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: