Attachment Research concerning Cuddling

I just read an interesting article on attachment and the genetic effect on babies of cuddling.  While we probably intuitively know that cuddling a baby is just good for everyone involved it was interesting to read what researchers are finding out about this. The article was titledEpigenetic correlates of neonatal contact in humans. I know that is quite a mouthful to read let alone understand. Another way to put it is – Babies Who Get Cuddled More Seem to Have Their Genetics Changed For Years Afterwards.

Attachment – Cuddling our Children

This was a study in 2017 from the University of British Colombia in Canada. The research suggests that babies who get less physical contact and are more distressed at a young age, end up with changes in the expression of their DNA. The researchers stressed it was too early to draw any definitive conclusions and that it is unknown exactly what is causing the changes. What it could do is give scientists some useful insights into how touching affects the expression of the genetic code.

During the study, parents of 94 babies were asked to keep diaries of their touching and cuddling habits from five weeks after birth, as well as writing down the behavior of the infants. Four-and-a-half years later, DNA swabs were taken of the kids to analyze a biochemical modification called DNA methylation. If you are anything like me you ask “What in the world is DNA methylation?”. I read another article just to find out. It is the addition of a chemical onto DNA to change the way the gene is used.  (I can’t believe all the biology I am learning right now).

What were the differences that the researchers found?  

The researchers found DNA methylation differences between “high-contact” children and “low-contact” children at five specific DNA sites, two of which were within genes for a) one related to the immune system, b) and one to the metabolic system. They also found the expression of a gene for the aging of blood and other tissues was lower than expected in the children who hadn’t had much contact as babies, and had experienced more distress in their early years, compared with their actual age.

Gaps between “the expression of genes” age and chronological age has been linked to health problems in the past, but again the researchers note it is too early to draw conclusions: the scientists readily admit they don’t yet know how this will affect the kids later in life. “We are also talking about less than 100 babies in the study, but it does seem that close contact and cuddles do somehow change the body at a genetic level.”If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.”

Again, it does not take a researcher to know how great cuddling a baby is but it is quite interesting to see that it possibly alters the expression of genes.  No matter what let’s keep hugging our kids!!!!

If you would like to read more about the Center please click on the link and thanks for reading our blog this week.

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