Does touch matter? The impact of stroking versus non-stroking maternal touch on cardio-respiratory processes in mothers and infants

Martine Van Puyvelde, An-Sofie Gorissen, Nathalie Pattyn, Francis McGlone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)


The beneficial effects of touch in development were already observed in different types of skin-to-skin care. In the current study, we aimed at studying potential underlying mechanisms of these effects in terms of parasympatho-inhibitory regulation. We examined the specific impact of affective maternal stroking versus non-stroking touch on the cardio-respiration of both mothers and infants in terms of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). We compared a 3-min TOUCH PERIOD (stroking or non-stroking touch) with a baseline before (PRE-TOUCH) and after (POST-TOUCH) in 45 dyads (24 stroking/21 non-stroking touch) with infants aged 4-16 weeks. We registered mother-infant ECG, respiration and made video-recordings. We calculated RR-interval (RRI), respiration rate (fR) and (respiratory corrected) RSA and analyzed stroking mean velocity rate (MVR) of the mothers. ANOVA-tests showed a significant different impact on infants' respiratory corrected RSA of stroking touch (increase) versus non-stroking touch (decrease). Further, during and after stroking touch, RRI significantly increased whereas fR significantly decreased. Non-stroking touch had no significant impact on infants' RRI and fR. In the mothers, RRI significantly decreased and fR significantly increased during the TOUCH PERIOD. The mothers' MVR occurred within the range of 1-10 cm/s matching with the optimal afferent stimulation range of a particular class of cutaneous unmyelinated, low-threshold mechano-sensitive nerves, named c-tactile (CT) afferents. We suggest CT afferents to be the a potential missing link between the processing of affective touch and the development of physiological and emotional self-regulation. The results are discussed with regard to the potential role of CT afferents within the building of early self-regulation as part of a multisensory intuitive parenting system and the importance to respect this ecological context of an infant in research and clinical applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-63
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2019. Published by Elsevier Inc.

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Does touch matter? The impact of stroking versus non-stroking maternal touch on cardio-respiratory processes in mothers and infants'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this