growing up: baby

The Power of Touch

Your guide to the ages and stages of development

As your infant makes the transition from the comforts of your womb to a world filled with new sights, sounds and stresses, your touch holds a special power to calm her and make her feel secure. Research has proven that babies who receive close physical contact from their parents are soothed more effectively and learn to be independent earlier. "Skin cells offer a direct path into the deep reservoir of emotion we metaphorically call the human heart," says Dr. Paul Brand, co-author of Fearfully and Wonderfully Made (Zondervan).

While you provide this touch connection every time you feed, change, dress, bathe and cuddle your baby, you can boost the impact of your touch using simple massage techniques. Massage does more than just feel good to your baby. It actually relieves tension and helps infants fall asleep more easily. Research has found that massage during the first year of your baby's life provides many additional benefits: greater weight gain, enhanced circulatory, digestive and immune system function, and a decrease in stress hormone levels.

University of Miami researchers have found that premature babies who were massaged had a 47 percent increase in weight gain and went home an average of six days earlier than infants who were not massaged. At 8 months of age, these babies were also better able to calm themselves and continued to show better weight gain and intellectual and motor development compared to babies who didn't receive the massages.

You don't need extensive training to provide the benefits of massage to your baby. Just follow these simple ideas:

Start simple. Softly stroke your baby's tummy, back, arms and legs, using slow, deliberate movements.

Follow your baby's lead. He'll let you know what he likes and dislikes. Some infants respond best to quick strokes and kisses and others prefer a longer, slower caress. Still others seem to like softer, lighter touches. Pay attention to your own child's reactions to your touch and you'll soon learn his preferences.

Maintain eye contact. Look at your baby and talk to her quietly during the massage.

Set a time limit. Ten to twenty minutes is adequate.

As you spend time touching and caressing your baby, you'll be developing bonds that will last a lifetime.

?Debra Evans
Health writer and mother of four

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