Touch to Explore Baby's New World

During the first year of life, experts advise that baby’s sense of touch develops from “head to toe.”  It is reasonable to expect that the mouth is the most “touch” sensitive area.  As adults we notice that babies put everything in their mouths; this behavior is not necessarily baby's response to teething, often, baby is simply exploring.   At birth, baby can feel the pressure of being held and swaddled.  Skin to skin contact is soothing and comforting, providing baby with a sense of security.  Our skin has thousands of receptors, making it uniquely able to provide stimulus to the brain.  It also is our largest organ, even from birth, and triggers our brain to help keep us safe. 

To help answer some age-old questions, a large body of fairly new research shows conclusively that babies are able to feel pain.  In fact, the pre-born fetus can feel pain very early in the gestation process.  Newborn babies can also distinguish between hot and cold.  Try an experiment with your newborn by touching his cheek with your warm hand or finger.  Notice how baby uses the “rooting” reflex to turn his head in the direction of your warm hand.  Now hold an ice cube for a few seconds to get your fingers cold and repeat touching baby’s cheek with your cold finger, baby will turn his head away from you.

Of all of the senses, touch is more interconnected with emotional growth and well-being, physical growth, cognitive potential, social growth and even the body’s immune functions.  New studies show that infant massage can be very beneficial to brain development in newborns whether full term or premature.  Always check with your baby’s doctor prior to doing any infant massage.  This link, at parenthood.com, describes and shows a short video of how to give your baby an infant massage.

From 1 to 3 months of age, many of baby's movements are “reflexive” rather than intentional.  Baby will begin demonstrating the “grasp” reflex at birth.  At about 1 month of life, you may begin to notice that offering your finger to baby or gently touching her palm, may result in baby grasping her whole hand around your finger and holding on tight.  Beginning to use her tiny hand and fingers this way which will evolve into understanding of how to hold objects as baby gets older.  Some researchers believe that the grasp reflex is an example of an inborn attachment promoting behavior and thus continues to serve an important survival function.  Offering lightweight teethers with different textures is appropriate at about 3 months of age.  Watch as baby puts the objects to her mouth to explore them. 

Around 3 months of age baby will begin to demonstrate more deliberate touching by grasping a lightweight rattle and moving it. Watch baby figure out how his actions result in causing the rattle to make a noise. Remember that cuddling and holding baby provides a crucial sense of security and emotional attachment.

As you will notice by interacting with our website, our research and consultation with experts in the field of cognitive, behavioral, emotional and physical motor development convinced us that the opportunity to play is among the most important influences on intellectual growth in young children. This intellectual journey begins with our sense of touch, which allows us to explore and learn about objects. Using the sense of touch in her mouth, the receptors in her skin or an inborn grasping reflex, the developing infant will explore objects and make lasting and vital connections in the brain. This will help formulate ideas and an understanding of how the world works.