Skin is the largest and most essential sense organ human survival. It's variety of sensory receptors keep us informed about types of temperature, pain, body awareness: if we're hungary, thirsty, full, off balance; types of touch - too much pressure, something's itchy, that touch feels relaxing.
We can work, play, live without vision, hearing, being able to smell donuts and we can survive if we can't taste our food & beverage. But, for instance, we wouldn't survive long if we were unable to sense extreme Temperature (know when to take off/ put on clothes - to compensate for T changes), or if we couldn't feel the pain that alerted us to a wound or fracture.
Did you know that Touch - your first sense - developed when you were the size of a jelly bean? Look how you and your skin have grown since then? I wonder how your ability to experience touch has changes since your 8 weeks old self was soothed by a fluid bath in the womb, and by your mother's constant movements.
If, during the first time you "left home", you were squeezed through vaginal walls, Touch was essential to stimulate the organs that needed to function when your cord was cut.
I invite you to imagine the shock on the newborn’s immature nervous system as it slides from the protected warmth of the womb into plastic covered hands, a chilly room and a world governed by gravity. Ideally, the newborn is immediately placed on its mother's naked body so that skin-to-skin contact re-connects them. Touching each other's skin stimulates the oxytocin - "love hormone" - release that calms baby, supports bonding, stimulates mom’s uterine contractions to help expel placenta, reduce uterine bleeding, stimulate release of milk, and reduce incidence of post-partum depression.
At birth - and over time - touch supports communication between infant and caregivers. Touch continues to trigger the oxytocin release that increases the infant's responsiveness to caregivers.
Responsiveness increases the infant's potential to thrive. Why? Caregivers are more likely to bond with this peeing, pooping, spitting up, wake-ful fretful, vulnerable, premature infant, when the infant rewards its caregivers with smiles & coos.
All human infants are pre-mature at birth. They must be born before their head is too large to fit through the birth canal - which is also 9 months before it’s systems are fully developed.
Skin is external portion of nervous system. They develop from the same embryonic tissue, so throughout life, touch influences all the functions governed by nervous system.
For instance, regular caring touch stimulates release of Growth Hormone to support healthy growth and development. Not only does a caregiver’s embodied touch convey caring, it helps infant learn to distinguish between it's body, other people and objects, and helps it learn to self-regulate.
Embodied is an operative word. If, for whatever reasons, the caregiver is “touching while distracted”, the infant will sense “disconnection” - often a scary experience for an infant so dependent on caregivers.
These descriptions are ideal newborn / caregiver experiences
Sensory awareness is essential to being in your body - to being present.
Good news: if you didn’t have this ideal early childhood, Exploring Your Senses can help you catch up. The most essential aspect of caring touch is being present, (embodied).