The Power of Touch
I’ve been thinking recently about the power of touch… I often describe it to the parents I work with as a primal need and, looking at the animal world, even apes preen and groom their young – not just to keep them clean – but to relax them, and to strengthen their bond and maintain friendly ties among family members. Sadly touch gets so misconstrued nowadays that people have become afraid of it in a way. The sex industry and the predators of this world have turned it into something other than what it is at its heart… a need to not feel alone.
I remember being taught Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ back in my school years (oh so long ago), and looking at it again now (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs) I can see how this need for touch would fit into either of the basic needs groupings at the bottom of the pyramid as it fits into being both a ‘physiological’ need and a ‘safety’ need.
With babies especially, touch and close contact with their parents helps to make them feel safe and nurtured, and is also a form of communication (one that is vitally important as it is their first), and a form of bonding with their parents.
Many studies have been conducted within hospitals about the benefits of skin-to-skin contact with newborns (especially premature babies), and how this can have a dramatic positive impact on their survival rate, growth and development, as well as their ability to breastfeed. This practice has been named “Kangaroo Care”, due to its ‘resemblance to marsupial care-giving’. You can read more about this here: http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/10/kangaroo-mothers-and-the-power-of-touch/.
Moving on from these early days, infant massage can be one of the easiest and loveliest ways to fulfil baby’s need for touch as they grow. Not only can it be integrated into the daily routine with ease, but it’s beneficial to baby’s development (as improved circulation brings extra nourishment to tissue and organs), the ‘touch relaxation’ helps in encouraging sleep, it strengthens that wonderful bond with the parent, and ultimately makes them feel safe and cared for.
Whilst researching this blog I found an interesting article about the need for touch in Psychology Today that discusses the ‘Oxytocin factor’ – a hormone of love and attachment that is released when people feel intimacy (through touch or otherwise), and is especially prevalent in women through pregnancy, birth and child-rearing. On the flip-side, a lack of oxytocin can be particularly detrimental to psychological health in the long-term. You can read this article here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mind-body-connection/201309/why-we-all-need-touch-and-be-touched.
And so, if I can make an appeal to society (or at least to anyone who reads this post), I would like to request that we reclaim the terms ‘massage’ and ‘touch’ to go back to their original meanings – reflecting something cleaner and more loving, and for people to be less scared of the connotations of these words, as touch through massage is a beautiful gift, especially for your baby.
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