Study: Hugging baby has health benefits

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By Christine McLarty – HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) – Hugging a baby could improve the child's health.

According to Huggies's recent #nobabyunhugged initiative, more than 600 medical studies have been done on the effects of human touch. They say these studies have proven what moms have always known: hugs are important.

The study says hugging your baby can give them a more stable heart rate, improve their oxygen levels, and help them gain weight faster. A more stable body temperature, lower anxiety levels, and improved sleep are other health benefits.

If your baby is more relaxed and sleeping better, that will inadvertently make the caretaker more relaxed. Some studies show brain development in the child is also facilitated due to hugging, potentially linked to the child sleeping better.

According to Scientific American, a specific practice called Kangaroo Care – a skin-to-skin embrace where a child wearing only a diaper is pressed to the caretaker's chest – released oxytocin in the caretaker's body. One theory is that the newborn is coming out of a restrictive environment, so being touched and hearing a heartbeat is comforting because it reminds them of the womb.

Penn State Hershey Medical Center spokesman Scott Gilbert says the hospital has a baby cuddling program where "cuddlers" volunteer to give babies extra attention. Most of the time, the cuddlers tend to babies that have to stay in the NICU for extended periods of time, as their parents can't stay around the clock to tend to the child.

The article in Scientific American says children who lived in orphanages have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than children raised in a functioning household. Some scientists believe this stress hormone build-up is a direct link to a lack of positive physical contact.

On that note, cuddling your baby isn't just for mothers and volunteers, fathers are encouraged to hug and cuddle their baby to enhance the relationship from the start.

There is a National Hugging Day on Jan. 21 of every year to celebrate the embrace. Gilbert says it's not just good for the babies, but the cuddlers enjoy the volunteer work.

There is a wait list to volunteer as a cuddler at the hospital. To become a cuddler or a volunteer, click here.

To learn more from the Scientific American article on the importance of physical contact with your infant, go here.