Holding Babies Changes Their DNA, New Study Finds

New study shows babies’ genes express themselves differently depending on how often they’re held

Babies who aren’t held often enough are genetically underdeveloped, according to a recent study published in Development and Psychopathology.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia and the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute monitored 94 infants from 5 weeks after birth to age 4.5 years, asking parents to keep a diary of  how often they were in bodily contact with their babies, as well as their babies’ behaviors, such as sleeping, fussing, crying or feeding.

The researchers took DNA samples from the children at age 4.5. Those who were held less often, and therefore distressed more often, were underdeveloped on a molecular level.

The children who received inadequate physical contact had an “epigenetic age” that was lower than their actual age, which has been linked to poor health in other studies.

“In children, we think slower epigenetic aging could reflect less favorable developmental progress,” said Michael Kobor, a genetics professor at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute in a press release.

Scientists found lack of touch repressed gene expression at five specific DNA sites, including one that effects the immune system and one that effects metabolism.

A similar study was carried out on rodents, but this is first human study demonstrating the lifelong consequences of not holding babies enough on the epigenome.

“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,” said the study’s lead author Sarah Moore, a geneticist at UBC.

So, next time grandma tells you your “spoiling” your baby by holding her too much, tell her to pipe down and take a cue from our primitive ancestors:

RELATED: Love Makes Your Baby’s Brain Bigger… Neglect Kills Billions of Brain Cells





10 responses to “Holding Babies Changes Their DNA, New Study Finds”

  1. Patrick Avatar

    A loving environment would do us all good ❤️

  2. Erin Young Avatar
    Erin Young

    Can you share you references??

  3. Rachell Avatar

    Are the authors able to operationalise “inadequate” versus “adequate” time / methods of physical contact?
    Given that <4.5yrs covers typical periods of pre school care, I’m interested to learn if adequate contact would be compromised by daycare?
    Thank you

  4. Sue Avatar

    Loved the info…but the grandma comment was not cool.

  5. Susan Avatar

    More likely it’s the opposite.
    Grandma is probably advising mom and dad to hold the baby more and the cell phone less.

    1. Suzan Avatar

      Dear Sara, I am a grandmother of five, and I wholeheartedly agree with Sue, Susan, and Lillian regarding your grandma comment. Susan has nailed what any grandma I know would likely say. It’s too bad you ended your interesting commentary on such a sour note–even though I believe your intent was to insert some humor.

  6. Lillian Avatar

    The Grandma comment was silly and mean. Our generation brought breastfeeding and babywearing back!

    1. Margaret Avatar

      It’s great to hear grandmas out there who encouraged holding babies. All the grandmas I know fit under that spoiled statement. My mom, mother in law, my two grandmas and hubby’s grandmas would discouraged baby holding. My mother-in-law couldn’t believe how much we hold our babies. You need to put them in a crib and walk out. We got slack from both sides of the family for cosleeping too. I rocked my babies for hours and don’t regret one second. I cuddled all 3. My 2yr old loves cuddles. I’ll continue to “spoil” my baby girl.

  7. R cash Avatar
    R cash

    I’m a grandma who held my own babies all the time. The grandma comment was inane!

  8. Michelle Avatar

    Holding our babies is soooo important. I have literally heard grandparents saying that very thing about spoiling children by holding them too much. I think no harm done by your humor. My mom has always told me she believes my daughter was healed from autism because I held my baby 24/7. Maybe there is some truth to it.