19/07/21 – Westminster Hall Debate on Baby Loss – Francis McGlone Writes

There will be a debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday 20th July at 9:25am. The subject for this debate is “Progress towards the national ambition to reduce baby loss”.

Cherilyn Mackrory MP and Jeremy Hunt MP will lead the debate and more information can be found here.

In advance of the debate, APPG member Professor Francis McGlone of Liverpool John Moores university wrote to the debate leaders to stress the importance of touch in babies.

I would like to appraise you both of some compelling evidence from recent neuroscience research that is relevant to your debate.

In a nutshell, myself and colleagues in Sweden, working over the past 20 years, have identified and characterised the existence of a novel class of gentle touch sensitive nerves in the skin (they are called c-tactile afferents) that respond optimally to a caressing touch. These are not the touch nerves people associate with the sense of touch as the ‘conscious’ type of touch is coded for by nerves that transmit signals to the brain in tens of milliseconds – which is why you know immediately if a fly lands on your nose! The c-tactile afferent sends signals to the brain  – to the emotional brain – very slowly, over a second or so, and is the ‘emotional touch’ that all humans across the planet have finally become aware of only when it was denied to them by the pandemic. The caress or hug releases oxytocin, endogenous opioids, lowers cortisol, builds resilience to stress   – a main concern of mine is the impact of the impact of the pandemic on our school children.

What’s the relevance of this nerve to your debate? It literally saves babies lives.  Decades of animal research, and more recently human research, has confirmed empirically that what more 3rd world countries have known for ages, is that skin-to-skin contact (Kangaroo Mother Care – KMC) immediately a baby is born plays a critical and fundamental role in infant survival and wellbeing. A recent WHO report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that babies who received immediate KMC had lower mortality at 28 days than those who received conventional care.  But they didn’t know why. I spoke with Dr Bahl, Head of the Newborn Unit at the WHO, who ran the study and explained the existence of the c-tactile afferent and the neuroscience evidence for its role in early life (and by the way over the whole life span as Covid has shown us all), and he was, to put it mildly, ‘blown away’ by the knowledge that his speculation that KMC had life saving properties now had a mechanism to explain the benefits.   It is also known by the that skin-to-skin contact enhances child physiologic organization and cognitive control over the first 10 years of life.

I would be happy to provide more information and trust you will find my email of value in your debate.

Francis McGlone, Professor of Neuroscience and Postgraduate Tutor, Research Centre in Brain & Behaviour, Liverpool John Moores University