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Oct 15, 2018

New Study: The More You Hug Your Kids, The More Their Brains Develop

If you’re that kind of parent who can’t keep their arms off their children, hugging them at every moment possible, then don’t stop – your kids will thank you for it one day.
According to new research, hugging, as a form of physical affection, during the developmental period of the baby, is more important than you could think. The affection in the form of touch that these babies get triggers their brains to grow, and thus become smarter.
The research done by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio looked at 125 babies, born both preterm and full-term, and analyzed how light physical touch affects their brain development, as well as their perception, cognition, and social development.
They discovered that supportive experiences, such as breastfeeding, skin-to-skin care, affectionate hugs, and similarp; triggered strong brain responses which allowed the brain to develop faster and more healthily.
In other words, being gentle and loving to your baby is not only the humane and natural thing to do; but it also contributes to the development of their brain to such extent that you may as well say that your child will become smarter.
Dr. Nathalie Maitre, the lead researcher behind this study, explains that this simple activity; of providing body contact to your child or rocking them in your arms; makes a significant difference in the development of their brains.
“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,” she explains to Science Daily.

What is Oxytocin?

Oxytocin, a type of hormone, was discovered in 1906 by Sir Henry Dale. This hormone is released in quite large amounts during childbirth; allowing the uterus to contract and milk to eject during breastfeeding. This hormone is also responsible for the regulation of social behaviors like the interaction with others and bonding with our loved ones; both of which are critical for reproduction and caring for our children.
The release of oxytocin helps mothers bond with their children due to an evolutionary sense; which allows humans to survive. Oxytocin is also referred to as “love molecule” due to its role in reproductive and maternal behaviors.

The Biology of Love

Social bonding is critical for our survival for two reasons. First, because it helps enrich our experiences and second; as it helps facilitate reproduction and boost brain development by reducing stress and anxiety. In terms of evolution, group exclusion leads to developmental and physical disorders; which in turn increased the risk of death in animal models.
In other words, humans are meant to be social and social isolation is not a well-programmed concept for us. Oxytocin levels are linked with trust as well; a behavior needed for social bonding and building emotional relationships.
Close up of a mother and daughter having fun at home

The Mother-Infant Bond

During pregnancy

When it comes to mother-infant bonding, healthy bonding releases oxytocin, which affects positive social behaviors. Actions like hugging, breastfeeding, and mother`s milk can induce the release of this hormone in both the mother and the baby, stimulating the bonding between the two.
Abnormal bonding, like lack of hugging, might negatively influence the child`s confidence and ability to interact with others as social factors heavily depend on body’s oxytocin levels. For instance, stressful events during pregnancy might be linked with behavioral deficits in later adulthood. Multiple rats done on mice have shown that when prenatally stressed mothers were paired with offspring, an increase of anxiety was noted.

After the child is born

After the child is born, positive social experience and maternal bonding is the basis for healthy emotional; and social development and is linked with increased resilience during stress. Oxytocin levels in mother and fathers of 4-month children were associated with child’s level of bonding with their parents and higher oxytocin levels in mother were linked with increased mother-infant bonding.
Bonding with one`s child through hugging increases oxytocin levels in the body; which in turn helps develop healthier relationship between the child and the parent; reduces stress, and lowers the risk of social deficits later on.
The bottom line is that each time you hug your spouse, child, or any loved one, you are not showing them affection only, but you are also boosting their oxytocin levels and improving their overall mental health.
All in all, love and affection are the key to one’s development in every stage of life. Start early and never stop! Your children will thank you for it in so many ways.

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