ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- Having a premature baby can be scary for some parents but something as simple as cuddling can help with the growth and development of newborns. Saturday marks National Cuddle Up Day, and the skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby can have a huge impact on the growth and intelligence of infants.
Cuddling a newborn baby may seem like an obvious thing to do but for parents of premature babies like Lisa Marinelli, whose son Bentley was born at just 25 weeks, cuddling means a whole lot more.
"When babies are born prematurely, there is sort of a divide or a disconnection between the mother and the baby, and the relationship that they have within the womb is sort of damaged so to speak,” said the director of the neonatal intensive care unit at Mercyhealth, Dr. Gillian Headley.
That's why healthcare specialists encourage parents to have skin to skin contact with their newborns.
"When a baby is skin-to-skin with mom or dad, they hear that heartbeat like they've been hearing it for the last several months and they sort of relax, they feel warm,” said lactation consultant at SwedishAmerican, Paula Hart.
Marinelli says she tries to hold Bentley for three or more hours a day, something doctors say can help premature babies develop and decrease the time they spend in the hospital.
"The heart rate goes down, respirations go down, and they really do benefit. They grow faster,” said Dr. Headley.
Doctors say skin-to-skin contact can even pose long-term benefits to the intelligence of the babies.
"We know that breastfeeding helps intelligence and since it does put the baby sort of in the feeding area it helps them want to relate to feeding more,” said Hart.
Marinelli says baby Bentley has done very well with cuddling. Doctors say it's important to cuddle not just on National Cuddle Up Day, but every day.
"The benefits are significant and it does make a huge difference,” said Dr. Headley.
Doctors say it's just as important for dads to have skin-to-skin contact too, in order to form that special bond with their newborn.