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Babies Need to be Touched and Nurtured

In the thirteenth century, King Frederick II conducted an experiment with fifty infants to determine what language they would speak if never permitted to hear the spoken word. So he assigned foster mothers to bathe and suckle the children but forbade them to fondle pet, or talk to their charges. The experiment failed because all fifty infants died. We learned hundreds of years later that babies who aren’t touched and cuddled often fail to thrive.

The world has recently been exposed to yet another example of neglected and abused children. Mary Carlson, a researcher from Harvard Medical School, observed an overcrowded Romanian orphanage, where row upon row of babies lay neglected in their cribs. The staff was hopelessly overworked, so the babies were rarely touched even at mealtime. What struck Carlson was the silence in the nursery. There was no crying, no babbling, not even a whimper. Upon physical examinations given at age two, Carlson found that the babies had unusually high amounts of a stress hormone in the blood called cortisol, which is known to damage the brain. Growth was stunted, and the children acted half their age.

It isn’t sufficient to feed, clothe, and care for the physical needs of children. It is now clear that touching and nurturance are critical to their survival.

Dr. James Dobson, Coming Home, Timeless Wisdom for Families, (Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton; 1998), pp. 194-195