Instinctive Parenting

The importance of touch

The image of little orphans dying in their cots because of lack of human contact has always haunted me. Then I hear parents protesting over the abundance of 'bucket babies' (infants left in transportable capsules all day long without barely being held) in our culture. Then I see images of little African babies attached lovingly to their mama's backs. It all prompts me to investigate the dynamics of human touch, the positive effect it has, and why we choose to have 'bucket babies'.

Our 'touch system' is a primitive survival mechanism found in all mammals, and it is the strongest sensory system during infancy.

Touch is so crucial to infants that its absence will cause mental and physical growth retardation. A mothers presence alone does not have a resounding effect, nor does trying to shovel more food into an infants mouth - it is the infants perception of warm, physical touch that triggers growth. Prolonged absence of a mother's touch triggers a slowing of the infant's metabolism, thus lessening the need for nourishment, conserving the stores of energy, and slowing the rate of growth. The slower metabolism stunts growth if excessively prolonged.

Touch is also crucial in reducing infant stress. When infants are separated from their mothers, activity in the pituitary-adrenal system rises, while physical contact with the mother lowers this stress response. Touch plays a significant role in an infant's ability to learn how to regulate his / her own response to stress.

Infants who are picked up, hugged, cuddled, cradled, and stroked, gain weight faster, sleep better, are more alert, relaxed, and begin developmental milestones like crawling and walking earlier. Touch develops and strengthens attachment and communication between parent and baby, giving rise to feelings of security, trust, comfort and relaxation. Gently stroking a baby’s stomach in a clockwise direction promotes healthy digestion, also alleviating gas and constipation. Infant massage helps relieve colic and teething pain, improves muscle tone, development and flexibility, and helps regulate all the body systems (digestive, respiratory, circulatory, immune, nervous, lymphatic, cardiac, hormonal).

My heart sinks for the poor dear 'bucket babies' whose need for human touch goes ignored or unrecognised. As a culture we demand our babies and children be independent, unattached, solitary human beings, as if that's some sort of positive trait? Is an epidemic of insecure, unempathetic, narcissist's what we really want? Knowing the importance of touch, I am at no loss as to why parents carry their children literally all day, and practice regular infant massage. It makes sense - you want to give your child the best start in life, you want a bright, healthy, happy, intelligent child - then you provide your child with as much skin-to-skin contact as humanly possible. It is that simple.

I never knew just how important touch is, particularly to an infant. Now I do, my brain continually prompts me to kiss, hug, cuddle and stroke my boys in every moment. It's not just a show of affection, it's literally a switch, turning on mental and physical growth.

Infant Massage
  • Choose a moment when baby is calm and relaxed.
  • Be sure that the room temperature is warm.
  • Undress baby completely.
  • Place baby on a soft, comfortable surface.
  • Rub massage oil on your hands, rub hands together so they're soft and warm.
  • Generally the massage flows from head to toes - head, face, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, stomach, legs, feet.
  • Use gentle, long, flowing strokes. The pressure should be the same as pressing your closed eyelids without any discomfort.
  • While massaging communicate lovingly with baby. Doing this you stimulate all the senses of the baby and establish a more intense visual and tactile communication.
  • Allow baby to change position if he / she wishes. Don't force baby to keep a position.
  • In the small areas use your fingertips. In bigger areas use the palm of your hand. 
More infant massage instructions are found at:
Postnatal Stimulation Baby Massage

  • Practice positioning and carrying a doll or teddy first.
  • Try a new carry with baby when you are both well rested and generally content.
  • Get another adult to help get baby positioned.
  • Use a mirror to see what you're doing.
  • Support baby with your arm until you are confident that baby is securely held in the carrier.
  • Wear baby sitting down first to safely help build muscle and confidence.
  • Back carries are more challenging, but there is more freedom of movement, and they're great for heavier babies and toddlers.
More Babywearing instructions are found at:
Baby Wearing International

Want to make your own babycarrier?


The Experience of Touch: Research Points to a Critical Role
by Daniel Goleman
How Important Is Physical Contact with Your Infant?
By Katherine Harmon
Postnatal Stimulation Baby Massage
Make Way For Baby
Is Babywearing Safe?
by Baby Wearing International
Sewing and improvising babycarriers
by The Baby Wearer

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  1. I really enjoyed reading this, I have posted it to my facebook page for others to read! Thank you

  2. I found your blog after it was shared on the Nakedbabynz facebook page. I like to parent by instinct too so am very pleased to have been introduced to your blog!


  3. Thanks so much ladies! I really appreciate it. It's encouraging to know other mothers who believe in natural parenting and have found their own strength through intuition. I hope we can encourage mothers who don't feel confident to do the same!

    I'll pop over and check you out :)