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Why Attachment Parenting: Using Nurturing Touch

This post is the fourth ina series examining the principles of Attachment Parenting. The goal is to explore what the principle is, why it’s important, and what it looks like in different families and different homes. That last bit is where you come in! I can share how these things play out in my home, but I would truly appreciate hearing wisdom from your journey as well.

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Anyone who has studied child development or psychology has learned of Harry Harlow’s famous experiments with rhesus monkeys, conducted in the 1950s. Prior to Harlow, attachment theorists like John Bowlby had looked at the detrimental effects of maternal separation, but Harlow showed that these effects were directly related to touch, and that human touch is crucial to animal survival.

Harlow’s experiments offered different types of mechanical “mothers” to rhesus monkeys who had been separated from their actual mothers. Some were made of raw wire while others were made of terrycloth. In some instances, the raw wire “mother” offered food, while in others it did not, and the same was true of the cloth mother. In all instances, the monkeys preferred the cloth mother. This showed that what the monkeys needed was not simply food: it was a nurturing touch.

Since Harlow’s discovery, study after study has shown the value of touch for humans of all ages, especially infants. As with preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting; feeding with love and respect; and responding with sensitivity, then, it is hardly necessary to build a case for the use of nurturing touch. Science does that for us. It’s also another practice that most all parents employ at least to some degree, whether or not they consider themselves attachment parents.

In attachment parenting, nurturing touch takes several different forms, including: Skin-to-skin contact and kangaroo care, which can benefit mothers as well as their infants; Babywearing (even if I don’t like to call it that); and Infant and Toddler Massage

In our house …

Because I had read about the benefits of skin-to-skin contact, my birth plan specified that Annabelle should be placed on my chest immediately following her birth. Fortunately the whole loss of modesty thing, which I’d also read about, kicked in right around transition and made me feel comfortable enough to throw my dress off with nary a care as things were getting intense, so my skin was ready for her skin.

Of course I can’t say for certain that this initial skin-to-skin contact, or the hours of it that would come in the following weeks, had any specific benefits. I don’t know, after all, what life would have been like if I hadn’t done things this way. I will say that initiating breastfeeding was no problem (although I dealt with plenty of pain for several weeks), I had nothing more than the usual hint of “baby blues” here and there, and we generally got along very well with one another. Even now, I use skin-to-skin contact when the babe is dealing with a fever.

Slings and my soft structured carrier have come in extremely handy throughout Annabelle’s life, not only as tools for keeping us close, but also as a way for me to get things done while still honoring the babe’s need for physical touch. I do feel that this has helped our connection, and Annabelle is a happy, securely attached child who is as comfortable exploring new environments and interacting with other people as she is in my arms. Of course again, I can’t say how things would have gone if I had not chosen babywearing, however.

As for infant massage, I haven’t really done it. Annabelle has never been one for holding still, so after a couple of tries I gave up. For me, nurturing touch is mostly about being responsive. Annabelle has always loved to be held, and I have considered it a part of my job as her mother to give her the touch she craves. Of course there are times when she needs her space, and times when I need mine, too, but for the most part, nurturing touch benefits us both. I have found that when I’m losing patience, giving her a big squeeze while taking a deep breath really helps. She gives me nurturing touches, too. As she gets older, I’m sure we’ll use nurturing touch in different ways. Most of all, I’d like to always be available for a hug or a back rub when it’s wanted.

The Natural Parents Network did a week of posts along the theme of nurturing touch, including posts on “Nurturing a Playful Touch,” “Nurturing Touches, Respectfully,” and a beautiful Wordless Wednesday post depicting nurturing touch as it plays out in different families.

Whether you identify as “AP” or not, I would love to hear what nurturing touch looks like for you. What do you feel the benefits have been for your family? Have you written a post on nurturing touch? I’d love to read it and link to it!

One Response to Why Attachment Parenting: Using Nurturing Touch

  • Annicles says:

    When I was pregnant with Johnny (no.2) someone told me that boys were much more cuddly than girls. Seeing as I had not really put Abigail down since she was born due to her intense need for cuddles I thought then that I would never get to do anything or go anywhere with two cuddlers! The reality was pretty much that and a third baby only added to it. All of my three are huggle-monsters. My day usually starts with a cuddle and I am regularly ambushed during the day and we end the day with huge long cuddles.
    I used baby massage with Livi but the other two utterly hated it. Livi found it very soothing and often fell asleep mid massage!

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