Massaging your baby
"Being touched and caressed, being massaged, is food for the infant -- food as necessary as minerals, vitamins and proteins."
~ Dr Frederick LeBoyer
Parents all over the world know that their babies need to be held, carried, rocked and touched. The gentle art of baby massage has been part of traditional baby caregiving in many cultures, passed on from parent to child for generations. In the West, we are now beginning to fully understand just how important it is for our babies to receive loving, caring, gentle touch from the day that they are born.
Why massage your baby?
Clinical evidence shows that loving, touching, nurturing contact between a parent and their infant has a positive impact on subsequent development. For your baby, a massage is far more than a luxurious experience or physical therapy. It is a tool for maintaining health and well-being on many different levels, as well as providing you both with one to one time to bond, relax and communicate with one another.
Benefits for you and your baby:
☙ Helps to strengthen and regulate your baby's digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as easing tension from their muscles.
☙ Enhances loving communication. Massage helps you to understand and respond to your baby's non-verbal language and to express your love, respect and care for them through your touch.
☙ Tummy massage can be very helpful to relieve the symptoms of colic, gas and constipation.
☙ Soothes and relaxes both you and your baby and relieves the stresses which build up daily from baby's new encounters with the world.
☙ Teaches your baby to be aware of their body's tension and how to release it. An invaluable gift as they grow into adulthood!
The importance of bonding and attachment
Baby massage includes all the critical elements of bonding. Eye-to-eye contact, smiling and other facial expressions, soothing sounds, cuddling, smell and interaction. Your baby will love to look at you and listen to your voice as they feel your loving touch. Another important benefit is the quality of closeness between you and your baby that massage brings about; these benefits are life long. Many parents find that a daily massage and the interaction that it provides is a wonderful way to "stay in touch" with their growing child.
Positive, loving touch, right from day one, contributes to the development of a compassionate, respectful, loving being.
"I massaged my babies when they were tiny for as many months/years as they would allow me to do so. The benefits obviously lasted because now at the age of 11 and 8 my son and daughter ask me for nightly backrubs as they go to bed, are openly affectionate with me in front of their friends, and we have a very close relationship. Long may this continue as the teenage years approach. Bonus -- they are now both excellent at giving, as well as receiving, positive and healthy touch! Go for it, all new mums and dads, even if they squirm and try to get away once they can crawl. They will come back for more in a few years when both you and your child will appreciate (more than ever!) the long-lasting effects of having massaged them when they were tiny babies." ~ Kate Carlisle, Advanced Therapeutics Ltd
How to massage your baby
☙ Before you begin to massage your baby, be aware of the following points:
☙ The best time to massage your baby is when they're in the "quiet/alert" state. Not too tired, not too hungry, but awake and ready to play!
☙ Make sure the room is warm enough for your baby to be undressed. After or before a bath can be ideal.
☙ The best massage oil to use is a pure cold-pressed vegetable oil such as sunflower or apricot, which you can buy from your health store. Try to avoid the mass-produced "baby oils", which are often petroleum-based.
☙ If your baby is too young to crawl, show them your hands and ask their "permission" to massage them. Massage is something to do with rather than to your baby so you need to make sure they are happy to join in. Wait for their positive cues such as eye contact and smiles before beginning.
☙ If your baby begins to fuss or cry during the massage spend a moment talking to them with soft relaxed hands on their body. If they still continue, then pick them up for a cuddle and try at another time.
☙ If you're unsure about what to do, start with long strokes down your baby's body, from shoulders to hands and hips to feet. Massage their tummy in a clockwise direction. Stroke down the back from the neck to the buttocks. Don't worry too much about doing anything wrong, just keep good communication with your baby with eye contact and talking and they will let you know if they are enjoying the massage or if they need a rest.
☙ Avoid massaging your baby if they are unwell or running a temperature.
For more ideas, join a local baby massage class or get a book or DVD to show you more techniques.
Jo Hogan is the owner of Bella Mama, a massage company that specialises in working with pregnant and postnatal women and their babies. Jo is also a certified Infant Massage Instructor with the International Association of Infant Massage and teaches both private and group classes. For more information, visit www.bellamama.co.nz or www.nz.iaim.net.