Cuddling babies has a long-lasting effect at the molecular level, study shows

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Mother cuddling newborn

The cuddles you give your baby might be doing more good than just stopping their tears.

A recent study from the University of British Colombia found cuddling a baby can affect them positively at the molecular level, with the effects lasting for years. Online publication Science Alert reported that the study gave scientists insights into how touch influences gene expression in the body.

The results suggest that early postnatal contact has lasting associations with child biology.

The cuddle diary

Parents of 94 babies were asked to keep a diary noting when they touched and cuddled their babies and record the child’s behaviour. More than four years later, DNA swabs were taken from the children to analyse any biochemical modifications.

The finding showed differences between the children who had lots of contact and those who had less contact across five specific DNA sites, including the DNA site related to the immune system.

A marker for epigenetic age, the biological ageing of blood and tissue, was also found to be lower than expected in those children who had less physical contact during their early years.

More research needed

There will be further studies to find out why and whether “long-term changes in health might appear as a consequence”, reports Science Alert.

Researcher Sarah Moore says if further research confirms the initial finding, it will emphasise the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.

The full study was published in the Development and Psychopathology journal.

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