressed as adults.

Studies with premature babies using techniques similar to those taught in this book have demonstrated that daily massage is of tremendous benefit. Research projects at the University of Miami Medical Center, headed up by the Touch Research Institute’s founder, Dr. Tiffany Field, have shown remarkable results. In one study, twenty premature babies were massaged three times a day for fifteen minutes each time. They averaged 47 percent greater weight gain per day, were more active and alert, and showed more mature neurological development than infants who did not receive massage. In addition, their hospital stay averaged six days less. After many years of study and observation, the International Association of Infant Massage has established guidelines for using massage and holding techniques with premature babies.

Dallas psychologist Ruth Rice conducted a study with thirty premature babies after they had left the hospital. She divided them into two groups. The mothers in the control group were instructed in usual newborn care, while those in the experimental group were taught a daily massage and rocking regime. At four months of age, the babies who had been massaged were ahead in both neurological development and weight gain.

The natural sensory stimulation of massage speeds myelination of the nerves in the brain and the nervous system. The myelin sheath is a fatty covering around each nerve, like insulation around electrical wire. It protects the nervous system and speeds the transmission of impulses from the brain to the rest of the body. The process of coating the nerves is not complete at birth, but skin stimulation hastens the process, thus enhancing rapid neural-cell firing and improving brain-body communication.

In 1978 transcutaneous oxygen monitoring was developed, which enabled physicians to measure oxygen tension in the body through an electrode on the skin. It was discovered that hospitalized infants experienced tremendous upheavals in oxygen levels when subjected to stress. Touch Relaxation, holding techniques, and massage (as covered in my book Infant Massage: a Handbook for Loving Parents) have been found to mitigate these fluctuations, and these methods are being used in hospitals routinely now to help infants maintain a steady state through the stresses of diaper changes, heel sticks, and other intrusions.

New research demonstrates similar results every day, confirming what age-old tradition has told us: infants need loving touch. Lawrence Schachner, M.D., a professor in the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami School of Medicine, advises that touch can benefit babies with skin disorders such as eczema. “It may furthermore improve parent-baby interaction,” he says. Dr. Tiffany Field concurs. She notes that loving touch triggers physiological changes that help infants grow and develop, stimulating nerves in the brain that facilitate food absorption and lowering stress hormone levels, resulting in improved immune system functioning. A report by the Families and Work Institute states that the vast majority of connections between brain cells are formed during the first three years of life. The report concludes that loving interaction such as massage can directly affect a child’s emotional development and ability to handle stress as an adult.

Loving skin contact and massage benefit mothers and fathers as well. In addition, research has shown that mothers whose pregnancies were filled with chronic stress often have babies who cry more and for longer periods than those whose pregnancies were peaceful and supported.
Men who make the effort to bond with their infants by giving the mother loving massages, talking and singing to the baby, feeling its movements in their partner’s belly, attending classes with their partner, and reading up on infant development and psychology tend to be more attentive and accomplished fathers.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SKIN STIMULATION FOR HUMAN BABIES

Mothers who have meaningful skin contact during pregnancy and labor tend to have easier labors and are more responsive to their infants. Touching and handling her baby assists the new mother in milk production by aiding in the secretion of prolactin, the “mothering hormone.” By regularly massaging her baby, the mother not only sets up a cycle of healthy responses which improves her mothering abilities day by day, but also enhances her baby’s well-being, his disposition, and the relationship between the two of them. The process begun at the embryonic stage thus continues, allowing a natural unfolding of the baby’s potential within the safe and loving arms of his mother.

Nurturing stimulation of the skin—handling, cuddling, rocking and massage—increases cardiac functions of the human infant; massage stimulates the respiratory, circulatory, and gastrointestinal systems—benefits especially appreciated by the “colicky” baby and his parents.

A baby’s first experience with the surrounding environment occurs through touch, developing prenatally as early as 16 weeks. Nature begins the massage before the baby is born. As opposed to the extremely short labors of most other animals, it has been suggested that a human mother’s extended labor helps make up for the lack of postpartum licking performed by other mammal mothers. For the human infant, the contractions of labor provide some of the same type of preparation for the functioning of his internal systems as early licking of the newborn does for other mammals.

Touch impacts short-term development during infancy and early childhood, and has long-term effects. Through this contact, newborns are able to learn about their world, bond with their parents, and communicate their needs and wants. Eighty percent of a baby’s communication is expressed through body movement. When parents engage in appropriate touch, young children have an improved chance to successfully develop socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Infants who experience more physical contact with parents demonstrate increased mental development in the first six months of life compared to young children who receive limited physical interaction. This improved cognitive development has been shown to last even after eight years, illustrating the importance of positive interactions. Infants who receive above-average levels of affection from their parents are shown to be less likely to be hostile, anxious, or emotionally distressed as adults.

Studies with premature babies using techniques similar to those taught in this book have demonstrated that daily massage is of tremendous benefit. Research projects at the University of Miami Medical Center, headed up by the Touch Research Institute’s founder, Dr. Tiffany Field, have shown remarkable results. In one study, twenty premature babies were massaged three times a day for fifteen minutes each. They averaged forty-seven percent greater weight gain per day, were more active and alert, and showed more mature neurological development than infants who did not receive massage. In addition, their hospital stay averaged six days less. After many years of study and observation, the International Association of Infant Massage has established guidelines for using massage and holding techniques with premature babies.

Dallas psychologist Ruth Rice conducted a study with thirty premature babies after they had left the hospital. She divided them into two groups. The mothers in the control group were instructed in usual newborn care, while those in the experimental group were taught a daily massage and rocking regime. At four months of age, the babies who had been massaged were ahead in both neurological development and weight gain.

The natural sensory stimulation of massage speeds myelination of the brain and the nervous system. The myelin sheath is a fatty covering around each nerve, like insulation around electric wire. It protects the nervous system and speeds the transmission of impulses from the brain to the rest of the body. The process of coating the nerves is not complete at birth, but skin stimulation speeds the process, thus enhancing rapid neural-cell firing and improving brain-body communication.

In 1978 transcutaneous oxygen monitoring was developed, which enabled physicians to measure oxygen tension in the body through an electrode on the skin. It was discovered that hospitalized infants experienced tremendous upheavals in oxygen levels when subjected to stress. Touch Relaxation, holding techniques and massage have been found to mitigate these fluctuations, and these methods are being used in hospitals routinely now to help infants maintain a steady state through the stresses of diaper changes, heel sticks, and other intrusions.

New research demonstrates similar results every day, confirming what age-old tradition has told us: infants need loving touch. Lawrence Schachner, M.D., a professor at the department of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at the University of Miami School of Medicine, advises that touch can benefit babies with skin disorders such as eczema. “It may furthermore improve parent-baby interaction,” he says. Dr. Tiffany Field concurs. She notes that loving touch triggers physiological changes that help infants grow and develop, stimulating nerves in the brain that facilitate food absorption and lowering stress hormone levels, resulting in improved immune system functioning. A report by the Families and Work Institutes states that during the first three years of life, the vast majority of connections between brain cells are formed. They conclude that loving interaction such as massage can directly affect a child’s emotional development and ability to handle stress as an adult.

Loving skin contact and massage benefits mothers and fathers as well. Mothers who have meaningful skin contact during pregnancy and labor tend to have easier labors and are more responsive to their infants. In addition, research has shown that mothers whose pregnancies were filled with chronic stress often have babies who cry more and for longer periods than those whose pregnancies were peaceful and supported.

Fathers who make the effort to bond with their infants by giving the mother loving massages, talking and singing to the baby, feeling its movements in his partner’s belly, attending classes with their partner, and reading up on infant development and psychology, and massaging their infants, tend to be more attentive and accomplished fathers. By regularly massaging your baby (and getting some loving massages yourself during pregnancy), you set up a cycle of healthy responses that improve your mothering skills day by day and enhance your baby’s well-being, disposition, and the relationship between all three of you.