When a baby is gently touched, special nerve cells in the skin (called C-Afferents) become active. These cells signal the baby’s brain to calm their breathing, heart rate and emotion. This also helps the baby make sense of other people’s voice and face: in turn, shaping their sense of security. The baby’s brain also responds to touch by increasing the flow of the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin.
Researchers (and more researchers) increasingly believe this cascade of hormones and calming responses provide the key to unlocking the brain’s capacity to develop social skills, empathy, attention and future resilience against stress and trauma.
Early interactions involving touch have a life-long impact on us all: improving behaviour and mental health at primary school age. Early affectionate responses can help reduce rates of mental illness by up to 50%, and increase mental well-being and resilience, healthy relationships and life-satisfaction in adulthood. And it is these connections that are the single greatest predictors for a long-life and healthy old-age (more about that here, and here).
There is, however, a small catch.
Touch – just on its own is not enough to support these outcomes. Touch is most effective, when it is adapted and used in response to the emotional needs and feelings of each individual baby.
For some parents and babies, this early affectionate relationship comes easily , and is built without conscious effort. But researchers estimate that anywhere between 13% and 20% of all babies miss out on the interactions important in infancy, to such an extent it impacts on their early development.
However, affectionate, responsive, high-touch interactions can be easily supported. Simply increasing responsive affection for babies most at risk, may dramatically improve outcomes…even when other barriers cannot be removed. For example, the impact of increased affection on babies is so powerful, research (and more research) has shown it can eliminate the toxic effects of poverty on early brain development, within a single generation. It can buffer babies against the developmental challenges of parental postnatal depression. And it can even change the activity of our genes.
Despite overwhelming evidence, governments still provide no systematic funding to support touch education for new parents – particularly for those who would benefit the most. Baby in Mind is the only Australian charity working to change this.
We provide and fund the only accredited training available to health and early childhood workers in high-quality touch education and promotion skills. High quality touch education is simple, fun and effective… and is accessible to all families.
- attending a group program with a trained facilitator,
- making a donation to support our work,
- or even training with us, to provide direct support to parents and babies in their early interactions,
you’ll become part of a movement ensuring the future becomes a stronger, kinder and safer place for all our children.
Baby in Mind is a registered children’s charity based in Australia.