Gentle as a mother's touch: C-tactile touch promotes autonomic regulation in preterm infants

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



Preterm infants are challenged to adapt to an extrauterine milieu, while their interoceptive system and autonomic regulation capacity is still immature. Caressing parental touch is known to foster parasympathetic regulation in infants by stimulating C-tactile (CT) afferents and in preterm infants, slow stroking stimulation also leads to a heart rate decrease. The particular impact of maternal stroking has not yet been investigated and factors influencing the maturation of the CT system in preterm infants remain unclear. We therefore analysed 53 standardized events in which preterm infants (24 to 36 weeks gestational age at birth) were stroked by their mothers. Video analysis revealed that mothers use CT optimal velocities to stroke their preterm child. Analysis of pulse oximetric data showed no effect of stroking on infantile blood oxygenation, but a significant decrease of the heart rate. Compared to term-born children, this decrease was delayed by about two minutes. Furthermore, our data suggested that more immature preterm infants benefited less from stroking than more mature ones. We conclude that maternal stroking touch targets CT afferents in preterm infants and that the preterm CT system is not yet mature.


Original languageEnglish
Article number113991
Pages (from-to)113991
JournalPhysiology & behavior
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022

External IDs

Scopus 85140008908
unpaywall 10.1016/j.physbeh.2022.113991



  • Infant, Child, Female, Humans, Infant, Newborn, Touch/physiology, Mothers, Infant, Premature, Touch Perception/physiology, Therapeutic Touch