A Touch Today for a Better Tomorrow

Beginning in the womb, your child becomes used to your touch. The swishing of the amniotic fluid and your gentle movements sway your child toward the warmth of your body. This need to be touched by the infant never ceases and, if anything, becomes stronger once you give birth to your child.

After birth, mother-child bonding time is crucial. Unfortunately, some hospitals whisk baby away immediately after birth and the time is hectic rather that quiet. The good news is that baby bonding does not rely just on the first moments after birth, and in fact, it continues into adulthood.

According to Sharon Heller's book The Vital Touch, newborns will seek comfort in their mother immediately. "The human infant arrives hard-wired to seek contact with the mother. Take the newborn's primitive reflexes. First, there is cuddling. When picked up and held, newborns mold their arms and legs into the cavity of our arms. Next there is clinging, the apparent purpose of which is to grasp mother and maintain contact."

Even body temperature and digestion can all be easily regulated by touch. Simply by holding your baby, caressing, and co-sleeping, your newborn will ease right into its new human ways because your body is already regulating temperatures for the both of you. During co-sleeping, the mother's temperature fluctuates to accommodate baby and vice versa. If your infant is cold while in your arms, your temperature will rise to make baby warmer. Nature designed mothers and infants act as one, especially in the first few weeks of life.

According to Heller, "Massaged babies often show greater weight gain, and fewer postnatal complications. They are more social, more alert, less fussy and restless, sleep better, and have smoother movements."  Mothers who use gentle, constant touching will soothe baby more than any pacifier ever could. Infants are constantly looking to be touched, massaged, and cuddled.

Using gentle touch techniques with your baby helps to ensure that you will also learn your baby and become fluent in their language. When your infant cries, you will know what they want almost immediately and are able to soothe their crying after a short period of time. Maternal instinct and gentle touch go hand in hand. The better you know your child, the better off the both of you will be. Don't mistrust your motherly instincts, hone in on them. No one in this world knows your child better than you -- never forget that. Heed the advice of the pediatrician, but don't be afraid to speak up and second guess doctor's advice. Every child is different and what's good for one, doesn't necessarily mean it's good for all. Getting to know your child during infancy will help with any problems that arise later.

Heller states, "The arms of the sensitive mother invite. Then the world looms too large, too loud, too bright, too cold, the infant knows that she will be enveloped in a warm protective embrace. This gives the baby a clear message: 'You are safe. You are loved. You are loveable.' And so the infant relaxes, secure against the world."

Even now as adults we can look back on our own childhood and understand where our caregivers went right or wrong when it came to motherly love and gentle touching. Our mother's love affects us from infancy into adulthood and beyond. It's not only the tie that binds, it's also the basis on which we form opinions of ourselves and others. A mother that knows her child and caters to their needs will most likely end up with a well-rounded and courageous individual. A mother's influence, touch, and protection provides us with roots as well as wings and shouldn't, by any means, be taken lightly.

Practicing Attachment Parenting not only nourishes you and your baby's needs physically, but emotionally as well. With your baby so close to you, there's no question whether he is safe, hungry, or uncomfortable. While co-sleeping, both of you get longer stretches of undisturbed sleep as well as helping to create the unbreakable mother-child bond. This utter closeness helps encourage mothers to tap into their infant's needs, and also reassures baby that their mother is never far away, thus allowing for babies' mental state to remain calm.

An article entitled "The Breastfeeding, Co-sleeping Connection" from Babiestoday.com, states that "Human children are designed to be sleeping with their parents," says Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D., an associate professor of anthropology and nutrition at Texas A & M University. "The sense of touch is the most important sense to primates. The expected pattern is for mother and child to sleep together and for the child to be able to nurse whenever they want during the night."  The article also discusses Dr. James McKenna, professor of anthropology and director of the Mother-and-Baby Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, IN, who pioneered the first behavioral and electro-physiological studies documenting differences between mothers and infants sleeping together and apart (in different rooms). Dr. McKenna is known worldwide for his work in promoting studies of breastfeeding and mother-infant co-sleeping. McKenna explains, "First and foremost, co-sleeping is beneficial because it is what mothers and babies are supposed to do !! what they have been biologically designed to do !! as maternal proximity is expected by the baby's body. Clinically, from scientific studies, a co-sleeping baby sleeps longer, cries less, breastfeeds more, sleeps more lightly (in stages 1 and 2) and spends less time in a more mature stage of sleep."

Using, exploring, and learning gentle touch and co-sleeping techniques with your baby will undoubtedly bring the whole family closer. Parents will learn to respond to their baby's needs with a sensitive and nurturching touch, and baby will feel loved and protected.  To know that their needs will never go unmet instills a sense of reassurance in children that is unparalleled in any other environment. Gentle touch gives our children the courage to grow, explore, and consume all that the world has to offer. How we respond to them now forms the basis for their later relationships and in turn how they will parent their own children.

Sources:  Heller, Sharon "The Vital Touch" Henry Holt and Company. New York. 1997. 

Babiestoday.com http://www.babiestoday.com/articles/breastfeeding/the-breastfeeding-co-sleeping-connection-2682/

Visit Giving Birth with Confidence all next week, August 9-14, for a week-full of giveaways! We'll be giving away a different infant or maternity item every day, Monday through Saturday!

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