September 1, 2016

Best for Baby: The Science of Sensory Stimulation

Written by Baby Science Live Coverage Team

“Everybody, no matter where you come from, wants what’s best for their baby.” Ask any mother, any father, and grandparent or caregiver – they all want the best for baby to grow, thrive, and develop into his or her fullest potential. And “best for baby” isn’t just about the best stroller, the most adorable outfits, or the softest blankets. While baby probably loves those, too, “best for baby” can be as simple as a touch, loving eye contact, mom’s scent, and the sound of her voice.

At recent International Congress of Pediatrics (ICP), held in Vancouver, JOHNSON’S® was proud to present a scientific symposium on the Science of the Senses, featuring the latest science on how sensory enrichment enhances early child development in the formative days, weeks, and months of brain growth.

From the day that baby is born until his or her first birthday, the size of baby’s brain nearly doubles. “This is truly the crucial period,” suggested Dr. Paul Horowitz, MD, a leading pediatrician in multisensory enhancement, encouraging the nearly 400 symposium attendees that pediatricians can help remind parents that when you “provide your baby a multisensory experience, that is developing your baby’s brain to fullest potential” in those important early months.

Dr. Tiffany Field, PhD., of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, continued the conversation with a specific focus on the importance of touch in infant stimulation, saying: “Whenever we touch, carry and hold an infant, we are going to stimulate the infant.”

One of the most important opportunities for sensory engagement, especially with often-sleeping newborns, is at bath time. Evidence demonstrates that bathing can be a calming, soothing a experience for infants, promoting bonding and reducing cortisol levels1. A regular bath time routine can be particularly helpful:

  • Gentle massage can help enhance food absorption and gastric motility.
  • Visual stimulation, like a direct and loving gaze, helps facilitate social development.
  • Familiar scents, like mother’s scent or the scent of a familiar lotion or fragrance, help reduce crying and improve sleep for both baby and mom.

Expanding on the value of the bedtime routine, Dr. Jodi Mindell, author of the best-selling book Sleeping Through the Night, explained the scientific evidence linking improved sleep and sleep routines with mood, cognitive development, social-emotional development, health, and family bondng.

“One of the things I love about working in a sleep clinic, I can change family’s life.” Around the world, mothers report some level of sleep problems with their infant – but the evidence presented by Ms. Mitchell demonstrated the potential to change those families lives in important ways.

For instance, in India, up to 40% of mothers reported sleep problems with their infants. Yet we also saw in her evidence that under 40% of Indian families had a consistent, daily bedtime routine for their infants. Evidence has demonstrated that babies who have a nightly routine experience nearly half as many minutes of sleep interruption each night compared to those who experience a routine even 3 or 4 times a week.  From feeding, bath, and massage to stories and prayers, having consistent “doses” of a bedtime routine can be an easy intervention that helps reduce night waking, increase the longest sleep periods, and keep baby health and happy.

“Bedtime routines are not just for sleep…it’s also for everything else,” reminded Ms. Mitchell. Literacy, social engagement, and the health of mothers and caregivers can be improved with such a simple intervention as a nightly bedtime routine.

The science of sensory stimulation is an exciting and ever-evolving field that can help support the early development of baby. JOHNSON’S® is proud to partner not only with these field-leading scientists, but also with organizations like the International Pediatrics Association (IPA) to help ensure that all pediatric health professionals are equipped with the latest information to give baby his or her best start.

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1 Field T, Cullen C, Largie S, et al. Lavender bath oil reduces stress and crying and enhances sleep in very young infants. Early Hum Dev. 2008;84(6):399-401.