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Sometimes my two weeks old daughter starts crying and crying. Apart from checking her basic needs (food, poo, pee...), I sometimes hold her and kiss on the cheek together with a soft hug. However, I have the feeling that such action does not have any effect on her (I even imagine her thinking thanks for the kiss, but where is my food!?).

Is there any specific moment in the life of a baby when they start understanding the "meaning" of a kiss in the sense of a caress? Is it an instintive action or something they learn from the context?

I tried looking for some references but could not find any.

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    Humans, even newborns crave physical contact and are comforted by it. Whether they recognize a kiss as a special form of showing affection is irrelevant. They are comforted by it, and gradually learn that association. Since younger kids are also more comforted orally (food, breastfeeding, bottle, pacifier), that's a pretty easy connection for them as well. I remember my very, very young children reciprocating much earlier than one might think they'd understand with a wet, sloppy, open-mouthed planting of the mouth on my face. Not even a kiss, but that's an acquired skill, like any other. – PoloHoleSet Aug 26 '16 at 17:32
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I'm not sure of the answer exactly, but

I sometimes hold her and kiss on the cheek together with a soft hug. However, I have the feeling that such action does not have any effect on her...

If you look at mammals in general, facial licking is practiced as a means of communication by (those without hands) from soon after birth onwards. It is likely that you get a small rush of neurohormones that mediate social bonding - oxytocin and vasopressin - when you put your baby's face to yours and coo, kiss, soothe, or other. Same with the hug. Your daughter also gets some neurohormone release: oxytocin also decreases stress. So, this behavior is very important to both of you, and nurtures a pair-bond and trust, among many other things.

It is so important that the genes for oxytocin and vasopressin - ancient genes - display a marked conservation in structure and expression. Mutations decreasing the neuroregulatory functions are not tolerated, but there are some mutations in higher social aminals, i.e. in New World monkeys, that seem to correlate with male paternal care. Decreased amounts are found in some mental illnesses. So keep up the good work.

Unfortunately, searching the literature for preschoolers and understanding of kisses nets a lot of information about sexuality, abuse, and other unhelpful topics.

Is it an instin[c]tive action or something they learn from the context?

Chimpanzees and other non-human primates kiss to comfort, recognize, placate, etc. This activity begins early. The presence of kissing in non-human primates and facial licking in animals, and the release of oxytocin during such activities clearly points to an instinctual context. Clearly it is also refined socially. That's the best I can do.

Neuropeptidergic regulation of affiliative behavior and social bonding in animals
Oxytocin, vasopressin, and the neurogenetics of sociality.
Evolutionary pattern in the OXT-OXTR system in primates: coevolution and positive selection footprints.
Oxytocin, stress and social behavior: neurogenetics of the human oxytocin system
The first kiss: Foundations of conflict resolution research in animals

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    "That's the best I can do." Pretty damn good. As always! :) – sbi Jul 27 '15 at 20:20
  • @sbi - That's really very kind. Thank you! :) – anongoodnurse Jul 27 '15 at 22:13
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    Another line of thought it the psychological effect. Personal experience and anecdotal evidence I've found online suggests that by age 2, most children can have their "owie" kissed to make it feel better, and it works. I can't find any hard data on when infants/toddlers start accepting such kisses as comfort, but I do know that parents can have it work even when blowing a kiss, so there would be no hormone release due to physical contact in those instances. – user11394 Jul 28 '15 at 8:25
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Is there any specific moment in the life of a baby when they start understanding the "meaning" of a kiss in the sense of a caress?

Each and every babies are unique and no static formula can be applied on them such as "at this month he/she will do this and this".

I can remember what my daughter did. When she was born, she would cry the whole night even though all her basic needs were fulfilled. I would have to hold her the whole night. I understood that she wanted the body warm.

When I hold her I used to kiss her from the first day. First two, three months she didn't react at all. Later, from the third month onwards she understood the meaning of a kiss and replied with a smile. During the fifth month she cowled closer to me and tried to touch my face.

From 7-8th month onwards she used to bite my face. When I showed some face expressions and made her happy she tried to kiss me from 7-8th month.

Later she started to kiss also.

The month duration may differ from baby to baby.

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Kissing your baby is an expression of love and affection. Even infants understand that, as evidenced by my boys (now pre-schoolers) who as babies would often calm down from a tantrum when I gave them a hug and a kiss.

Whether or not your daughter is affected by your hug and kiss -- or if she understands the "meaning" of a kiss -- is much less important than your act of providing such affection. As she grows older she will always associate these actions with love, caring, comfort and security.

So my view is you should focus less on what an infant thinks (which is still a big mystery) and carry on giving your daughter as much unconditional love as you possibly can.

  • Hi and welcome to the site. Curiosity about babies' and preschoolers' understanding of things is valid. There may not be answers, but it's a valid question anyway. – anongoodnurse Jul 25 '15 at 20:59
  • Yes, that's why I gave it a +1. But anybody who claims to know the age around which an infant or toddler starts understanding the meaning of affection is just guessing and probably not a parent. – Michael_B Jul 25 '15 at 22:51
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In truth no one knows and there is no such thing as a correct answer, nor can there be. It is all subjective to the entire environment of the child.

For example, if the child hears the kissing sound In Utero, and gets the endorphin bump from the mom, and then is born and then gets the visual connection of the sound and the warmth of the "closeness" of the hug, they could very well understand the "pleasurable emotion", which we want to call affection, as soon as a couple days old.

In other exemplary situations, a child may receive 10 kisses a day for life as an act of affection from an otherwise mentally detached parent and that person could live to 100 years without the "understanding" or endorphin kick from a kiss.

Good question and interesting answers.

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