One caring gesture will both sooth your baby and relieve parental stress too

When my children were small I was always astonished at how merely holding them seemed to be the cure for all their ills. And I’m sure that goes for all parents.

It’s the power of parental touch and every parent, dads and mums, should be aware of it. It’s so potent it’s the subject of some reassuring and inspiring research from Bliss, the charity for babies born premature or sick, in collaboration with Oxford University. While we know comforting a baby during painful procedures calms and soothes them, this new study underlines how the act of comforting affects parents.

Turns out it calms and soothes parents at the same time. The Parental touch trial (Petal) aimed to see whether parental touch was effective pain relief during a heel-prick procedure. The astonishing findings show the majority of parents have positive emotions when involved in their child’s care – such as feeling useful and reassured – and they were less anxious after helping.

The project has come up with new resources for parents to give them the confidence to look after their young babies – resources such as videos, FAQs and online information, ­developed with other parents and healthcare professionals. Free access online shows the many ways parents can touch and comfort babies during painful procedures on a neonatal unit, including skin-to-skin care. Professor Rebeccah Slater, Oxford neuroscientist, says: “Developing these resources with Bliss has directly improved our engagement with ­families and research quality.

“We will continue to find new ways to support parents and their babies when painful procedures form an essential component of neonatal care.” Dr Roshni Mansfield, Oxford ­paediatrics clinical fellow, looks to the future: “Prospective research might, for example, exercise a more spontaneous approach to delivering the gentle touch, such as allowing parents to stroke their child at their own pace, for as long as they need to calm and comfort their child, rather than a more mechanical and precise application.”

Dr Maria Cobo, who managed the trial, underlined “the high degree of involvement by both fathers (35%) and mothers (65%) in delivering the parental touch to their babies”.

Caroline Lee-Davey, chief executive of Bliss, believes that babies have the best chance of survival and quality of life when their parents are empowered to be partners in their care. Unfortunately, parents are often unaware of the role they can play in comforting their baby and Caroline stresses they’re still their baby’s parent and have a vital role to play in their comfort and care, even while in the intimidating neonatal environment.