The Importance of Touch

The importance of touch reaches many levels and not only for babies,

but for children, teenagers, adults and in old age as well.

The Importance of Touch for Young and Old

The very survival of our species depend on it.

Besides having physical needs for food, cleanliness and shelter, we also have touch needs.

Think about this for a moment...

What is the first sense that develops in the womb?

The sense of touch.

What is the first language baby understands after being born?

Touch and crying.

In the first few months after our babies are born, we communicate and answer their cries mainly through touch.

Unlike animals, our human babies are born not able to walk or move around on their own. Our senses of sight, smell, hearing and taste only fully develop after birth. But our sense of touch develops while still in the womb.

In fact, at only 8 weeks gestation (when most women first realize they are pregnant), the fetus will move away from a probe's touch. This proves how essential and important touch is for our survival.

On a Social Level

Although we do have many things in common with other mammals, human contact is the thing that makes us different and that makes us... well... human.

How we fit in socially with others, mainly depends on our experience with touch.

Touch has the potential to heal or break down, nurture or abuse.

Touching helps us to build relationships with one another.

Many of today's anti-social behaviour could be reversed if we start to meet the touch needs in our children. Things like early sexual activity, violence, depression and eating disorders all stem from an unmet need for positive and loving touch.

No matter how big or small your child is, make sure you touch them lovingly often. Give them a hug daily! You'll not only be doing your own family a favour, but the whole world.

On an Emotional Level

Did you know that touch deprivation can be just as damaging as harmful touch?

Touch can comfort us. Reassure us. Relax us. Even arouse us.

Or it could make us very uneasy. Threaten us. Hurt us.

Touch deprived children tend to be the more aggressive and violent ones. They lack the experience to discern whether or not touch is good or bad.

It is also ironic that in our modern society there's a belief that we can spoil our babies by "holding them too much". If babies weren't supposed to be held a lot, they would not have been born unable to move around on their own until months after birth and would've been capable of providing in their own needs from birth.

Fact is, that the children who are held more turn into the well-adjusted, confident and loving adults, not the other way around.

Touch and emotions actually go hand in hand when you think about it. If someone touches you in a caring manner, you will feel loved and calm. If they touch you in a hurting manner you will feel stressed and threatened.

On a Cognitive Level

Touch stimulates brain growth.

How we are touched in the first few years of our lives, determine how we will cope as adults one day. By releasing "feel good' chemicals (endorphins) during the early years as a result of being touched lovingly, you will be able to cope much better later in life. But when those chemicals are not released, you will have a harder time coping.

A study on monkeys also proved this point. The ones who received reassuring touch from their mothers, explored new environments and situations with more curiosity and courage. The ones who didn't receive the reassuring touch couldn't cope and just collapsed in screams of hysteria.

Positive touch helps you to cope!

On a Physiological Level

When we comfort a crying baby or child, we naturally hold and cuddle them, rub their backs, gently rock or swing them, we even kiss them.

As a mother you've probably come to know a little about the amazing hormone called oxytocin. This hormone is the one some refer to as the "love hormone". It's the antidote of the "fight-or-flight" response and instead creates a calm response.

You might also know that it is released during orgasm, while giving birth and during breastfeeding.

But did you know it's also released when we are touched or doing the touching?

The Importance of Touch

Receiving this positive kind of touch will:

  • regulate a baby's breathing
  • improve circulation
  • aid in digestion and metabolism
  • boost the immune system and
  • improve sleep

(These things are especially evident in kangaroo mother care, where premature babies are held skin to skin.)

When babies don't get this positive touch, their energy is used for supporting life functions and these "finer" cellular functions take second place. This is where the survive versus thrive concept comes in. They still grow, but not to their full potential.

Importance of Touch for Bonding

"Physical closeness brings about psychological closeness"

Bonding with your baby through touch starts long before your baby is even born.

While you are pregnant, you instinctively touch your belly often, rubbing it and feeling your baby move. During birth, contractions massage your baby. After the birth you hold, kiss and caress your baby in a way that mimics the comfort and safety of the womb.

Even the mere act of breastfeeding brings along physical closeness. It's not just a means of nutrition. Breastfeeding benefits are plentiful! *

All these things build a sense of trust and security between a mother and baby. Babies learn that they are safe and loved. Mothers become confident and more responsive in taking care of their little bundles of joy. They form a secure attachment.

*(Link opens a new window to Breastfeeding Quest)

Importance of Touch for Well-Being

When you touch your baby in a loving way, endorphins are released in the brain, which gives your baby a feeling of calm. The nerve endings relax and your baby is able to unwind.

But the benefits are not only for the one being touched, they are also for the one doing the touching!

In hospitals where volunteers hold and massage babies for short stretches of time, they too experience less anxiety, less depression, their self-esteem improves and they even drink less coffee and don't have as many doctor's visits as those who don't do this!

For mothers the main benefit is helping them get over the baby blues as well as helping with the more serious postnatal depression.

The importance of touch is that it is literally vital for our survival!

We can learn to live without some of our other senses. People who are deaf or blind for example learn how to sharpen their other senses in order to survive. But you can not survive and live well without your sense of touch.

Now that you know what the importance of touch is, take a moment to read

Skin Anatomy

The Anatomy of the Skin

Attachment Parenting

Nurturing Touch is one of the 8 principles

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