Importance of Sensory Stimulation for Babies

Babies should be allowed to enjoy the stimulation of warm water on their skin when participating in warm indoor swimming classes! And here’s why:


Importance of Sensory Stimulation for Babies

By Liji Thomas, MD

Children require sensory stimulation of an appropriate nature and duration, at the right time, failing which they are at high risk of developmental and cognitive delays. This is known to have been recorded in young babies who grew up in orphanages, and in preterm babies.

Image Credit: Romrodphoto / Shutterstock

One such sensory pathway is touch, which facilitates normal growth and development. From worms and rats to human beings, the offspring of each species shows positive responses to supplemental touch.

Research is still ongoing into the best ways to stimulate by touch and other sensations, so as to promote growth normalization and increase the level of response to multisensory stimuli, especially in children who were deprived of such stimulation in early life.

Multisensory integration is now recognized as being extremely important in the scheme of things. It seems to be acquired but to mature with growth, peaking in late childhood but with much variation depending on the level of prior experience.

Children with neurodevelopmental disorders often have impaired integration of multiple sensory modalities and must be trained to perceive and to interpret them correctly.

Lack of Tactile Stimulation

Experiments on rat pups reared in isolation vs under maternal care, and with those reared in isolation but modified by brief sessions of stroking, showed that deprivation of tactile stimulation (licking by the mother rat) caused aberrations of behavior in the deprived pups even after they became adults.

Morever, when these pups became mothers themselves, they failed to show fully maternal behavior towards their own pups. This has been seen in preterm babies kept in incubators for the first few weeks, deprived of touch but exposed to sounds and lights without always being able to correlate them with the source.

This can set them back in responding to social as well as environmental cues as they grow up. On the other hand, “kangaroo care” in which a baby is carried against the caregiver’s chest skin-to-skin in a carrier, wearing a diaper only, for at least an hour every day, for at least two weeks, has been shown to produce consistently improved scores in both mental and physical assessment, which persist for months afterwards.

father with baby

Father holding a premature baby with an oxygen mask in Kangaroo method. Image Credit: Kristina Bessolova / Shutterstock

Brain Development and Sensory Stimulation

Mechanosensory stimulation is thus very important in the development of a baby, and it is difficult to reverse the negative effects in an individual who was deprived of it in early life.

Research has shown that the newborn’s brain develops 2-3 million synapses each second! These synapses forge the route for sensory messages to reach the brain, and the more they are used, the more quickly they become permanent. If not used they may die out, a phenomenon called pruning, which is really meant to prevent information overload by cutting out non-functional pathway.

Sensory stimulation is vital to develop these pathways, and thus promote normal development. It also helps the child learn about the world, communicate and form attachments to the people around.