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The lasting legacy of a cuddle

New research highlights that cuddles not only comfort, soothe and calm a child, they’re also shaping genetics.

Topics: , Bookbug

Last updated: 01 May 2023

Woman reading 'Where's Mrs Hen' to her baby

There is plenty of evidence that supports how important love is to a baby – babies need love. They’re hardwired for connection and they seek to develop relationships with loving adults. It’s through these loving interactions that babies are able to flourish and thrive. Through love, and loving interactions, babies are learning to regulate their emotions while they develop a sense of security and safety. This emotional safety is a key part of our emotional and physical development.

The evidence for a baby's need for love has just got even stronger: new research highlights that cuddles not only comfort, soothe and calm a child, they’re also shaping genetics(this link will open in a new window). Babies who experience more cuddles and positive touch are being hardwired differently than babies who experience less physical interaction. In the research studies, children from the ‘high contact’ group had a difference in two genes – one related to immune system and one related to the metabolic system. The researchers highlight that it’s very early days for this research and they’re still not sure why the change is happening - but it’s amazing to think that something so simple as a quick cuddle is having a lasting impact on children.

Genetics aside, there are plenty of reasons to cuddle. It can calm and soothe, help families stay connected and children to feel safe and secure. The most important thing to remember, though, is to follow the lead of the child. Some children are naturally cuddly, and some children prefer that you show them love in other ways. It’s important to keep it positive for everyone - don’t force a cuddle if your child is not open to it.

Songs, rhymes and stories are a great time to work an extra cuddle into your day. Take a few minutes, and chat about a book. Snuggle up and look at pictures together. As you hold your wee one, or they squash up next to you, make the most of this lovely close time together.

If you’ve got a brave toddler who enjoys songs and rhymes, you can bounce them on your knee and tip them upside down (try Rickety Rickety Rockety Horse). The dangerous bit of going upside down is made okay – and even fun – when there is a big, reassuring cuddle at the end!

As you cuddle in for extra stories, songs or rhymes, remember that your physical touch can have a lasting impact on your child.