Physical contact for babies is as essential to their well-being and development as feeding. It is not for nothing that we have millions of neural connections in the skin, which is the largest organ in the body. Science supports this statement and several studies carried out in orphanages and children’s hospitals conclude it. For example, the American physician Fritz Talbot discovered in an investigation carried out before World War I in Germany that, in a reception center for orphans, mortality was very low because a nurse held the children in her arms for many hours, thus increasing their chances of survive. Another more recent study, prepared in 2020 by Italian and English researchersconcluded that affective contact is effective in reducing babies’ responses to stress, promotes their physical and neurocognitive development, and modulates their physiological state.
And it is that people need to feel other skins from birth. “Being touched, caressed, hugged, cradled, kissed is an essential part of human survival, marked by the sense of touch,” says Montserrat Díaz, a neuropsychologist at the San Lorenzo Comprehensive Center in San Lorenzo de El Escorial. The baby’s crying calms down when he is rocked in his arms: “We like that they touch our skin and, also, that they do it in a sweet, attentive and warm way.”
Everyday life offers a multitude of possibilities to nourish children’s need for contact such as hugging, rocking, kissing, giving a bottle on the lap, dressing, bathing, changing a diaper, massaging or holding. “All this implies direct contact with the baby or minor, which stimulates their sense of touch. But, for it to be effective, it needs to be done with attention, gentleness and dedication, since it has a great influence on the healthy and harmonious development of children”, affirms the neuropsychologist. According to Díaz, human beings are prepared and programmed to receive stimulation from the world through touch: “The absence of this physical contact can cause a slowdown in the growth and anatomical development of the brain in children.”
Another way to promote well-being through contact with the skin, especially in babies, are massages. With its practice, the stress of the parents and of course the child is reduced: “In addition, it influences a greater weight gain and improves the quantity and quality of sleep. In the case of premature newborns It has been proven that they improve your immune system, facilitate digestion and increase the presence of hormones that promote health, such as oxytocin, serotonin or dopamine”.
Hugs and caresses have no contraindications
Are children spoiled by an abundance of pampering? For Erika Jiménez, neuropediatrician at the King Juan Carlos Móstoles Hospital in Madrid, this question is an outdated belief that has been refuted: “Cassing and kissing them causes the release of hormones, such as oxytocin and endorphins, which produce happiness, well-being and generate relaxation and tranquility.” In this way, and as Jiménez explains, in the future they will be more confident and courageous adults, with good self-esteem, will suffer less physical ailments and will have a healthy immune system: “The more difficult a child is, the more love, caresses and kisses he needs, because, without a doubt, there is no contraindication”.
In fact, there is a specific method for premature babies, called the kangaroo or skin-to-skin method, which began to be applied in Colombia in 1978 as a strategy against the lack of incubators in hospitals: “It was found to be beneficial for newborns because it helps them regulate body temperature; to feed them with mother’s milk for longer and to sleep better”, clarifies this expert.
The importance of physical contact at any age
Experiencing the sense of touch is essential from birth, but also at any age. This facilitates “a deeper and more honest emotional communication,” explains Gonzalo De Casso, a psychologist at the Nudos Center, a psychotherapy office and school for parents. “For example, there are people with a high degree of dementia and incapable of understanding and developing a coherent verbal discourse who are sensitive to displays of affection through caressing or body contact,” he adds.
For this expert, the language of body contact is universal and easy for children to understand: “They need to be loved, although each one is different and develops a different personality, preferences and relationship style”. In this sense, as he explains, the Touch is essential for human development, especially at the beginning of life, because it is our main resource for establishing contact with the world.