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The Power of Touch Important in the NICU

ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — One in ten infants is born prematurely and spends an extended amount of time in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, after birth. Now new research shows why a small gesture, like touching, can make a big difference and support the development of preemies.

With smooth skin and an adorable face, it is hard to resist cuddling newborn babies. Newborns experience the world through touch. But premature babies who spend their early days in incubators may not be getting all of those early experiences. A recent study performed at a children’s hospital looked at 125 infants born preterm – 24 to 36 weeks – and full term infants born at 38 to 42 weeks. Preemies were more likely than the others to have a reduced brain response to a light touch when dismissed from the hospital. Since children rely on touch to explore their world, a reduced response to touch may make it more difficult for children to experience their world as they grow.

Making sure that preterm infants receive positive, supportive touch such as skin-to-skin care by parents is essential to help their brains respond to touch in ways closer to those of infants born at full term. If that is not possible, parents may want to consider occupational and physical therapists to provide a carefully planned touch experience, giving preemies the tender love and care they need.

The study at Nationwide Children’s hospital in Columbus also found that the more painful medical procedures premature infants had, the less their brain responded to light touch later. That remained true despite the babies being given pain medications and sugar to make those procedures easier to endure.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Milvionne Chery, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

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