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The Amount Of Snuggling A Baby Gets Shows Up In Its Genes, Study Finds

It turns out that cuddling a baby doesn’t only affect them emotionally, but also biologically. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that they could detect comforting contact at a molecular level, changes that last for four years — but it is not clear yet if these changes affect long-term health.

Children without contact lagged behind.

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The researchers found that children that had less physical contact as infants had an underdeveloped molecular profile for their age. This means that they were less developed than their cuddled counterparts.

Michael Kobor, a researcher in the study, said in a statement, "In children, we think slower epigenetic aging could reflect less favorable developmental progress." It is unclear what the effects of developmental delay are in the long-term.

The researchers included 94 children at the BC Children’s Hospital in their study.

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The parents of the infants were asked to keep a diary of the infants’ behavior and the amount of time that they gave the child bodily contact. Four and half years later, the researchers took a DNA sample of the children to see if there were any effects. The researchers found distinct DNA methylation differences.

Methylation can affect how DNA expresses itself.

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Some parts of chromosomes have carbon or hydrogen tagged onto them. These molecules can help to control how active a gene is and how a cell functions. This biochemical modification is called DNA methylation. But the important part of this is that the process is influenced by external factors. This means that environmental factors shape how our DNA is expressed.

There were two consistent methylation differences between babies with a lot or a little contact.

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The areas that were the most affected by contact were the immune and metabolic systems. Children that displayed stressful behavior and had less contact were less developed than the other babies. But researchers do not know if the differences actually impacted the children’s development or health yet.

More research is needed to understand the implications.

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"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 Sarah Moore, the lead author of the study. "If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants."

Whether or not further research finds lasting implications, I think we can all agree that it’s best to err on the side of snuggling and comforting babies.

h/t: The University of British Columbia