Touch, Hand & Facial Gestures
Whether you are playing tickly games, stroking or massaging Baby your use of touch stimulates Baby's enjoyment of being in the company of her loving parent. Furthermore, research shows that this enjoyment of touch helps babies to make more eye contact with Mum/Dad, show more smiles and vocalise, and spend less time crying. So important is sensitive touch to babies' wellbeing, it and skin-to-skin contact of baby-to-parent (known as Kangaroo Care) are successfully used as therapies for some premature babies to help stabilise their heartbeat, body temperature and breathing.
As Baby expresses joy by gazing intently at Mum/Dad, absorbing the sensation of being stroked and massaged or having fun being tickled, sensitive parents also illuminate expressions of joy with a smile. To show how important parents smiling facial expressions are, research has found that babies show less happiness while being stroked by their mothers who have blank facial expressions compared to when the mothers are smiling. Babies are also sensitive to adults' unhappy facial expressions - to the point of causing babies' distress.
Importantly, this highlights how finely tuned babies are at sensing the emotions of adults and their need for pleasurable face-to-face interactions.
Your facial expressions are also a great part of playful interactions with Baby. From about 3-4 months babies start to really connect with Mum and Dad having fun, so your funny expressions and vocal sounds will fill Baby's playtime with laughter.
Note: Smiling at Baby needs to begin from birth, each time you interact with him. Research shows that in general babies whose parents smile a lot at them are more likely to be smiley babies (showing their happiness) than those babies whose parents are not as 'giving' with the smiles. Baby can 'feel' the warmth of your smile, reassuring your love.
Babies also 'get the message' from parents using hand gestures. For example, parents hold out their hands to gesture a warm greeting as they pick up their baby which instinctively highlights a feeling of joy. Babies also quickly learn to associate and then anticipate certain hand actions that accompany rhymes and songs e.g. hand clapping. Together, combinations of your hand gesturing, facial expressions and touch are essential elements when communicating expressions of joy, and developing a loving bond with Baby.