The Power of Touch

Suzanne Marlatt Stewart

I will speak for myself, but am sure a lot of you would agree, I have missed being touched. Not only hugs, but just a gesture of someone holding my hand or putting a hand on my shoulder.

Dacher Keltner, PhD, University of California at Berkeley, explains that compassion is at our fingertips. “In recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical benefits that come from touch. Research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.” Touching is very powerful, it activates the body’s pair of vagus nerves. These nerves extend from the brain to the belly and pass the heart on the way. When you don’t get enough physical touch, you become stressed, anxious, and depressed.

My friend Pat shared with me an amazing story about touch. I truly believe it was a miracle. On July 4, 1997, her grandson Logan was born. He was born at 23 weeks and weighed 1 pound, 11½ ounces. He could be held in the palm of your hand. He did not have skin but rather a membrane covering his body and his eyes were closed. Several tubes were connecting him to monitors. He was not expected to live.

Pat enjoyed getting massages and her massage therapist handed her an article at one of her appointments. The subject was called “kangarooing.” She had not shared with him about her grandson, but he thought she would find the information interesting. Kangarooing is a method of holding a baby on your chest that involves skin-to-skin contact. This method was developed in response to the high death rate of premature babies, when approximately 70% died in the 1970s.

Pat and her husband made the decision to go to the hospital NICU unit. Since the parents were working and Pat had the time, she volunteered to hold Logan. For 3½ weeks she held him to her chest every day from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. Logan started to gain weight. He gained twice as much weight and twice as fast. This was very important because he had a bowel obstruction and needed surgery, and he had to be a certain weight to survive the operation. After the surgery the family was told that Logan was not doing well. They were told that they could see him in the incubator, but not to touch him. Pat made the decision to put her finger on Logan’s hand and held it there. Immediately his stats and health started to improve. The response was amazing, Logan’s systems, according to the monitors, showed continued improvement! Logan finally went home from the hospital on Oct. 31, 1997. He has thrived, is living a normal life, is very healthy, and was on the honor roll in high school.

Andrew Weil, MD, has wise words for us to remember. “I urge you as strongly as possible to find ways to touch and be touched as you move through life.”

The Rev. Suzanne Marlatt Stewart is an independent writer and speaker, who lives in SaddleBrooke. Her focus is inclusive. She was ordained nondenominational in 1988, representing all faiths. She can be reached at [email protected].