Who doesn't love cuddling babies? We sure do! Despite repeated urgings of nurses and nosy relatives not to "spoil" the little ones too much early on, we simply can't resist the way their faces (and ours!) light up when we hold them in our arms. And based on a new study, there may be an even better reason to snuggle away.
The study, published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, examined 94 babies and asked the parents to keep a record of their cuddling habits with the babies from five weeks after birth, as well as the babies' behavior, like sleeping and crying. Four and a half years later, DNA swabs were taken from all the kids.
The swabs found that babies who got more cuddles had their genetics changed in a promising way— and that those effects can last for years. In contrast, infants who get less physical contact and are distressed at a young age end up with potentially negative genetic changes. And these aren't just any genes we're talking about here — they included both the immune and metabolic system.
But one of the most striking differences was the epigenetic age — or the biological aging of blood and tissue. The marker was much lower than expected for kids that didn't have as many cuddles as babies and experienced more distress early on.
"In children, we think slower epigenetic aging could reflect less favorable developmental progress," said Michael Kobor, PhD, who was part of the research team.
It's worth noting that this was a very small study (less than 100 babies), and much more research would need to be completed before researchers could reach any specific answers as to why this happens — and if there are any serious health consequences down the line from less cuddles.
"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," said Sarah Moore, PhD, also part of the research team. "If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants."
In the meantime, feel free to give the crying baby in your life a big ol' hug!
h/t Science Alert