Discover how this powerful sense helps babies learn trust while developing their growing minds.
There’s a key developmental tool right at your baby’s fingertips. Make that in your baby’s fingertips—and in yours too. Touch is a powerful sense for all kinds of learning and discovery, from exploring objects to making social connections.
Here are some ways you can bring the benefits of touch to your baby’s world.
Hold, Cuddle, and Hug
This is an easy one that comes naturally to most parents. Hold your baby close during feedings. Rock and sing. Snuggle when reading to her, right from birth. You can’t really spoil a young baby with too much touching.
Physical contact is vital to the basic brain development that’s growing by leaps and bounds during the first year of life. Touch reduces stress hormones like cortisol, and increases hormones linked to social and emotional bonding, like oxytocin and vasopressin. In fact, newborns that are held frequently tend to cry less and experience less stress, allowing the brain to better focus on learning.
Massage Your Baby
Massage can be any kind of very gentle stroking and rubbing of your baby’s skin.
A specific type of skin receptor is activated when a baby’s skin is stroked, research has shown, resulting in a pleasant sensation. Skin-to-skin (hers to yours) contact calms and reassures your baby.
Provide Interesting Playthings
Swap out toys for your baby every few days to keep them interesting. Look for toys with different patterns and colors, ones with different textures (wood, plastic, fur), and things that make sounds (measuring spoons, rattles). Around 4 months, your baby will use her mouth and hands together to explore toys. By 6 months, she really enjoys interacting with them, and around 7 to 8 months, she’ll start to like toys that can be grasped or have handles to grab.
The sense of touch works together with vision and hearing to both refine motor skills and make vital connections in the brain.
Encourage an Older Baby to Self-Feed
By 9 to 10 months, babies can use their hands to feed themselves. But even earlier, they enjoy just touching food.
The sense of touch helps babies learn about food in the same way they learn about toys and other objects. Is it hot or cold? Mushy or solid? Does it change shape?
Let Your Baby’s Feet Explore Different Surfaces
Hold your baby upright over different surface textures, like water, grass, and sand. When she starts to walk, let her go barefoot (when it’s safe) to feel the difference between carpet, wood, and outdoor surfaces.
The feet collect sensory information about the world too. Tactile input of all kinds helps your baby develop a concept of her own body.