Representational ImageCreative Commons

Taking proper care of children at their early age is a basic thing to do, but that mostly comes from an emotional point of view. However, a recent research shows how it affects the children at the molecular level. In fact, the research shows that the effect is detectable four years later as well.

The study carried out by researchers from the University of British Columbia and BC Children's Hospital Research Institute showed that children who had been more distressed as infants and received less physical contact had a molecular profile in their cells that was underdeveloped for their age.

"In children, we think slower epigenetic ageing might indicate an inability to thrive," said Michael Kobor, a professor in the UBC Department of Medical Genetics

The study involved 94 healthy children in British Columbia, and the researchers asked parents of 5-week-old babies to keep a diary of their infants' behaviour which includes sleeping, fussing, crying or feeding. They were also asked to note the duration of caregiving that involved physical contact.

When the children reached the age of 4.5 years, their DNA samples were taken and studied. The scientists found differences between high-contact and low-contact children at five specific DNA sites. Two of these sites fall within genes -- one of them plays a role in the immune system, and the other one is involved in metabolism.

However, the downstream effects of these changes on child development and health are not yet known.

Lead author Sarah Moore says: "We plan on following up to see whether the 'biological immaturity' we saw in these children carries broad implications for their health, especially their psychological development," says lead author Sarah Moore, a postdoctoral fellow.

Moore further adds: "If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants."

The study was published in the journal Development and Psychopathology.