The power of touch in the parent-infant bonding process is huge. When a baby is born is has highly limited vision and under developed hearing. This means that touch is the way our baby is going to associate the world for the first couple of months while other senses are starting to develop.
Touch is also quite healthy for the parent. It allows the parent to bond in a highly intimate way, especially for the parent that didn’t give birth. When it comes right down to it, touch can be the most important bonding experience that either the infant or the parent experiences.
In a rather brutal experiment during WWII two groups of infants were separated. The first group of babies were held, rocked, touched, and stimulated in a physical manner. The second group of babies were fed and changed but not held and touched in any other manner.
The first group of babies thrived and grew into well function children. So many of the babies in the second group died and failed to thrive that the experiment was actually called off. This provided the scientific evidence in a manner that proved beyond reasonable doubt that babies physically need to be held and touched in a caring and loving manner in order to thrive. No additional experiments of this nature have been performed due to the harsh nature of the results and the abusiveness of the initial trials.
Physical Touch and Illness
In later years, it has been discovered, through humane methods, that babies that who were having difficulty thriving or were born with illnesses thrived under infant massage and other such forms of touch. These babies were already in dire situations and parents took the initiative to soothe their ill infants. Through these methods, the babies were often able to respond to attempts to feeding and bonding in a much more profound way.
Even as adults we find touch soothing when we are ill, emotionally stressed, or otherwise compromised. Touch has actually been known to stimulate the immune system and help improve the overall health and wellbeing of all individuals regardless of their age.
Bonding Through Touch
Bonding through touch allows both the infant and the parent to connect. Since language is not a common denominator in the infant-parent relationship at this stage, touch allows the infant and the parent to communicate. The communication can be soft and subtle but is certainly enough for a baby to understand the implication while the parent develops a stronger and deeper sense of emotion for the baby.
During the labor and delivery process, many physicians have been able to feel responses to things like touching the baby’s head or even having their fingers grasped by tiny hands. Babies are ready for the touch experience before they even come out of the womb.
The touch experience provides an avenue of stimulation for both the parent and the infant. The parent is able to release the necessary electrical currents that stimulate brain function in the baby just through touching. These are electrical currents that are necessary for brain communication and function. The parent also receives the electrical currents that are essential for continuing brain function. In such cases, the pathways that have been tracked are the ones that control the emotional center of the brain.
The connection stimulates a physical bond that goes, essentially, brain deep. This brain depth allows for a permanent connection and bond that is considered the “unbreakable bond between parent and child.” Touch is the beginning to developing the bond with a child that will last for the rest of both of your lives.
Non-Birth Parent Touch
The birth parent has been able to have touch experiences throughout the pregnancy. From the first movement right down to delivery there has been a sense of touching going on between the baby and the birth mother. Of course, non-birth parents have not had this advantage.
Bonding is not always an instantaneous event, especially for non-birth parents. These parents need an avenue of connection that runs as deep as the connection that the birth mother has developed with the baby. Through holding, rocking, gentle touching, and infant massage the non-birth parent can find the same developmental touch stimulus to be the facilitator to the bonding process. In many cases, when a non-birth parent doesn’t do the feeding due to nursing, the touch sessions that are held can be the most effective form of bonding.
For non-birth parents touch can be intimidating because infants are so small. However, this is the one way that they can start to develop confidence in their ability to connect with their new baby. This connection is vital to the entire parent-child bond throughout the rest of the child’s life. Without this connection, many parents who did not experience touch bonding were found to be distant and less effective than parents who went through a touch bonding experience.
Ultimately, the power of touch during the first weeks of life can set up the foundation for development in a totally different way that is highly effective for both the baby and the parent. Difficult bonding processes are more common than many parents realize. Using touch to help facilitate this is a simple but effective tool for discovering the power of this amazing relationship. The experience, when you’re open to it, can be life altering and create an eternal method of relating to your new child.