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Keywords:

  • adaptive behaviour;
  • behaviour problems;
  • high risk;
  • low birth weight;
  • parenting;
  • touch

Abstract

The purpose of this study was twofold: to determine (1) the degree to which specific qualities of maternal touch may contribute to the low birth weight infant's emotional and behavioural problems as well as social adaptation, and (2) the relationship between maternal touch and a mother's other caregiving behaviour. The sample included 114 socioculturally diverse infants and their mothers who were videotaped during an infant feeding when the baby was 3 months old. This videotape was analysed to assess dimensions of mother–infant interaction, including maternal touch. Data on perinatal risk and the mother's acceptance versus rejection of the infant were also acquired. Social adaptation and emotional/behavioural problems were measured when the child was 2 years of age.

Hierarchical regression analyses indicated that maternal touch accounted for 15% of the variance in the likelihood of a child having emotional/behavioural problems at age 2. Children who received more nurturing touch had significantly fewer internalizing problems (such as depression) while children receiving both more frequent touch and harsh touch had more externalizing problems (such as aggressive behaviour). Infants who were less responsive to their caregivers were especially at risk of developing aggressive/destructive behaviour as a result of frequent touch. But less responsive infants also appeared to benefit most from greater use of diverse types of maternal touch, accounting for 6% of the variance in superior adaptive behaviour at age 2. Nurturing touch was the only quality that showed even a modest relationship to other caregiving behaviour, suggesting that touch may play a distinct role in the infant's psychosocial development. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.