There are few
ways for babies to communicate: They smile if they're happy, fidget to get
comfortable and cry whenever the milk (or formula) dries up. The rest of the time, they just
stare—with great curiosity—at anything and everything around them, which makes
a parent wonder what else they can feel.
Turns out, though, that
babies feel more than anyone could have imagined, and that awareness runs deep.
According to new
from the University of British Columbia (Canada) and BC Children’s Hospital Research
Institute, the simple act of touching, early in life, has deeply rooted and
potentially lifelong consequences on Baby's genes.
The amount of close and comforting contact between infants and their caregivers
can affect children at a molecular level. In other words, your hugs—or lack
thereof—can leave traces on their adorable baby genes.
published November 22 in Development and Psychopathology, involved 94 healthy
children in British Columbia. Results indicated that children who had been more
distressed as infants—those who had received less physical contact—were likely
lagging biologically in that their cells were in some ways underdeveloped.
“In children, we
think slower epigenetic aging (a measure of the estimated biological age of tissue) could reflect less favorable developmental
progress,” says Michael Kobor, a professor in the department of medical
genetics who leads the Healthy Starts program at BC Children’s Hospital
During the analysis,
parents of 5-week-old babies were asked to keep a diary of their infants’
behavior (such as sleeping, fussing, crying or feeding), as well as the duration
of caregiving that involved bodily contact. When the children were about 4 1/2
years old, researchers from UBC and BC Children’s Hospital sampled their DNA by
swabbing the inside of their cheeks.
The team later
examined the DNA to determine how active each gene was and how the cells were
functioning. In doing so, scientists were able to locate consistent differences
between high-contact and low-contact children at five specific DNA sites, two
of which fell within genes classes related to the immune system and metabolism.
experienced higher distress and received relatively little contact had an
“epigenetic age” that was lower than would be
expected, given their actual age.
“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,” says lead author Sarah Moore, a postdoctoral fellow.
research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of
providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.”
That said, the effects on older child development is unclear. But, to put it
simply, the more you hold your baby, the better they’ll feel.