I was sitting in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) today, holding a sweet, preemie baby, thinking about how grateful I am to be able to provide healing touch to this little guy.

He’s only 1 week old, 6 weeks premature and so precious! He weighed the same that I did when I was born. My mother was very sick, so I spent a week in an incubator. I didn’t get held very often in that first week. I don’t know if they had cuddle programs at the hospitals back then, but I know they didn’t have one at the hospital I was born in, because that’s where I’m volunteering now, and they just started their cuddle program this year.

If you’re unaware of the reason hospitals have started baby cuddling programs it’s because babies in the NICU, don’t get enough attention. Particularly when they’re born to drug addicted mothers and are going through withdrawals. They need extra TLC. Parents sometimes are not allowed to see the babies. Babies are in the NICU for so long, in some cases, that the parents may have to go back to work, or they have other children at home to be cared for.

It has been recognized how important physical touch is to a human’s life, not only for bonding purposes for a newborn, but for maintaining health as an adult. Studies have shown that people who experience less physical touch (what I love to call healing touch) suffer more from depression and anxiety, tend to be sick more often, experience more stress and are less happy.

Another study done at UCLA says a person needs 8 hugs per day to keep us even, 12 to help us grow, and 4 hugs per day just to survive! What??? What does that say about the effects of healing touch?

Why hugs and how can they help us grow?

Pressure receptors in our skin send signals to the vagus nerve, when we are given hugs. The vagus nerve is connected with cranial nerve fibers that help regulate some of the key functions of the body. As a result of a hug and vagus nerve stimulation, the heart rate and blood pressure decrease, and it stimulates dopamine. Dopamine is known as the pleasure stimulator. It helps relieve stress and tension. Vagus nerve stimulation also stimulates oxytocin, which is known as the love hormone. Oxytocin allows us to connect emotionally to others.

The effects of a hug are immediate. They lower the levels of cortisol in the body, which in this day and age, everyone needs to do. Cortisol is what our bodies produce when it’s in stress. Today, we are in so much stress at all times that the cortisol levels don’t come down enough to help our bodies regulate back into homeostasis and we are always in fight or flight mode.

So now are you wondering why a massage therapist is telling us all about hugs and baby cuddling?

Think of how many hugs you get a day. Do you get the recommended 8-12? I know I don’t, and I’m a huggy person! Think of the people in your life who get very few or no hugs at all? The elderly? Widows/Widowers? People who are sick and fragile? What about single people? Sad or lonely people? People in loveless relationships? Where is their healing touch coming from? What’s stimulating their dopamine and oxytocin?

The healing touch of massage therapy is like a long hug! The physical touch activates those same pressure receptors and stimulates all the same nerves, and neuro-transmitters, secreting all the same hormones. That’s why you feel so good when you leave a massage; happier, more relaxed, less stressed, better frame of mind, clearer thinking, connected to  your body, etc.

So, if you or someone you know came in for a 90 minute, healing touch massage at least once per month, think of the “hug equivalent”!  It would fill you up for like a month! Let’s get you or your friends and loved ones on the schedule and start taking care of your need for healing touch.