Role of the mother's touch in failure to thrive: a preliminary investigation

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1994 Oct;33(8):1098-105. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199410000-00005.


Objective: This study investigated the hypothesis that specific types of maternal touch that might promote infant growth are reduced in cases of failure to thrive (FTT) and tested reports that maternal physical interaction and physical affection are diminished in FTT.

Methods: Frequencies of operationally defined maternal touch categories were scored by blinded raters from videotaped mother-child feeding and play interactions of 21 children, aged 9 to 19 months, with FTT and 18 normally growing comparison children. After scoring and statistical analyses were completed, investigators unblinded to group status and clinical data reviewed the videotapes of the dyads with the lowest touch scores.

Results: Mothers of children with FTT provided less matter-of-fact touch in feeding (p = .017) and unintentional touch in play (p = .048) than the comparison group, and there was a trend (p = .082) for them to provide less proprioceptive stimulation in play. Unblinded case reviews indicate that, among children with FTT, extremely infrequent touch signals a marked touch aversion by either the mother or child.

Conclusions: Types of maternal touch that may promote growth or facilitate feeding are reduced in FTT, due, in extreme cases, to maternal or child touch aversion. Clinicians evaluating FTT should be alert to very infrequent touch in the mother-child interaction and consider whether it may represent a maternal intolerance of physical contact with her infant or a problem with the infant's feeding competence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Failure to Thrive / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Care / psychology
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior*
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Object Attachment
  • Play and Playthings
  • Touch*
  • Videotape Recording