Mothers know that hugging their kids isn't just a cuddly thing to do, although there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Hugging is a source of security and reassurance that someone's there for the tykes and there's no doubt that it's a great gesture to express love.
Now, there's one more advantage to expressing all of that affection to the young ones. According to scientists that study this sort of thing, hugging also makes your kids smarter. So says the research conducted at Ohio's Nationwide Children's Hospital, where in 2017, scholars involved 125 full-term and premature babies in how they reacted to the physical act of hugging. What they found was that when there was more contact from parents and healthcare workers, babies on the receiving end of all that affection registered stronger brain responses than when they weren't getting all that tender loving care. Premature babies didn't fare as well as full-term subjects, but still benefited from increased grey matter activity.
“Making sure that preterm babies receive positive, supportive touch such as skin-to-skin care by parents is essential to help their brains respond to gentle touch in ways similar to those of babies who experienced an entire pregnancy inside their mother’s womb,” said Nathalie Maitre, one of the project's researchers.
Scientists also cite that hugging is another way for a baby to assess a connection with the mother. Reactions to hugging, whether it be the mother holding the baby or even talking in the midst of this warm and fuzzy activity, reinforce a sense of meaning to that type of contact. Hugging is obviously a positive thing to do, meaning the baby will interpret the encounter as a positive thing as well, furthering the youngster's development of rational thinking.
There's a physical element that's inherent to brain development. Since hugging involves two arms, it's also another way for the baby to coordinate its limbs, while realizing the gestures are also a positive thing to do. And if the mother responds in a pleasant and encouraging fashion, the interaction also helps develop a sense of empathy and caring, vital building blocks for a child to develop a moral code to follow later in life.
Other doctors point to more chemical benefits, stating that hugging stimulates hormones that make a baby feel better than anything that is either fed or injected into the kids. The long and short of it is, that babies in the early stages of development receiving loads of hugs will live with more developed brains later in life.
Said researcher Nathan Fox about the findings, "The idea is that those kids who develop a secure attachment actually show enhanced brain activity at age eight."