Touch is the very first sense to develop in the womb, and is believed to be the last of our senses to fade at death. Positive touch can lower your blood pressure and reduce stress, whereas prolonged periods of lack of touch can produce mental disorders and depression. Touch is powerful, there’s no denying that, and is crucial in babies’ development.
One of the best–and saddest– examples of this is when looking at Romanian orphanages in 1990 after communist leader Ceausescu’s reign. According to one visitor, babies were stacked on the shelves of a cart like loaves of bread. “They were barely touched during the day,” says David Linden, a neurobiologist.
“These kids didn’t just have a host of emotional problems,” he says, “though they were depressed and had high instances of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other issues — but they also had a whole raft of physical ailments. They had weakened immune systems, and skin ailments.”
It has been seen that newborns denied physical contact with other humans can actually die, even when provided with proper nutrition and shelter.
Touch is powerful.
A positive example of the benefits of touch have been noted through a 6-week study done on massaged infants, who, due to massage:
- cried less
- gained more weight
- showed greater improvement on emotionality, sociability, and soothability temperament dimensions
- had greater decreases in stress hormones
Healthy infants are not the only ones that have experienced benefits from positive touch, however. Premature infants who were massaged for 15 minutes three times a day gained weight 47 percent faster than others who were left alone in their incubators. The massaged infants also showed signs that the nervous system was maturing more rapidly: they became more active than the other babies and more responsive to such things as a face or a rattle.
”The massaged infants did not eat more than the others,” said Tiffany Field, a psychologist at the University of Miami Medical School, who did the study. ”Their weight gain seems due to the effect of contact on their metabolism.”
The infants who were massaged were discharged from the hospital an average of six days earlier than premature infants who were not massaged, saving about $3,000 each in hospital costs, Dr. Field said.
Dr. Field also says different areas of an infant’s body respond differently to touch. If a parent wants to soothe an infant, gentle strokes or light massage on its back and legs will relax it. On the other hand, stroking a baby’s face, belly or feet tends to stimulate it.
In a separate study, infants and toddlers with sleep onset problems were given daily massages by their parents for 15 minutes prior to bedtime for one month. Based on parent diaries the massaged versus the control children (who were read bedtime stories) showed fewer sleep delay behaviors and had a shorter latency to sleep onset by the end of the study.
If you are wondering how you can perform infant massage on your baby, Tiffany Field herself shows 10 simple massage techniques you can do on your baby here. There are also massage therapists who are specifically certified in infant massage you can take a class from!
“In most parts of the world, people massage babies,” Dr. Field says. “The Western countries are about the only place this is not routine.’’
It is our job to change that!
Herenstein, a psychologist, found in his research of the study of touch that it can communicate multiple emotions: joy, love, gratitude and sympathy. It is a sense, he says, that we almost always underestimate when it comes to communication.
The subject of touch is so complex and may never be fully understood, but we know this: it is powerful. It is a powerful tool Christ Jesus Himself designed and then utilized when He walked this earth. In fact, whenever we see Him healing others in the Bible it frequently states He “reached out His hand and healed them”. When the little children came to Him, He laid hands on them and prayed for them. When He healed lepers and those who were blind or deaf, He touched the place of infirmity or disease.
May our arms reach out to others this week as His did, and may they always be open to touch others’ pain.
“Wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured.”