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The science is in: the more stimulating a baby’s environment, the smarter and better off that baby will be later in life. What’s important to understand is that this stimulation needs to come from all five of a baby’s senses. So many parents focus on making sure that the baby has stimulating things to look at and hear and the senses of smell, taste and touch are almost considered afterthoughts.

Sometimes this is understandable: your baby is going to put everything in their mouth anyway and they doesn’t have the physical ability to handle some of the tastes (like spicy foods) that you’d like them to experience. Smells just sort of happen. It’s hard to remember to pass everything past a child’s nose.

Touch, though, is a huge stimulation and it is one that is often left to develop on its own. Let’s examine it a little more.

Babies Require Softness

Babies are so tiny and fragile, it’s understandable that we would restrict their touch to things like holding them close, nuzzling, and planting soft kisses. It’s important though, that you expose your baby to a variety of different types of touch stimulation.

Textures Textures Everywhere

In some instances, this is easy. Giving your child toys that have different textures is important. Those “look and feel” board books, for example, with the contrast of the smooth board page and other textures (feathers, reptile scales, plastic, fur, rough textures, etc) are great ways to accomplish this. Stuffed animals made with nubby fabrics, ribbed fabrics (like corduroy) are also good.

baby touch by a parentPlaying Hot and Cold

Your baby’s skin is sensitive and your instinct is to only allow them to touch things that are slightly cool or comfortably warm to the touch. It’s important, though, that your baby touch things that are hot (not too hot, obviously, you don’t want to burn your baby) as well as cold. Letting your baby touch an ice cube or a blanket right from the dryer is important.

Outside Touch: Infant Massage and Its Benefits

Gently massaging your baby is also important. Infant or baby massage is where you gently stroke your baby’s body with your hands. Usually you do this to a rhythm and sometimes, in addition to stroking the baby’s head, torso, back, arms and legs, you can also gently squeeze your baby’s wrists, ankles, fingers and toes.

This rhythmic stroking helps your baby in many ways. It helps soothe your baby if he or she starts to get agitated and it strengthens the bond between you and your infant. When administered regularly, infants have been known to cry less, be calmer and even be happier. Why?

The gentle and loving touch you’re giving stimulates the baby’s production of oxytocin, the “happy” hormone that helps produce and increase feelings of emotional warmth and well being (even love).

Another way that baby and infant massage are helpful is that it helps to develop non-verbal communication skills for your baby.

baby massageInfant Massage: Not Just For Babies

The other interesting thing that research is proving about infant massage is that it isn’t just good for your baby. It’s also good for you. Massaging your baby stimulates your brain’s oxytocin production too. It can even stimulate oxytocin production in your partner if he or she is nearby and watching the massage take place.

Remember: there are infinite numbers of ways that a baby’s brain can form neural connections and that means it’s your job to offer as much and as varied stimulation as possible. Work to stimulate all of your baby’s senses in as many ways as you can. It’s not just good for your baby; it’s good for you too!