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Baby Science - What can babies feel?

12 Nov 2019

Baby Science – What can babies feel?

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Babies most developed sense at birth is touch. From watching your baby, you have probably worked out that babies sense and feel a lot through their mouths. Babies development is from the head to toe and from the centre point of the body to the outer limbs. Even older children put things in their mouth to sense them, to comfort them and to explore. Children of five have been shown to have more sensitivity in their faces than even their hands.

Babies are much better at sensing things with their mouths than hands and they are not able to really determine left and right-hand movements until two. Hand preferences do not appear until later. Studies also suggest that girls have a high sensitivity to touch than boys.

What about pain? What do babies feel?

Often in my baby massage classes, babies who have spent time in the NICU or had hospital procedures seem to have sensitivity around their feet due to heel prick tests. These babies sometimes cry during foot massage or even when their foot is held for massage. We try to connect the unpleasant sensation with something more positive; with smiles and coos and the production of oxytocin.  Often just still touch or holding the foot can help to reassure and relax a baby.

Newborns do feel pain. Sadly it the beginning of the 19th Century babies were still being operated on without anesthetic because the medical profession believed that babies could not feel pain due to their brains not being developed. We now know this is completely not true and that babies are very sensitive to pain. There is even evidence that fetuses may be able to sense pain if there are procedures in the womb.

A recent study suggests that touch can reduce activity in their brain associated with painful experiences. The study, by the University of Oxford and Liverpool John Moores University, monitored the brain activity of 32 babies while they had blood tests.

Half were stroked with a soft brush beforehand and they showed 40% less pain activity in their brain.

Parents often intuitively stroke their babies to soothe pain and this healing power of touch could be harness to reduce pain for young babies.

Prof Slater running the study said;

“If we can better understand the neurobiological underpinnings of techniques like infant massage, we can improve the advice we give to parents on how to comfort their babies….There was evidence to suggest that C-tactile afferents can be activated in babies and that slow, gentle touch can evoke changes in brain activity in infants….Previous work has shown that touch may increase parental bonding, decrease stress for both the parents and the baby, and reduce the length of hospital stay.”

Science is helping to reinforce what we have always known; when we fall we want someone to rub it better, when we are in pain, we seek cuddles, hugs and physical reassurance. Touch is the healing power at our fingertips.

Much love

Gayle ♡

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