Touch, Skin-To-Skin Contact In Premature Babies Help Shape Brains, Study Says

By Amanda Moore, Parent Herald March 20, 04:00 am
Experts saw that premature babies have improved brain responses following touch therapy or skin-to-skin contact.
(Photo : China Photos/Getty Images)

It's beneficial for premature babies to be held and touched gently for long periods. A study saw that touch therapy or skin-to-skin contact has long-lasting effects in preterm infants.

Babies who were born prematurely fail to develop sensory experiences due to incomplete gestation. Experts learned that their brain responses to touch were different from babies who have completed the pregnancy term. The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.

Experts looked into babies at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio. Some of these infants were born during the 24th or 36th week of pregnancy, while the others were born on full term or from 38 to 42 weeks. Some of the babies also underwent painful procedures like surgery.

The babies were gently held as the experts measured the brain responses. Researchers saw that premature babies had fewer brain responses to touch in the beginning.

The lack of response was even more evident among babies who have had procedures. This response, however, grew stronger when a parent or healthcare worker initiated more touch therapy and spent more time with the preemies.

Why is touch therapy crucial in babies though? Study co-author Nathalie Maitre cited previous studies have shown that lack of response to sensation affected a baby's physical and cognitive development. "We wanted to study the importance of responses to touch because it is one of the earliest senses to functionally develop in human infants," she said, as per Research Gate.

"Touch is a critical building block of infant learning," Maitre further said. "It helps infants learn how to move, discover the world around them, and how to communicate." Before babies develop visual and verbal skills, they learn about their environment through touch, hence it's clear why this is crucial.

Maitre said for as long as the babies have regular skin-to-skin touch, and not necessarily holding the baby in one's arms, it already helps. "It's important to know that [parents] are making a tremendous difference every time you touch your baby," she said.

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