All hugs are not created equal – and babies as young as four months are proof.
Heart rates in infants less than a year old slowed more during a hug than a hold. And the hug had a greater effect when it came from Mom or Dad rather than from a stranger, according to a study published in April in the journal iScience.
The findings offer some of the first proof that hugs help parents and infants bond, the researchers said.
"Like most parents, we love to hug our children," said first author Sachine Yoshida of Toho University in Tokyo, Japan. "We also know that children love to be hugged by their parents. But what surprised us as scientists is how little we know about hugging."
Benefits go both ways
For the study, her team assessed infants' heart rates when they were hugged or held. And those aged four months to one year calmed more when they were hugged than when they were held.
The babies' heart rates also slowed more when they were hugged by their parents compared with a hug from a stranger, the findings showed.
And the calming benefits go both ways: Parents' heart rates also slowed when they hugged their infants.
"We found that both infants and parents come to relax by hugging," Yoshida said in a journal news release.
While a parent's hug didn't have quite the same effect on younger infants, one trick did help them relax: Holding baby and using a hand to put pressure on his or her back.
This suggests that younger babies don't make the same distinction as older ones between being held and being hugged, according to the researchers.
"Even though infants cannot speak, they recognise their parents through various parenting methods, including hugging, after four months old at latest," Yoshida said. "We hope that knowing how your baby feels while being hugged helps ease the physical and psychological workload of taking care of infants too young to speak."
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