There are a lot of aspects that are important in the growth and development of children. One of the most crucial aspects in the growth and development of babies that is usually assumed or ignored is the aspect of touch. However, research and studies show that human touch largely influences not only how a baby grows but also how the baby’s brain develops. Babies who are not touched will perish at worst or have diminished brain development at best.
The purpose of this paper is to present a discussion that describes in details the importance of the human touch. The paper also explains why babies who are not touched end up dying or have a very slow rate of brain development and cites various example of how lack of touch has affected children in the United States.
The Primacy of Human Touch
Human touch is very important especially for new born babies as they are experiencing everything in the new world for the first time. Human contact from the mom and dad or any other people stimulates both their physical and psychological growth. Lack of this contact can lead to abnormal development, high risks of illnesses and death. Especially for premature infants and children born with very low birth weight, human touch is very crucial in ensuring healthy growth and development. Effective and healthy touch with an infant can be in the form of holding the infant, gentle cuddling, stroking and massage, (Bauer, 2014).
Human touch among babies has both physical and emotional benefits. Among the many benefits of human touch on infants are lessening pain, improving pulmonary function, increasing growth, lowering glucose in the blood and improving a child’s immunity.
Therefore, children or babies who do not get adequate human touch are exposed to risks of very many complications such as very high amounts of glucose in the blood and very weak immunity that leads to susceptibility to attack by other infections. Minimal pulmonary function also result in stunted growth of the infant brain. This explains why children who do not get adequate touch eventually either die or have very poor brain development in the best case scenario.
According to Modrcin-Talbott et al, (2003), even for well-nourished and intellectually stimulated infants, going without touch stunts the physical, mental and emotional growth. An evidence for this is how motherless children with no one to care for them have abnormal levels of oxytocin and vasopressin. The two hormones are very important for mental and emotional development such as bonding.
Modrcin-Talbott et al, (2003), also ascertains that human touch is very important such that children with deprivation of human touch lose weight and die. This death and lack of adequate growth can be explained by lack of growth hormones since touch usually stimulates hormonal growth. Plenty of touch especially in the earlier stages of life can enhance psychological changes that result in protection against diseases and infections. Some of the complications that a child or young baby can be protected against include cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, when a child does not get adequate touch, he or she may not experiences psychological alterations necessary to strengthen his or her immunity. This makes the child susceptible to vey many infections and diseases which might eventually lead to death of the child. Nevertheless, it is difficult to study the effects of touch among children and young babies and even harder to differentiate its effects from other forms of care and attention from parents. Therefore, the actual benefits and effects of the human touch on the growth and development of a child are not widely known.
Touch is also very important for establishing a child’s ability to bond which in turn affects the child’s health, physical growth and brain development. Touching of children by their parents enhances the bonding process. A child who acquires a strong bond with his or her caregivers is able to develop confidence as well as allow his or her brain to develop recognition towards different stimuli. This is important for the child’s future relations as an adolescent or adult.
Apart from the impact on physical development and growth of a child, lack of human touch adverse effects on a child’s brain development. Human touch is usually responsible for enhancing a child’s brain development which in turn has a lot of other aspects of the growth of the baby be it long term or short term growth of the baby both mentally and emotionally. Pediatricians say that lack of touch on a baby makes the baby not be able to sleep well and on most occasions the baby is usually vey fussy during the day. Touching a child adequately and effectively helps reduce the amount of stress hormone cortisol. The stress hormone cortisol usually damages tissues in the hippocampus which is very vital part of the brain as it is responsible for a child’s memory and learning, (Coila, 2015).
For slightly older babies, touch is very important in the development of their brain, cognitive skills and also ability to relate with their environment. For instance, when a baby is using a new toy, he or she will first put it in the mouth, not to perceive how it tastes but to perceive hoe it feels. This is because most of the sensory neurons are in the skin of the tongue and lips and this helps perceive information so it can be sent to the brain. Most of the brain capabilities result from sensory experiences which solely depend on touch. Thus lack of touch results in delayed or stunted brain development (Coila, 2015).
Liu et al, (2001), also suggests that babies who get very little or no human contact during their first few weeks or even days often suffer from various health complications as a result of the deprivation. In most cases the children exhibit a failure to thrive as seen in children in orphanages who do not get anyone to give them physical contact. The babies who do not get the proper human contact therefor die even if they are provided with very good nutrition or shelter.
Illustrations of how lack of touch impacts a baby’s growth and development
An excellent illustration of how touch is very vital for survival in young babies is the case of children on orphanages in the United States a hundred years ago. During this time, unwanted babies would be taken to orphanages. Majority of the children in the orphanages died and their death was not as a result of poor health conditions; the conditions were excellent. In the orphanages food was guaranteed and modern antiseptic procedures were done. Enough food and the clean conditions did not help improve the health of the children. The children wasted away not as a result of malnutrition or any other infectious diseases, but a condition of Marasmus. A specific deprivation; lack of touch was what killed the children. When the children were moved to other places with the same clean condition but now with physical nurturing, their health improved drastically. The Marasmus revers and the children gained weight and finally started to thrive health wise.
Another illustration of how the human touch is very important among young babies is what happens in hospitals as far as the premature and sick babies are concerned. The sick and premature children are not only kept under sterile conditions but are also given the touch therapy three times a day for at least fifteen minutes. The touch is usually very simple, sometimes they are just taken out and held or rocked by volunteers in the hospitals. Though the children are given the same amount of food, eventually, the children grow faster and even gain more weight than their counterparts who are untouched.
Where Touch Starts
It is important to note that touch does not actually start when a baby is born. The sensation of touch actually begins when a child is in its mother’s womb. The skin is a very important instrument for collecting information around the environment when the fetus is still in the uterus. It is made up of cells similar to the ones in the nervous system. This is why a fetus will react to a probe even at less than eight weeks of gestation. This shows how touch is very important for the survival of a baby and how it helps the baby in developing protective mechanisms.
Touch is important for the survival and continual healthy growth and development of any child. Even children under abuse, with AIDS or under cocaine exposure need regular human touch as it reduces their level of stress as indicated by chemicals in the body. For this reason, children who receive regular touch are usually easy to soothe, cry less and sleep more.
Lack of adequate and effective touching for a child can result in stunted physical growth, diminished brain development as well as susceptibility to various diseases and infections that result in death. At minimum, apart from good nutrition and a safe environment, every parent should seek to ensure adequate and effective touch for healthy growth and development of the child.
Liu, C., Liu, J., & Lin, X. (2001). [Effects of touch on growth and mentality development in Normal infants]. Zhonghua yi xue za zhi, 81(23), 1420-1423.
Modrcin-Talbott, M. A., Harrison, L. L., Groer, M. W., & Younger, M. S. (2003). The Bio behavioral effects of gentle human touch on preterm infants. Nursing Science Quarterly, 16(1), 60-67.
Coila, B. (2015). The Influence of on Child development. Retrieved August 16th from: http://www.livestrong.com/article/508221-the-influence-of-touch-on-child-development/
Bauer, M. (2014). The Importance of Touch. Retrieved August 16th from: http://www.livestrong.com/article/186495-importance-of-human-touch/
- Databases used:
- The search strategy used:
Importance of touch on child development
Why children to don’t get adequate touch die
Effect of touch on a child’s brain development
- Each of the articles that I used except article by Modrcin-Talbott et al The Bio behavioral effects of gentle human touch on preterm infants is a primary source.