Despite how important close physical contact between infants and their mothers is, families in western societies are in contact around 18% of the day compared to families in non-western societies which are in contact around 79-99% of the day. This significant difference may be attributed to the use of modern means of infant care, such as formula feeding, institutional medical practices, and baby equipment which all limit infants’ contact with their mother. While these products are useful, they eliminate opportunities for physical contact between infants and others, which can negatively affect infant development, maternal behaviors, and the developing infant/mother connection.
For instance, if we compare infants who are carried with skin-to-skin contact (i.e., dressed only in a diaper and held closely to the mother’s bare chest) with infants who are carried with babywear (i.e., carried in slings or cloth with no skin-to-skin contact), we discover that infants with skin-to-skin contact are at various physiological and behavioral advantages. Particularly through the release of oxytocin and stimulation of the sensory nerve fibers. In addition, skin-to-skin contact during the first month after birth improves infants’ ability to respond emotionally to their mothers. In contrast, using babywear to carry infants enhances the mother’s interactions and sensitivity to her infant’s needs.
Lastly, infants who sleep in close physical contact with their mothers (regularly co-sleep) gain better sleep regulation which permits them to adjust to changed sleep situations.
In summary, close physical touch between infants and mothers is vital for the development of attachment in infants, nurturing behaviors in mothers, a mutual connection, and for overall healthy infant development. Close physical contact with others allows infants to survive, mature, and acquire social cognitive abilities.
Bigelow, A. E., & Williams, L. R. (2020). To have and to hold: Effects of physical contact on infants and their caregivers. Infant Behavior & Development, 61, 101494.
Harlow, H. F. (1958). The nature of love. American psychologist, 13(12), 673.