Bath time: More than good clean fun
Bath time offers a multimodal sensory environment, including interactions with other people, that seems to encourage an infant's social, cognitive and behavioural development. Odours, such as those in the bath environment, can profoundly influence behaviour and physiology. Olfaction's unique anatomical pathway means that smell potentially influences mood, memory and the ability to use new information. Furthermore, numerous studies from several species suggest that tactile stimulation may improve cognitive, behavioural, motor and social development. Bath time offers an ideal opportunity to expose a child to a wide range of tactile stimuli. However, many parents do not seem to appreciate the potential opportunity offered by bath time to strengthen their bond with their infant and bolster their child's development.
Bath time is a great opportunity for parents, siblings and infants to bond, play and develop relationships. Baths also provide babies with a rich sensory environment: the feel of the water and another person's touch; the smell of their surroundings; the sound of the parents' and siblings' voices, and splashing. However, bath time is more than good clean fun.
For example, a growing body of evidence suggests that tactile stimulation improves growth and encourages the child's social, cognitive and motor development (Pelaez-Nogueras et al, 1996; Okabe et al, 2012). Odours also seem to influence behaviour and emotions (Lagercrantz and Changeux, 2009). Indeed, olfaction's unique anatomical pathway means that smell seems to influence infants' acquisition (e.g. memory) of, and ability to use, information (Sullivan et al, 2015). However, a recent survey suggests that many parents do not appreciate these benefits. Midwives may need to emphasise the potential benefits of bath time—and sensory stimulation more generally—in the child's development.
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