With Baby’s silky soft skin and intoxicating scent, it’s nearly impossible to keep your hands off of your newborn. Now, new research gives you even more reason to get close to your little one.
Stroking babies’ forearms with a soft paintbrush at a rate of about 3cm per second slowed infants’ heart rates better than a quicker pace (30 cm per second) or slower pace (.3 cm per second), says a study published in Psychological Science.
They also found that when stroking babies’ arms at the medium velocity—the one that had the greatest effect on heart rate—infants spent the most time looking at the paintbrush, indicating more engagement. Researchers think this could translate to a stronger connection with your baby. (You know, once you replace the paintbrush with your gentle touch.)
Don’t worry—there’s no need to time yourself as you caress your baby. Here are some more ways to use the power of touch to soothe, excite, and bond with your little one, courtesy of Suzanne Reese, certified infant massage instructor and author of Baby Massage: Soothing Strokes for Healthy Growth.
Time it right
“If your baby’s eyes are open and looking around, that means she’s more open to playful, energetic interactions,” says Reese. “It’s a good time to play games, like Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Use your fingers to walk up your baby’s body (when the spider walks up the spout), then use a gentle downward motion for “down comes the rain.” On the other hand, use slower, steadier motions when baby is falling asleep.
Calm a fussy baby
Swaddling isn’t the only way to soothe your baby—your hand can have the same effect. Gently hug a part of your baby’s body, like the upper arm, with your hand for a few moments. “Allow the natural weight of your hand to envelop your baby, so she knows you’re there,” says Reese. Softly move down her arm, gently squeezing it again with your hand. You can repeat this motion on her legs and back. (Pssst. Use this trick to help soothe your baby before bed.)
“Your baby mirrors your state,” says Reese. If your thoughts are frantic or you’ve mentally checked-out of the building (hey, it happens!), your touch won’t have the same effect. Remind yourself that being mentally present is just as important as what you’re doing physically. “If you’re relaxed, calm, and grounded, chances are your baby is going to reflect that, too,” says Reese.