API Principle #4: Use Nurturing Touch

“Our silent and most potent language, touch is the medium through which parent and infant communicate and become attached, each tender touch strengthening the bond between them” (The Vital Touch, p. 5).

Attachment Parenting International offers 8 Principles for Parenting that they believe will foster a strong connection between parent and child. The fourth principle is to Use Nurturing Touch. They believe babies are born with an intense and urgent need for frequent physical contact with caregivers. Meeting this need for touch serves important biological and physioloical function for babies impacting their neurological systems. At birth babies’ brains are about 1/4 the size of an adult brain. It is through sensory experiences, mainly touch, that neuron connection is stimulated and their brain grows/develops. The importance of touch for babies has been well researched and a strong body of evidence exists to support the impact touch (and/or lack of touch) has on a baby. Some benefits include faster weight-gain, better regulation of sleep cycles, improved regulation of temperature, increased intellectual and motor development, and decreased aggression. In cultures where babies are held almost constantly during their early months of life, children are observed to be calmer, happier, and cry less. While you may experience external pressure to “put your baby down’ for fear of spoiling him or her, creating dependence on you, or delaying their physical development, know that extensive research supports the exact opposite effects of holding your baby. As hard as it may be, ignore those negative voices around you (or you might educate them?) and continue to follow your innate desire to have constant physical contact with your baby!

The greatest part of all this? It’s so simple to do! You don’t need any special equipment or how-to classes to meet this need for your baby. It’s completely free, and the power of touch is always readily available right at your fingertips! Enjoy snuggle time with your baby on a regular and frequent basis throughout the day/night. Okay, so I know most of us or more likely all of us cannot sit around holding our babies all day, right? That’s wear babywearing comes in! You can provide that oh-so-important touch AND meet the demands/tasks of modern life. Over the years many ‘tools’ such as swings, bouncers, strollers, etc. have been developed to mimic the rhythmic holding a caregiver would provide. While babies might enjoy being in these devices and they might free up the caregiver, they do not provide the human touch necessary for optimal growth, development, and healthy attachment. I’m not saying don’t ever use these tools, but perhaps use babywearing as the default option and limit the use of other devices. Another prime opportunity for touch is during feedings. No matter how you feed your infant (bottle or breast) you can nurture baby’s need for touch while you nourish their bodies. Obviously this automatically happens during breastfeeding, but you can easily embed touch into bottle-feeding as well. You can even provide skin to skin contact while bottle-feeding.

Older children continue to need and thrive on physical touch as well. Sadly it’s fairly easy to forget the need for touch once a baby becomes a more independently mobile toddler, however the need is still quite strong. How you meet the need for touch may be through playfulness such as wrestling and tickling games. Young children typically enjoy engaging in this type of play as long as they have the lead in it. In other words follow their cues as far as intensity and timing of touch. Additionally try offering physical touch (hugs, snuggles, etc) to older children freely and frequently throughout the day rather than just reserving it for consoling.

“Touching a baby is an epiphany- the essence of life! Neither baby or parent should be deprived of it”

(The Vital Touch, p. 235).


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