Babies who aren’t held much age differently, when it comes to their genes.
It’s a timeless cycle. Babies cry and instinctively, we pick them up and console them with rocking, bouncing, cooing and a mild caress. If the adults are lucky and it works, the child calms down.
Is it the right thing to do? Some people criticize others for holding infants too much. It’s been said the child is being spoiled and will expect attention at every cry: experts however, reassure us otherwise.
Touching an infant to console them is always best, it’s been found. Not only is it pleasing for the babies and perhaps calming for parents, but it also actually affects the infants all the way down to a molecular level.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada and the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute have found that simply touching an infant early in life can have lifelong consequences on the genetic expression that goes on in their body.
A study, published last month in Development and Psychopathology, details how the parents of 94 five-week-old, healthy babies, were asked to keep a diary of their infants’ behavior.
This included their sleeping, fussing, crying or feeding habits.
The parents were also took note of the amount and duration of time they held and soothed their baby.
When the children reached 4 ½ years of age, researchers then tested their DNA.
It was found that children who experienced less soothing physical contact as infants had a lower epigenetic age. In effect, they showed differences in how genes involved in their immune system and metabolism were expressed, compared with those infants who received more physical soothing.
In children, slower epigenetic aging has been connected with an inability to thrive, experts say.
“We plan on following up to see whether the ‘biological immaturity’ we saw in these children carries broad implications for their health, especially their psychological development,” says lead author Sarah Moore, a postdoctoral fellow.
“If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants,” she adds.
This study is the first of its kind to show that touch, and how our genes behave, are closely linked.
Now, what about those babies with really big heads? Click here to find out if it’s a benefit or a curse.
Photo credits: Liudmila Fadzeyeva/Shutterstock.com