The human touch. It's one of the foundations of our culture, but in this digital age even it is going to the wayside. It goes unspoken that touch holds its weight in this world. Let's face it. The power of touch is surreal. Not only is it highly underrated, but it's also under acknowledge as being a life-changing force in our society.
The power of touch not only holds true for adults, but it holds true for children, too. In fact, the benefits of a loving human touch in a child's life can run the gamut. More specifically, we're talking the benefits of this impacting force in the life of a premature baby.
Admittedly, most of us love to cuddle with new babies. They're easy to wrap our arms around and snuggle. Did anyone know that these cuddles may actually save their life, though?
Science has discovered many positive and even life-saving effects cuddling has on preemies. There are volunteer programs focused solely on employing caring and loving individuals to cuddle preemies in the NICU. This is how serious the medical field is taking cuddling.
In fact, the volunteer job of cuddling premature newborns has become markedly popular. And for good reason, too. For starters, the benefits that close human contact offers to preemies can literally be the difference between life and death. A loving human touch goes a long way.
In addition to volunteer programs, new parents of preemies are encouraged and even taught how to cuddle their new little one. It can be a frightening thing to hold such a fragile little person, but the benefits outweigh the fear so much that most parents are participating in cuddling whole-heartedly.
Here are 15 ways cuddling preemies can save their life.
15 Faster Weight Gain
Often times, premature or preterm babies are incredibly small. Think about the size of a Coca-Cola can and imagine a human being that small. It's not exactly a picture of human stability is it?
When we think of healthy babies, we think of fat babies. We want to see rolls and chunky cheeks and dimples on their little bottom. This isn't typically the picture you're going to see when you look at a preemie.
Cuddling a preemie can actually help him or her gain healthy weight. What this close preemie proximity does is build up the bodily systems that are sensitive to a physical presence. Thus, increasing the chances that baby's system will function correctly.
In essence, the food will nourish his or her body as it's supposed to and the appropriate weight will be gained. Weight gain is a challenge in the NICU, but cuddling has proven to work wonders when it comes to this road block.
14 Produces More Oxytocin
It's a well-known fact that snuggles, cuddles, and positive human contact produces oxytocin. This is no different for tiny little babies. When babies are cuddled, especially in a skin-to-skin fashion, the levels of released oxytocin in his or her body increase.
What this cuddling chemical does is basically make baby feel good. Baby feels comfortable and safe. In the long run, it formulates how the infant will socially interact and is the determining factor when it comes to developing social skills. So, the more oxytocin the higher function the part of the brain that controls social skills.
When the cuddler is the preemies mom and she's able to breastfeed, the baby gets an even bigger boost of oxytocin. Not only is this chemical released in baby, but it's also released in mom during cuddle time. While breastfeeding, baby will get an extra boost of oxytocin in the breastmilk.
13 Improved Oxygen Saturation
In most cases, preemies have tube after tube hooked up to him or her. The poor dears look like little aliens with medical lines coming out of them from all sides, especially being surrounded by beeping equipment. More times than not, an oxygen tube is provided for a preemie.
To fill you in on the basics, normal blood oxygen levels in humans are considered 95-100%. In preemies, the blood oxygen levels can regularly fall right above 85%. You can see how the demand for oxygen is high on the list of preemie priorities.
Cuddling increases the amount of oxygen in the blood by regulating process in their bodies. It's proven to be a physically stabilizing variables that hasn't been duplicated as of yet. Even with all the machines and medicine in the world, what makes a human body function at its best is to be near another human body.
12 Improvement In Excitation And Inhibition
Cuddling has been known to improve excitation and inhibition. What exactly does this mean, though? Here's the scoop.
It is thought that a proper balance between excitation and inhibition is essential for proper brain function. It's important to remember that preemies often have smaller brains than full-term babies. That third trimester is all about growth, growth, growth. Without it, the development doesn't happen. So, preemies are essentially left to play catch-up. This is where cuddling can help.
An imbalance in the number of excitatory pyramidal neurons and inhibitory interneurons could contribute to conditions such as autism and epilepsy.
There are studies which suggest that premature birth suppresses the production of pyramidal neurons. This means not only is the growth of the brain slowed but it will most likely lead to an imbalance. Cuddling can stabilize this balance and ward off developmental disorders.
11 Manage Stress More Easily
Being a baby should be one of the best times in your life. You can be fat, naked, sleep all the time, and no one gets on your case about it. For preemies, life is a much different reality. Because of their frail physical condition, they often have to be hooked up to uncomfortable machines and experience procedures that are less than fun-filled.
All of this, combined with being away from mom more than they'd like, can lead to a stressed out baby. You know as well as I do that stress in any creature, human or animal, causes a physical reaction - all negative.
Cuddling has an incredibly calming effect on preemies. Their systems stabilize quickly, rapid heart beats return to normal, and stress indicators disappear. Understandably, the monitors, machines, and procedures are in place to help these little babies survive. Cuddling helps them survive the stress of it all.
10 Sleep Better
As well as most of their systems being off balance, preemies circadian rhythm is off as well. In all reality, most babies have an out-of-whack sleep/wake cycle for the first few days or weeks of life. It's pretty common, and this in itself isn't life threatening.
What is life threatening is a human not getting enough of the deep sleep that he or she needs. Sleep is a time when physical healing and rejuvenation happens. Without it, our bodies suffer. This is no different for preemies.
When a baby is cuddled, he or she relaxes and can more easily fall and stay in a sound sleep. Maybe it's just the feeling of safety or the warmth that lulls them into such slumber. No matter what exactly it is, preemies need all the help they can get, and cuddling is a huge leap in the right direction.
9 Reduces Behavior Problems Later On
Cuddling a preemie doesn't just have immediate short-term effects. Studies have followed children for up to 10 years to document the influence cuddling had on them as preemies.
Compared to babies who were kept in incubators, the cuddled babies were generally found to be less aggressive, less impulsive and less hyperactive as young adults. They also had more volume in a part of the brain known as the caudate nucleus, which is thought to help with learning and memory.
For some amazing reason, cuddling regulates the brain to function at a higher level. This only goes to show the power of a snuggle. Humans are physical creatures and are meant to be touched. This intrinsic force has been proven in preemies. Doctors and researchers are excited to see the outcomes of their subjects 20 years after the initial cuddles.
8 Ability To Direct Their Gaze
Premature babies are at a higher risk of developing many problems. One of these is eye problems. You see, preemies are born before all of their sensory organs are fully developed. They face the challenge of developing in an unknown world. Where they were supposed to finish developing inside the safety of their mother's womb, they're forced to do it in a less hospitable environment.
Typically, preemies' eyes are closed for long periods of sleep. Lights often bother these babies. Holding a gaze can prove difficult.
Cuddling a preemie is much like a mother breastfeeding her baby as far as the closeness goes. The distance from breast to face if just about perfect for a baby to fixate. While cuddling, the distance is nearly the same. This helps these tiny babies direct their gaze and coordinate their eye functions.
7 Better Affective Attention
Depending on the age of your preemie, muscle function may be incredibly underdeveloped. He or she will probably not be able to move many body parts other than twitches and flinches. This is pretty typical preemie muscle movements as they are still accustomed to floating in amniotic fluid.
Affective attention basically means how well your baby can direct his or her actions toward a goal. A goal for a preemie isn't going to be reaching out to grab a rattle or blowing kisses goodbye. A goal is going to be nursing for a certain amount of minutes without falling asleep or feeding out of a bottle.
Cuddling increases the chances of better affective attention by a fairly high margin. Cuddled babies are known to nurse better and meet their set goals faster than babies who weren't cuddled.
6 Better Autonomic Function
For you and I, breathing comes mindlessly. We don't typically have to work at it and it's not taxing on our systems. It's just one of those things that we do and inevitably take for granted. For preemies, this could be a huge job.
Cuddling is a life-saver, literally. It's known to stabilize bodily functions in preemies and produces better autonomic functions as well.
For those of you who don't know, the autonomic nervous system is part of the nervous system responsible for controlling bodily functions that are not consciously directed. Breathing and our heartbeat both qualify as such.
You see now how life-saving cuddling can be to a tiny baby? These functions are often supported by machines, but cuddling helps to ween them off of that pseudo support.
5 Builds Bodily Systems
Cuddling a preemie has a calming effect, a stabilizing effect. It's proven to relax stressed babies and relieve babies that are in pain. All of these tiny reprieves from medical hardships provide that much more energy to proper bodily functions.
A cuddled baby is one who can simply focus on the love being shown to him or her. With the stress and tension gone, the body can get back to its job of building itself up. Systems are all go while baby feels secure in cuddlers arms.
Not only is this a boost to nearly every bodily function inside the preemies body, it's also producing better results as it functions correctly. Babies are known to have a steadier heart rate, higher oxygen level, and all the things already discussed. Once these basics are in place, the body only grows and develops from there.
4 Gives Them A Better Chance To Thrive
Cuddling a preemie is basically the equivalent of giving them a heads up in slow-starting race, like a marathon. With so many benefits cuddling has to offer, the medical field is standing up and paying attention. The procedures are all good, the machines are good, and the medicine is good, but there is still more for doctors and nurses to offer - the gift of touch.
Babies who are cuddled are given the opportunity to thrive. The benefits are endless and could possibly save his or her life. Informed medical staff know this already and rely on humans to do what machines cannot.
It's almost as if the baby knows when he or she can let down and relax. In the arms of a cuddler opposed to alone in an incubator is where a tiny preemie will amaze doctors and nurses alike.
3 More Stable Brain Function
The effects of touch on an adult brain are profound. They are equally as profound on a preemie. In addition to oxytocin, the body has the ability to release cortisol. Cortisol is a stress-related hormone released during times of increased anxiety.
Stress in a preemie could come in many different forms, but cuddling helps to battle these situations by providing the proper amount of cortisol for the preemie. In turn, this hormone works together with oxytocin. Cortisol will get you un-stressed and oxytocin will keep you happy, if you will.
Even as much as 10 years later, kids who were cuddled as preemies still showed signs of better stress management than kids who were not. When presented with stressful situations, the cuddled kids had higher levels of cortisol in their system.
2 Predictable GI Tract
When babies are full-term babies are born, there digestive system is usually ready to go. That first tar-like poop is not only interesting, but it's also welcomed by most parents. Preemies don't have it so lucky. First of all, there not ready to be outside of mom and yet here they are. It's unfair, really.
It's unfortunate, but the younger the baby the higher the chances are of having problems with the GI tract. Although the GI tract is full formed at just 20 weeks, it's not quite functioning yet. Some of the more common problems are babies not having the coordination of sucking and swallowing. A common GI tract issue is that the baby's body may not yet be producing enough of the enzymes needed to digest milk and formula.
We think Mother Nature had it right when she thought of breastfeeding, because the human contact accompanying feeding time is often enough to regulate the GI tract to stability and maturity. It doesn't even have to be breastfeeding, though. It could simply be enough for baby to be cuddled before and after feeding time.
1 Unmatched Emotional Connection
It could be mom or dad providing the cuddles. It could even be one of the grandparents or a volunteer at the hospital. No matter who it is, the tiny baby is getting exposed to the emotion of love, care, and kindness. The exchange of emotion that happens during a skin-to-skin session is irreplaceable.
In reality, it helps baby feels human. Honestly it helps mom and dad feel human and see their baby as a person instead of a medical case. It's an emotional time, in the NICU. It's not to be taken lightly, and it rarely is.
Often it its difficult to see past all the tubes and equipment to see a real person. Preemies are real people, though. They desperately need to be treated like people and feel the warmth of human touch, especially now that we know the benefits.
Sources: www.bobo.com, www.huffingtonpost.com.au, www.time.com, www.babycenter.com, www.mayoclinic.com