By Danielle Buffardi, Nurturing Touch Editor for The Attached Family magazine
Beginning in the womb, your child becomes used to your touch. The swishing of the amniotic fluid and your gentle movements sway your child within the warmth of your body. This need to be touched by the infant never ceases and, if anything, becomes stronger once you deliver your child.
After delivery, mother-child bonding time is crucial. Unfortunately, some hospitals whisk baby away immediately after birth and the time is hectic rather than quiet. The good news is that baby-bonding does not rely on just the first moments after birth; it continues into adulthood.
According to Sharon Heller’s book The Vital Touch, newborns will seek comfort in their mothers immediately. “The human infant arrives hard-wired to seek contact with the mother,” Heller writes. “Take the newborn’s primitive reflexes. First, there is cuddling. When picked up and held, newborns mold their arms and legs into the cavity of our arms. Next there is clinging, the apparent purpose of which is to grasp mother and maintain contact.”
Even body temperature and digestion can all be easily regulated by touch. Simply by holding your baby, caressing, and cosleeping, you help your newborn ease right into her new life because your body is already regulating temperatures for the both of you. During cosleeping, the mother’s temperature fluctuates to accommodate baby and vice versa. If your infant is cold while in your arms, your temperature will rise to make baby warmer. Nature designed mothers and infants to be one, especially in the first few weeks of life.
According to Heller, “massaged babies often show greater weight gain, and fewer postnatal complications. They are more social, more alert, less fussy and restless, sleep better, and have smoother movements.” Mothers who use gentle, constant touching will soothe baby more than any pacifier ever could. Infants are constantly looking to be touched, massaged, and cuddled.
Using gentle touch techniques with your baby helps to ensure that you will also learn your baby and become fluent in his language. Thus, when your infant cries, you will know what he wants almost immediately, and the crying shouldn’t last long at all. Maternal instinct and gentle touch go hand-in-hand. The better you know your child, the better off the both of you will be. Don’t mistrust your motherly instincts; home in on them. No one in this world knows your child better than you: Never forget that. Listen to the advice of the pediatrician, but don’t be afraid to speak up and second-guess that advice. Every child is different, and what’s good for one is not necessarily good for all babies. Getting to know your child immediately during infancy will help you decide how to address any problems that arise later.
Heller states, “The arms of the sensitive mother invite. When the world looms too large, too loud, too bright, too cold, the infant knows that she will be enveloped in a warm protective embrace. This gives the baby a clear message: ‘You are safe. You are loved. You are loveable.’ And so the infant relaxes, secure against the world.” Even now, as adults, we can look back on our own childhoods and understand where our caregivers went right or wrong when it came to motherly love and gentle touching. Our mother’s love affects us from infancy into adulthood and beyond. It’s not only the tie that binds; it’s also the basis on which we form opinions of ourselves and others. The mother who really knew her child and catered to his needs most likely reared a very well-rounded and courageous individual. But the mother who let a child cry herself to sleep and always kept her guessing whether or not she really was her mother’s pride and joy may have produced an insecure and outwardly aggressive adult, afraid of taking chances. A mother’s influence, touch, and protection provides us with roots as well as wings and should not, by any means, be taken lightly.
Practicing Attachment Parenting nourishes you and helps you to meet your baby’s physical and emotional needs. With your baby so close to you, there’s no question about whether he is safe, hungry, or uncomfortable. While cosleeping, both of you get longer stretches of undisturbed sleep while continuing to forge the unbreakable mother-child bond. This utter closeness helps encourage mothers to tap into their instinctive knowledge of their infant’s needs, and it also reassures the baby that his mother is never far away, thus allowing his mental state to remain calm.
In an article entitled “The Breastfeeding, Co-sleeping Connection” on Babiestoday.com, Katherine Dettwyler, an associate professor of anthropology and nutrition at Texas A & M University, states, “Human children are designed to be sleeping with their parents … The sense of touch is the most important sense to primates. The expected pattern is for mother and child to sleep together and for the child to be able to nurse whenever they want during the night.”
Dettwyler continues, “Dr. James McKenna, professor of anthropology and director of the Mother-and-Baby Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind., pioneered the first behavioral and electro-physiological studies documenting differences between mothers and infants sleeping together and apart (in different rooms). He is known worldwide for his work in promoting studies of breastfeeding and mother-infant co-sleeping. ‘First and foremost, cosleeping is beneficial because it is what mothers and babies are supposed to do — what they have been biologically designed to do — as maternal proximity is expected by the baby’s body,’ McKenna explains. ‘Clinically, from scientific studies, a co-sleeping baby sleeps longer, cries less, breastfeeds more, sleeps more lightly (in stages 1 and 2) and spends less time in a more mature stage of sleep.’”
Using, exploring, and learning gentle touch and cosleeping techniques with your baby will undoubtedly bring the whole family closer. The parents will learn to respond to their baby’s needs with a sensitive and nurturing touch, and the baby will realize just how loved and protected she really is. There really is no substitute for a mother’s touch, and a child will never stop seeking it. Knowing that one’s needs will never go unmet instills an unparalleled sense of reassurance in children. Gentle touch gives our children the courage to grow, explore, and consume all that the world has to offer. How we respond to them now forms the basis for their later relationships and, in turn, how they will parent their children.