Cuddling Babies Positively Alters Genes

By David Neild for Science Alert
Published to Peaceful Parenting with permission

Cuddling Babies Positively Impacts Genetics

The amount of close and comforting contact that young infants receive doesn't just keep them warm, snug, and loved. A 2017 study says it can actually affect babies at the molecular level, and the effects can last for years. Based on the study, babies who get less physical contact and are more distressed at a young age, end up with changes in molecular processes that affect gene expression.

The team from the University of British Columbia in Canada emphasizes that it's still very early days for this research, and it's not clear exactly what's causing the change. But it could give scientists some useful insights into how touching affects the epigenome - the biochemical changes that influence gene expression in the body.

During the study, parents of 94 babies were asked to keep diaries of their touching and cuddling habits from five weeks after birth, as well as logging the behaviour of the infants – sleeping, crying, and so on. Four-and-a-half years later, DNA swabs were taken of the kids to analyse a biochemical modification called DNA methylation. It's an epigenetic mechanism in which some parts of the chromosome are tagged with small carbon and hydrogen molecules, often changing how genes function and affecting their expression.

The researchers found DNA methylation differences between "high-contact" children and "low-contact" children at five specific DNA sites, two of which were within genes: one related to the immune system, and one to the metabolic system. DNA methylation also acts as a marker for normal biological development and the processes that go along with it, and it can be influenced by external, environmental factors as well.

Then there was the epigenetic age, the biological ageing of blood and tissue. This marker was lower than expected in the kids who hadn't had much contact as babies, and had experienced more distress in their early years, compared with their actual age. "In children, we think slower epigenetic aging could reflect less favorable developmental progress," said one of the team, Michael Kobor.

In fact, similar findings were spotted in a study from 2013 looking at how much care and attention young rats were given from a very early age. Gaps between epigenetic age and chronological age have been linked to health problems in the past, but again it's too soon to draw those kind of conclusions: the scientists readily admit they don't yet know how this will affect the kids later in life. We are also talking about less than 100 babies in the study, but it does seem that close contact and cuddles do somehow change the body at a genetic level.

Of course it's well accepted that human touch is good for us and our development in all kinds of ways, but this is the first study to look at how it might be changing the epigenetics of human babies. It will be the job of further studies to work out why, and to investigate whether any long-term changes in health might appear as a consequence. "We plan to follow up on whether the 'biological immaturity' we saw in these children carries broad implications for their health, especially their psychological development," said one of the researchers, Sarah Moore. "If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants."

The research was published in Development and Psychopathology.


Baby's Breastfeeding Pattern

Newborn breastfeeding pattern

In the hospital we encourage moms to breastfeed every 2-3 hours to nourish baby and bring in a good future milk supply.
It’s math: 8-12 feeds in 24 hours (ideal) = nursing every 2-3 hours πŸ“šπŸ“ˆ

It’s a quick and easy way to get the message across that this baby needs to eat, and often
Unfortunately, new parents seem think breastfeeding is going to be like the first picture (cereal)...all the feeds perfectly spaced out, and all the same size. Every 2-3 hours. Easy. And the baby will sleep like an angel in between....
THIS IS NOT REALITY. In reality, your sweet newborn baby will have good feeds, short feeds, sleepy feeds, crappy feeds, and everything in between! 
The visual of the blueberries is amazing because it shows how realistically feedings are at all different times and different lengths (bigger blueberries). And did you count the berries?!? More than enough! 
Yes, we want you to nurse every 2-3 hours, but baby calls the shots. Less watching the clock   and more watching for feeding cues. πŸ‘ΆπŸ» 

Related Reading:

• Knowing my baby's hunger cues:

• The Case for Cue Feeding:

• Why African Babies Don't Cry: 

• Breastfeeding community:

Newborn stomach size
Breastfeeding on cue awareness raising cards at Etsy

Turn Your Crib into a CoSleeper

Thank you to Jennifer Coias for her helpful video!

For more on the monumental benefits of sharing sleep with your baby, see the articles on this page: CoSleeping Review of Research, at the Safe CoSleeping Page on Facebook, or in the CoSleeping group. Dr. Sears on CoSleeping:

Note: Cosleeping can take the form of bedsharing (sleeping on the same safe surface) or nearby sleep sharing (within an arm's reach of baby on different surfaces). Both have physiological benefits for baby and mom, both foster a more effective breastfeeding relationship, improve milk supply, and both protect from SIDS risks during the first year of life by regulating respiration, cardiovascular function and hormone levels. At our home we use beds (on the floor) that are pushed together for ample, comfortable, safe sleeping space (first photo below). Like many others, we've never used a crib. However, if you already have a crib that you'd like to make use of, turning it into a cosleeper is a very useful idea. In any baby sleep situation, being aware of the humidity level in the room, and knowing what the ideal humidity level is for healthy sleep is an important thing to consider.

King and Queen together on floor

Photo examples of how parents have turned their crib into a side car cosleeper.
To submit your photo, send to ContactDrMomma (at)
Further resources at the Safe CoSleeping community on Facebook.

J.C.'s cosleeping set-up

Jennifer's cosleeping set-up

Nina's cosleeping set-up

Lacey's set up - mattress sets together on floor.

one couple's 'family bed'

Bonnie's side-car set up

Tara's mattress sets together on the floor set up (King & Twin)

Carrie's cosleeping set up created by her MIL while on vacation

Kristen's side-car set up

Samantha's side-car set up

Laura's side-car set up

Missy's cosleeping set-up (side-car; set up for cosleeping with 3 year old and new baby)

Maria cosleeping mattress sets together on floor (crib has become a night stand ;) )

Angela's mattress sets together for giant cosleeping surface

Ebony's cosleeping set up (Queen and Single XL)

Jo's side car set up

Brianna's mattress sets together on floor set up

Karlee's cosleeping set up (two King mattress sets together on floor)

Heather's cosleeping set-up: Queen and Full together on floor

Leigh's DYI giant bed: 2 Queens together, Ikea frames clamped together, homemade headboard. Leigh sewed sheet sets together for this bed.

Ariel's cosleeping set up - two queens together; bedspread is 2 king spreads sewn together sideways

Laura's cosleeping set-up: King and Single together

CoSleeping Discussion Group:

Public Safe CoSleeping Page:

Peaceful Parenting Group:

Brick Dust - Urine Crystals in Baby's Diaper

By Danelle Day © 2008
Updated 2016

While they can appear alarming to first time parents, urine crystals - sometimes called 'brick dust' 'brick powder' or 'pink diaper syndrome' - are normal and common among newborn babies. These crystals typically appear as a reddish powder in the diapers, and often are mistaken for blood in the urine.

Brick dust can also appear to be orange, pink, brown, yellow, or any variation of these shades, and are especially common among breastfeeding babies receiving the immuno-packed power of colostrum in the early days.

Because newborn babies are only able to digest a very small amount at a time (due to the size of the newborn stomach), urine crystals are thought to form easily during this time from the concentrated colostrum consumed (with little other liquid in the mix until mom's milk comes in). This is normal and healthy for baby, but the low volume of colostrum will not typically produce otherwise common fluid, clear urine.

Once mom's milk has come in, urine should begin to appear clear, and without crystals. They will go away at this time - almost always by the second week of life. If brick dust still appears after your baby is 1 week old, or re-appears later in babyhood, it may mean your little one is dehydrated. To remedy this, increase nursing (if breastfeeding), or increase your baby's formula intake. Do not "water down" formula or add it to pumped milk. This is very dangerous as it throws off the electrolyte balance of baby's blood stream, and young babies have died from this form of "water poisoning." Increase nursing or formula (mixed per the instructions).

By the time your baby is 1 week old, s/he should urinate at least 6 times per day. Knowing how many times your little one pees may be difficult to identify with today's disposable diapers, but in general, you should need to change wet diapers around the clock.

If baby continues to have brick dust even after a baby's intake has increased, it may mean that there is a latch/suck issue. For breastfeeding babies, meeting with a skilled IBCLC who can weigh baby before and after nursing will tell a mother how much her baby is consuming, and whether s/he is getting all that is needed. Formula feeding parents should re-check the instructions to ensure they are feeding accordingly, and on cue around the clock, while contacting their pediatrician.

Two items that may appear as brick dust but are not include a small amount of vaginal bleeding among baby girls. This can occur because of hormone shifts between mother and baby around the time of birth, and is normal. A second thing that is sometimes mistaken for brick dust are small amounts of blood among boys who were cut (circumcised) at birth. The latter occurrence is not normal, and because a newborn baby only needs to lose 1 ounce to hemorrhage, and 2.3 ounces to die as a result of blood loss, if your son is not intact, it is important to pay close attention to his diapers following circumcision surgery.

Newborn Stomach Size
This chart highlights the reasons that babies need to eat so frequently in the first months of life, and also why a very small amount of colostrum is the perfect quantity for a baby in his/her first days of life. Brick dust is a normal occurrence as a result of this frequent consumption of very small amounts in the first 3-5 days of life. 


Konar H. DC Dutta's Textbook of Obstetrics. JP Medical Ltd; 2014 Apr 30.

Lauwers, J. and Swisher, A. Counseling the Nursing Mother: A Lactation Consultant’s Guide, Sixth Edition. 2016.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, and Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding: A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

Nommsen-Rivers LA, Heinig MJ, Cohen RJ, and Dewey KG. Newborn wet and soiled diaper counts and timing of onset of lactation as indicators of breastfeeding inadequacy. Journal of Human Lactation. 2008 Feb;24(1):27-33.

Riordan, J. and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

What is colostrum? How does it benefit my baby? La Leche League International:

Related Reading

Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers

Intact Care Resources

Your Baby's Signs of Hunger (or thirst)!

Seven Breastfeeding Facts You Should Know

Cloth Diapering After Circumcision

If you nurse your baby...

Breastfeeding Myths

Should I circumcise? The pros and cons

Intact: Healthy, Happy, Whole Group

Saving Our Sons Group

Breastfeeding Group

Peaceful Parenting Group

Newborn babies should be nursed whenever they show first signs of hunger (or thirst), such as increased alertness or activity, mouthing, fist sucking, or rooting. Crying is a late indicator of extreme hunger. Babies should be nursed on cue, or approximately 8 to 12 times every 24 hours until full. This same feeding-on-cue guideline applies to formula fed babies. 

Birth Dilation via Halloween Pumpkins

Labor dilation demonstrated by carved pumpkins.

One fabulous, fun way to demo dilation ala pumpkins! πŸ§‘πŸŽƒ

This dilation pumpkin set-up was created by workers at the Royal Oldham Hospital in Greater Manchester, Lancashire, England as part of a pumpkin decorating competition.

We just love it!

Happy Halloween!

Royal Oldham Hospital Midwives

Related Community Groups: 

Birthing (more holistic)

Pregnant Moms Due This Year (more mainstream)

Peaceful Parenting Community

Saving Our Sons Community

Intact: Healthy, Happy, Whole



Dilation stages during labor.

Before your baby arrives, research everything!

Circumcised babies may have trouble bonding

By Dave Yasvinski for 
Read more from Yasvinski

Circumcising newborn babies may lead to a host of issues later in life, including difficulty bonding and handling stressful situations, a new study has found.

The medical procedure — usually performed on males within the first few days of life for religious, social or cultural reasons — has real ramifications despite making for difficult dinner conversation, said Michael Winterdahl, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor at Aarhus University in Denmark.

“We wanted to challenge the assumption that there are no delayed consequences of infant circumcision apart from the purely physical because of the absence of foreskin,” he said. “Our findings are especially interesting for coming parents who want to make an informed choice about circumcision on behalf of their child, but are also directed at anyone who wishes to see more light shed on a very taboo topic that often drowns in an emotional discussion.”

To test their theory, researchers enlisted 619 American men — 408 circumcised and 211 still in their natural state — and had them complete a series of questionnaires that tested their ability to handle stress and bond with others.

“The study showed that men who had undergone circumcision as an infant found it more difficult to bond with their partner and were more emotionally unstable, while the study did not find differences in empathy or trust,” Winterdahl said. “Infant circumcision was also associated with stronger sexual drive as well as a lower stress threshold.

“We know from previous studies that the combination of attachment to a partner and emotional stability is important in order to be able to maintain a healthy relationship, and thus family structure, and a lack of such, may lead to frustration and possibly less restricted sexual behaviour,” he said.

The stress experienced by circumcised infants only reveals itself in adulthood in the form of these altered behaviours, the researchers said. While the behavioural changes are not pathological, or indicative of illness, they have implications on a global level.

“Our study says something about differences at population level, not about individuals,” Winterdahl said. “It’s important to remember that as individuals, we vary enormously in virtually all parameters — also in how we bond with our partner, for example.”

Breastfeeding / Circumcision informational cards

Canada’s current circumcision rate is 32 per cent, according to a study by a group of Saskatchewan researchers that found the status of the father’s foreskin to be the single most important factor in determining whether or not his newborn would also have the procedure. Overall, 56 per cent of those polled said they would consider circumcision if they had a son. In situations where the father was circumcised, that number rose to 82 per cent; where the father was not circumcised, the number dropped to 15 per cent.

While conflicting information about the potential health benefits of circumcision has stirred a long and heated debate on its necessity, the Canadian Paediatric Society updated its policy in 2015 to offer a more neutral stance than its 1996 guidance that advised against the procedure. “The main thing that has changed between now and then is there is convincing evidence that circumcision can actually prevent HIV,” said Dr. Joan Robinson, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Edmonton.

“I think for most parents, it’s basically a cosmetic procedure, unless you’re part of a religion that insists that you have to have it done,” she said.


Saving Our Sons Community

Intact: Healthy, Happy, Whole

Should I Circumcise? The pros and cons 

Intact Care

Intact Care of Elderly Men in Nursing Homes

By K.L. Damon, NP  © 2010
Medical Professionals for Genital Autonomy

The majority of men worldwide are happily intact for a lifetime, and these numbers continue to rise each year with education and awareness raising among the United States' population. Today, not only do most parents keep their children intact regardless of their nationality, but also more Jews, Muslims, and Christians opt to protect their sons as they come into this world - perfectly intact. 

Because most men have normal (intact) genitals across the globe, male development and intact care is also taken as a given - almost commonsense. Parents know not to retract until a child does so on his own, physicians are not engaged in premature or forced retraction of their patients, and the foreskin is left alone to do its job. There is no more meddling with a male child's foreskin than there is with a female child's foreskin (her clitoral hood). Neither is disturbed with retraction, soap, or "cleaning." The foreskin is regarded as useful - some say "the best part" of the genitals. And as a result, children grow into adults who are able to enjoy their full, functioning genitals for a lifetime. In most of the world today, when a man becomes an older adult it is common knowledge that care of his genitals does not change - a warm water bath or shower is sufficient for cleanliness. Should he enter assisted living care, his nursing staff is familiar with the foreskin, as it is something all humans have, and it is seen as just another normal body part.

In the United States, however, we tend to observe a different picture of nursing home care for our elderly, intact men, than the rest of the world sees. Here, nursing staff working in assisted care facilities are not routinely trained in the correct care of an intact man, and have often grown up in the midst of a cutting culture, where foreskin is yet to be well understood, known, or appreciated. As a result, this organ is seen problematic and U.S. based nursing personnel come up with a host of bizarre, mythological notions about its care. 

After working for 14 years at a well respected nursing home facility outside Madison, Wisconsin, I've come to find that the vast majority of these rumors about intact adult men are quickly put to rest with some very simple, very basic, facts on the care of elderly men. I am writing here to share these with the hope that it will make things easier for nursing staff, and the men in our care. 

How to clean the intact genitals of an elderly man in assisted living

1) Have the patient enter a warm water-only bath or shower in your facility.

2) Gently run warm water over the outside of his penis and scrotum. Using the hand cloths typically used for baths in your care facility, without soap, run your hand cloth along the groin, scrotum, and exterior of the penis to ensure it is fully washed with warm water only.

3) Gently retract the penis while it is either submerged in warm water, or while warm (not hot!) water is running over it. This keeps the tissues relaxed and does not cause a sudden change in temperature for an elderly gentleman who is sensitive to such things. While the foreskin is retracted, run warm water (no soap) over the interior parts of the penis for about 5-10 seconds, or gently 'swish' in warm water if this man is submerged in a bath, for the same 5-10 seconds.

4) Gently move the foreskin back down over the end of the penis, keeping it in warm, clean water (or under warm running water if in a shower and not a bath). Keeping the penis in warm water allows the tissues to remain relaxed and easily moved.

5) After this is complete, move on to using soap for the buttocks and scrotum, and other parts of the body where soap is justified. Soap does not need to come into direct contact with the intact penis, and the foreskin does best when it does not have soap applied to it. Soap interferes with pH and microflora of the penis and foreskin, and increases the likelihood of future issues, especially when it is placed inside the penis (i.e. when the foreskin is retracted). Ensure all soap used on other parts of the body is rinsed clean with warm running water at the end of the bath -- be diligent that a man is not left unrinsed, or sitting in soap suds.

That's it! Task complete.

If this warm, water-only rinse for 10 seconds is done once or twice each week, the foreskin will maintain its normal form and function, and all will be well. If you notice irritation or inflammation occur on the genitals, or other parts of the body, Calmoseptine is the best choice of ointment to quickly soothe and alleviate such things. Apply through gentle dabbing on any red, irritated, or inflamed areas of the genitals. If the sore area is on the penis itself, apply Calmoseptine to the outside only of the penis -- do not apply under the foreskin. It will work its own way inside. 

One quick note should be added about the difference in care between an elderly man who has been retracting his entire life, versus a pediatric patient. If you switch your location of nursing care to working with children, instead of adult men, know that retraction should not take place in the normal care of a baby or child. For an infant or child, wash with warm water (or a wet wipe) only on the outside of the penis and foreskin. Never retract a baby or child. The foreskin is tightly adhered to the glans (head) and shaft of the penis through most of babyhood and childhood. Only later (average age 10.5 years) does retraction begin to naturally occur. If a child has his foreskin retracted by someone else it can cause tearing, bleeding, scarring, adhesions, and problems later in life. This is more often the case if retraction is a repeated occurrence. Retraction is a sexual function, and it is not something that need occur before puberty. Some young men do not retract until even later (or never fully retract at all) and this is also within a normal range of development. Find further intact care information of children from four of the major pediatric health organizations at the bottom of the Physicians' Do Not Retract page at Saving Our Sons

Nursing Home Myths and Facts

Myth: Elderly intact men need to be circumcised at alarming numbers because it is so difficult to clean, and/or the foreskin becomes problematic in older age. 

Fact: Only in the United States do we hear such nonsense. I have served with Mercy Ships overseas, as well as in elderly care settings as a volunteer aid worker in three other (primarily intact) nations, and not once did someone suggest that the intact man was difficult to clean, or that his foreskin would ever become problematic. In fact, when I brought this up on a couple occasions to see what my fellow care givers responses would be, they looked at me as though I had two heads. Across the rest of the globe, elderly care facilities (what we typically refer to as nursing homes) are present, but never are nursing staff heard complaining about the normal male body, its care, or its (mythological) demise. 

It is true that nursing programs (and medical school programs) in the United States have a long way to go in teaching proper intact care and development. In fact, it was not once mentioned throughout the programs I attended, other than a brief "retract when you need to clean if a pediatric patient is not circumcised" (false information, by the way). However, a problem with care, and lack of training in nursing school, is not a problem with foreskin. Instead of demonizing the normal male body, we can simply take an easy step in teaching staff at nursing homes proper intact care --- and then all will be well, and these mythical problems will not arise. 

It is quite problematic given the above points to consider amputating the prepuce (an organ that holds purpose) from a baby boy who has yet to arrive into this world, based solely on nursing home rumors and myths in the United States. We know the numbers of boys remaining intact today are on the rise. Surely by the time my son would reach "nursing home age," the cultural climate and nursing know-how in the United States will catch up with the rest of the world.

In addition, it is very likely that my son will never even reside in a nursing home. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, just over 5% of the population in the United States age 65+ occupy nursing homes, congregate care, assisted living, and board-and-care homes; and about 4.2% of those age 65+ are in nursing homes at any given time. [Source: 65+ in the United States Census Report] This is not very many!

If, by some chance, my son is in the 4-5% of men who reside in a nursing home, it will likely be 65-95 years from now. Consider for a moment just how much the world has changed in the last ~75 years. Life is significantly different in 2010 than it was in 1935. Surely, we will continue to progress in our quality of care going forward, especially with the countless numbers of medical professionals for genital autonomy who are speaking up and taking steps to educate fellow colleagues, and medical and nursing school students who come after them. We will see new care facilities, new training, new technology, new standards, and protocols and ways of doing things.

Trust that your son's body knows how to function perfectly for a lifetime, and that elderly life in the U.S. will continue to improve (not decline) in the next 65-100 years. Trust that just as intact men enjoy their full genitals in 70+% of the world today, so will your son enjoy his for a lifetime.

Related Reading

Intact Care Resource Page
Adult Care of the Intact Penis

How to put a condom on an intact man

Registered Nurses on Circumcision (Resources)
Medical Professionals for Genital Autonomy page

Intact: Healthy, Happy, Whole Community

Saving Our Sons Community

Peaceful Intact Education group


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