We have long known the benefits of holding, touch, and skin-to-skin care with infants -- it improves baby's immune system, regulates temperature, promotes calm and sleep, and is essential for development and growth. Now, new research from scientists at the the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute shows that how much babies are held and touched actually affects their DNA. Babies who had less physical contact had cells that were immature for their age, which could result in delays in development and growth as the babies grow.
Given the importance of physical contact with infants and babies, it may help you to create routines and intentional practices that ensure your baby is getting enough touch and physical engagement throughout the day. As we go through these tips, it's important to note that touting the benefits of skin-to-skin care or holding baby does not mean that we advise to hold your baby round the clock. It's important for parents to get regular breaks for their own routine care and well being.
Skin to skin after bath/changing - Make it a regular practice to bring baby skin to skin (your bare chest to baby's) after a bath or in between changing diapers and outfits. Keep baby undressed down to her diaper and snuggle her to your chest. Be sure to cover baby's backside with a blanket to keep her warm.
Using an infant carrier or wrap - With the help of an infant-safe baby carrier or wrap, you can "hold" baby close to you for longer periods of time while still enabling you to get other things done.
Infant massage - Infant massage can be a great way to spend quality and purposeful time with your child, and of course, pass along the benefits of touch. To learn how to do it properly, you can take a class, pick up a book on infant massage, or gather tips and instructions from infant massage resources online.
Limit time in a swing or bouncy seat - It can be tempting to let baby sit in a swing or bouncy seat for a longer period of time -- especially if they're asleep or otherwise content. And of course, these tools are important to give parents a break from holding baby 24/7! That said, it's important to limit the amount of time spent in infant seats/swings in order to provide baby with adequate amount of touch/holding and bodily movement.
Get in on "tummy time" - If you're in the habit of incorporating "tummy time" with your child, you can do double duty by making tummy time part of your time holding baby. To do this, you will find a comfortable spot on the floor to lay on your back, then place baby on you, chest to chest, while you watch carefully to make sure he doesn't roll off to one side. This can be a fun way to engage baby through eye contact and facial interaction, while providing the benefits of touch and physical development.
Incorporating touch through play - The benefits of touch also come from things like playtime with your baby. What play looks like will change according to your child's development, but you can play with your infant by holding and/or kissing her hands and feet; playing simple pat-a-cake; allowing her to feel toys and items with different textures; and kissing or blowing raspberries on her tummy. As with any child play, be on the lookout for over stimulation, which a baby will show by looking away, getting fussy, or crying.