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New research shows that lots of cuddles as a baby is best for long-term health

NEWBORN SNUGGLING WITH MOTHER

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Cerith Gardiner - published on 02/08/20

Science demonstrates one more reason to keep your newborn close ...

No one would argue today that there’s such a thing as showing “too much love” to a child. But new research goes even further, saying that cuddling a baby actually alters that baby’s DNA.

The 2017 study carried out by researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada suggests that babies who have more physical contact with care givers have an altered molecular process that affects the way their genes develop.

The researchers asked parents of 94 babies to keep a record of their cuddling and touching habits once their infants had reached five weeks old — as well as noting their baby’s sleeping and crying patterns. Four and a half years later, the scientists took DNA swabs from the children to determine their biochemical modification called DNA methylation, which alters gene performance and affects the genes’ expression.

The team was able to determine methylation differences in five DNA sites between babies who had higher levels of physical contact and those who had lower levels of contact. Two of these sites are found within genes relating to the immune system and the metabolic system.

According to a report by David Nield for Science Alert, DNA methylation “acts as a marker for normal biological development and the processes that go along with it,” as well as external factors such as the child’s environment. Interestingly, thanks to these markers, the study was able to see a difference between babies and their epigenetic age — the way in which blood and tissues biologically age — according to how much physical contact they’d had.

The findings showed that babies who had less physical contact than others had a lower marker for epignetic aging, which in return could be detrimental to their developmental progress. “We plan to follow up on whether the ‘biological immaturity’ we saw in these children carries broad implications for their health, especially their psychological development,” shared one member of the research team, Sarah Moore.

With further research, scientists may be able to discover the true extent to which cuddling infants may have on a healthy biological development, especially in more distressed babies. And for worn-out parents of newborns gently rocking their babies to sleep, if these early findings prove right, take comfort in knowing that your efforts will be a benefit both physically and mentally to your little bambino.

The full study is available here for those who’d like to discover more about the research and its findings.


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