Infants need to be handled, carried, cuddled and stroked for them to thrive. We all know this – right? Yes, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Up until the 1920s the death rate for babies under one year of age in American foundling institutions was nearly 100%. They died of a disease known as ‘infantile atrophy’ or ‘wasting away’. Why?

In one study of 200 infants admitted to various institutions, only 10% survived more than a year. These infants only survived because they were taken from the institutions for short periods and placed in the care of foster parents or relatives.

It’s from scientific studies like these, that we (in the west) discovered that babies need more than food to keep them alive – that they actually need touch, care, human interaction.

It’s hard to believe that people didn’t know that – but in those days scientists, medics, child care experts, (and parents who listened to expert opinion) didn’t think much of soft stuff like emotion, love, relationships.

But it isn’t just babies and young children who need tender, loving touch – it’s fundamental to healthy life for ALL of us.

Many people live without having their skin touched in this way by another – or touched at all. Imagine the impact this has on our physical, mental and emotional health.

(Historical information from: Ashley Montagu Touching: the human significance of the skin 1978.)

Published by Dr Esther Walker

Esther runs a social enterprise called Storyworlds Life and has a private practice as a Gestalt therapist.

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