Never before have there been so many theories on the “correct” way to parent a child. Should you allow them to scream their lungs out, or comfort them in distress? Should you resist allowing them to take home the “participant” trophy, or should you celebrate their innocence and playfulness as a child?
There’s no question — parenting is oftentimes challenging. Fortunately for us all, new research provides some clarity on the best way to raise a young one. According to a new study published in Development and Psychopathology, cuddling babies may actually affect them at a molecular level — and the simple act can affect them for years.
In the study, scientists from the University of British Columbia found that babies who get less physical contact tend to be more distressed at a young age. They also confirmed that changes in molecular processes affect their gene expression for years. Though more research needs to be conducted, this latest finding reveals how touch affects the epigenome — the biochemical changes (including environment) that influence gene expression in the body.
For the research, the parents of 94 babies were asked to keep diaries of their touching and cuddling habits from five weeks after birth. They were also asked to log the behavior — such as sleeping, crying, etc… — of the child. After four-and-a-half years, researchers took DNA swabs from the children to analyze a biochemical modification called DNA methylation.
As Science Alert reports, DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism which results in some parts of the chromosome being “tagged” with small carbon and hydrogen molecules. This can change how genes function, as well as affect their expression. Researchers noticed DNA methylation differences between the children who had “high-contact” and those with “low-contact” at five specific DNA sites. Reportedly, two were within the genes: one point related to the immune system, whereas one was to metabolism.
They also found that the biological marker of epigenetic age was different. Kids who hadn’t received as much touch as babies experienced more distress in their early years, compared to their true age. Said Michael Kobor, a member of the research team: “In children, we think slower epigenetic ageing could reflect less favourable developmental progress.”
In previous research, gaps between epigenetic age and the chronological age have been linked to health problems. However, it is still too soon to draw conclusions, as more research needs to be conducted. In future studies, scientists will need to investigate the long-term changes in health that might occur as a result of “high-contact” or “low-contact” at an early age. This is exactly what the team of researchers intends to do.
“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,” says one of the researchers, Sarah Moore. ”If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.”
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Source: Science Alert
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