A Tender Touch  – By: Alexis Flores – November 17, 2013

infant-touch_1Touch is an important part of your newborns development. It is the first way that mothers are able to communicate with their babies. In fact touch has been scientifically linked to providing healthy physical and emotional development for your child. However, what if you don’t give your infant enough physical touch, or lets say you are adopting a baby and the child did not receive adequate physical contact, such as touch and skin to skin contact. Is there a way for this child to regain back some of the crucial developmental skills gained from early infant touch?

In a article from Scientific American magazine, How important is physical contact with your infant? (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=infant-touch) , the author Katherine Harmon takes a closer look into touch during the infant stage of life and the effects it has throughout a child’s life. She starts the article with the understanding that touch and emotional engagement boost early childhood development but then asks the question, can children recover from neglectful environments? It is stated in the article that “Many children who have not had ample physical and emotional attention are at higher risk for behavioral, emotional and social problems as they grow up. (Harmon,2010) She also goes on to give examples of the lasting effects that the brain undergoes from early infancy environments. One example she gives is Hormones.

Did you know that research has been done to study the hormone levels of children who have received different amounts of touch? No, you didn’t, well it’s true!

Children who have been in orphanages and also of children who have experienced early deprivation have vastly different hormone levels than their parent-raised peers even beyond baby years. Katherine writes that according to a study from Development and Psychopathology children who have experienced less touch– physical contact /early deprivation have higher levels of the hormone cortisol, that causes stress. They also have much different levels of oxytocin and vasopressin which are hormones that have been linked to emotion and social bonding.  In the second part of the article Katherine gives her account of an interview she had with Ann Bigelow, a professor and researcher of developmental psychology at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Ann has been conducting research into parent behavior and infant development.

The first question that Katherine asks is ” We have known for a long time that skin-to-skin contact with babies is important for their development. In what ways does it help them? In which Ann responds “Particularly in the newborn period, it helps calm babies: they cry less and it helps them sleep better. There are some studies that show their brain development is facilitated-probably because they are calmer and sleep better.” (Harmon,2010) From this question you can understand the importance of skin-to-skin contact. What mom doesn’t want her baby to cry less and sleep better, while also improving their brain development that is a big WIN for baby and mom!

This article agrees with what our textbook, nonverbal communication, says about the importance of touch in nonverbal communication. It is stated in our textbook that touch is the first form of communication between mother and child and also that touch stimulates infants to reach their full social and intellectual potential and helps children grow up to be emotionally secure. (Burgoon,Guerrero,&Floyd,2010) Also, our textbook talks about the effects of mothers who do not comfort their babies when they cry, when a baby is not comforted they tend to be uncooperative toddlers and when a mom is inconsistent with her tender comforting touch then her toddler is more likely to be anxious and clingy.

I have full confidence that you understand the importance of giving infants a tender touch. The good news is this is something that most parents do automatically. Don’t freak out though if you are adopting a child who hasn’t been in a loving situation or if you feel like you haven’t given your baby enough touch… it’s not too late. The last question asked by Katherine in the interview with Ann should give everyone a glimpse of hope. She asked ” A lot of these outcomes are measured by early developmental progress do some of these differences eventually even themselves out? Ann’s answer ” For many, yes. But of course it’s easier if they start out on the right track than if they have to be rectified. The more experience babies have with someone who is going to be emotionally engaged with them, the better off they’re going to be. But babies are incredibly flexible and adaptable…” (Harmon,2010)


Burgoon,J.K., Guerrero, L.K., & Floyd, K. (2010). Nonverbal Communication. New York City, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

Harmon, K. (May 6, 2010). How important is physical contact with your infant? : Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfd=infant-touch


Harmon, K. (May 6, 2010). How important is physical contact with your infant? : Scientific American. Retrieved November 17, 2013, from Scientific American Web site: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfd=infant-touch


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