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Study Shows Cuddling Babies Alters Their DNA

April 6th, 2018

Most people love cuddling and snuggling babies.

There’s a lot of reasons to do it. It helps the baby feel calm, comfortable and loved. Babies live their first nine months in their mothers’ wombs, where they are cramped but happy. Holding a baby reminds it of being in the womb and helps it feel safe.

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John Harvey Photo Source: John Harvey Photo

What if there were other reasons to hold them close?

A recent study found that the amount of comforting contact that babies get can change them on a molecular level, and the results can last for many years. The study shows that babies that do not get a lot of physical contact early on feel more distressed and can experience molecular changes that can affect gene expression.

The researchers were surprised at their findings and are planning on doing more research that will explain why this happens and what actually causes these changes. Scientists hope that it will teach them more about the epigenome, which is a group of biochemicals and proteins that influence gene expression.

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The study focused on 94 babies.

The parents of these babies were asked to keep diaries of their interactions with their babies. They were asked to document anytime they cuddled, held, and soothed their babies over a period of five weeks. They were also asked to document the behavior of the babies – if they were crying, sleeping, or simply alert and happy during these cuddling sessions.

More than four years later, researchers took DNA swabs from the children, and they were analyzed in a process known as methylation. Michael Kobor, a professor in BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute’s Department of Medical Genetics who leads the “Healthy Starts” theme, said:

“In children, we think slower epigenetic aging could reflect less-favorable developmental progress.”

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Science has long suggested that human touch is important for babies and even adults.

Babies respond to touch better than any other stimuli. In addition, babies who don’t get a lot of physical contact often grow up to have social problems and self-esteem problems.

The scientists are hoping to continue their study and find out more about the epigenome and how certain things can affect it. The lead author of the study, Sarah Moore, explained:

“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. If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.”

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A similar study was conducted on rats in 2013.

According to the University of British Columbia:

“It compared the pups of nurturing mothers – those who made their milk readily available and spent a lot of time licking their progeny – with the pups of those who were less attentive to their young. The pups of the less attentive mothers were more vulnerable to stress, and this difference corresponded to chemical tags on certain genes.”

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The 2013 study showed similar findings, proving that the epigenome effects don’t only apply to humans.

This study only made Dr. Kobor more excited to continue to study human children. He said,

“There is a huge amount of very diverse but very high-quality data about these children’s lives, and how they behave.

“We can use cutting-edge technology to measure the methylation state of almost all of the 20,000 to 25,000 human genes. With that, we should be able to establish that what is true in rats might be transferable to humans.”

There is still a lot of work to be done in this area, but the scientists are clearly on to something.

Just in case you really needed a reason to hold, snuggle, and cuddle your baby, you now have some scientific proof that shows how important it is.

Source: Science Alert