Why is skin-to-skin contact important for your baby’s development?
Physical contact between infants and their primary caregivers increases a child’s chance of survival at its most basic level. Skin-to-skin contact has long offered protection against threats and harsh environmental conditions; however, the benefits of physical contact don’t end there. Read on to learn more from Rachel Samson, Clinical Psychologist.
Above: Stacey Keillah with Jaiya in the CONNECT Plus
Skin-to-skin contact and affectionate touch (e.g. stroking, rhythmic touching, holding, kissing) are essential factors in infants’ and young children’s social, emotional, physical, and neurological development.
In traditional hunter-gatherer communities, infants are carried over 50% of the time and spend a significant amount of time in their mother’s lap. Similarly, many animals are in almost constant physical contact with their mothers during infancy.
Kangaroo joeys remain in their mother’s pouch for the first six-eight months of their lives. Similarly, koalas carry their joeys in their pouch until they are seven months old.
It’s no coincidence that specific interventions designed to improve the health and development of premature babies with skin-to-skin contact have been named ‘Kangaroo care’.
Healthy brain development
The first few weeks and months of an infant’s life represent a critical period for brain development. During this time, there is an interplay between nature and nurture where the infant’s social experiences shape the development of their brain structures.
Mother-infant touch activates specific neuronal connections necessary for developing the child’s brain, including the prefrontal cortex: the part of the brain responsible for the organisation of behaviour and cognitive activities.
Touch can significantly shape the “social brain”: the neural networks supporting children’s social development. In the words of social scientist Ashley Montagu (1986), “where touching begins, their love and humanity also begins”.
Healthy parent-child attachment relationships
Research has demonstrated that touch through infant carrying promotes the development of healthy parent-child attachment relationships.
Infants carried close to their mother’s chest in the early months tend to be more secure in their relationships. Children with a secure attachment have learnt to trust that their caregiver will be available for comfort and protection in times of stress.
Secure attachment is vital for social and emotional functioning in childhood and across the lifespan.
Optimal physical health and growth
Affectionate touch in infancy has been found to promote normal growth, healthy physical development, and optimal immune system function. Caregiver nurturance can interact with the endocrine system, influencing physical growth, cognitive development, and social functioning.
Emotion regulation and stress reduction
Skin-to-skin contact is important for co-regulating infant emotion and reducing infant stress. Research has found that affectionate touch and holding is associated with improved sleep, reduced crying, and reduced physiological reactivity to stress. This means lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
In the longer-term, touch and holding may contribute to greater physiological resilience and an increased capacity for coping with daily stressors throughout life.
Redsbaby CONNECT Collection
The CONNECT Collection is thoughtfully crafted to nurture a true connection between parent and child.
Each product is designed in Australia for our unique way of life and to enrich your family journey. With the CONNECT Plus and CONNECT Carrier you are able to have direct skin-to-skin contact with your baby. Market-first CONNECT Pockets allow you to cradle your baby directly with your hands. This intimate connection deepens your bond with your child as you nurture them with direct skin-to-skin contact. Head here to shop now.
About the author
Rachel is a clinical psychologist with a particular interest in the issues that affect the mental health and emotional wellbeing of young women. Rachel is also experienced in the application of attachment theory to clinical practice and is trained in attachment-focused interventions. She held a senior psychologist position with the Government of South Australia, Specialist Child and Youth Service where she provided home-based intensive family intervention for children and families with complex needs. See here for her website and here for her Instagram.