It’s 7:00 PM. You’ve just lifted your baby out of a soothing bath, wrapped her in a soft towel, and snuggled her deep into your chest. The evening’s activities begin to flash through your mind – dressing, nursing, reading books, singing lullabies. You grin, anticipating a few precious moments shared during your favorite of these rituals: a gentle baby massage.
Infant massage is giving a new meaning to the term touchy-feely parenting. Is it any wonder why parents who utilize this therapeutic technique are die-hard fans? Many say that it can be both stimulating and calming. More importantly, it offers a chance for baby and parent to engage, relax, and gently work developing muscles and joints. When practiced regularly, infant massage can encourage healthy digestion, reduce colic, deepen baby’s respiration, and even improve brain and nervous system development. According to the Infant Massage Information Service, massage strengthens baby’s immune system and serves as a preventative measure for a variety of infections, diarrhea and constipation. The IMIS attributes many of the positive effects of massage to reducing the amount of stress a baby experiences.
Likewise, infant massage has shown significant affects on newborns who suffer various congenital health conditions. It can be a life-saving technique for premature infants who may be isolated in an incubator for short or extended periods of time. Research studies have shown that incubator-bound preemies who were caressed and held experienced 47% more weight gain than a control group – a fact that suggests the physical contact of massage shortens recovery time and quickens release from hospital. Similarly, in situations of special needs such as visual, hearing or neurological impairments, babies who were frequently massaged demonstrate increased muscle tone and overall flexibility. Perhaps more importantly, loving tactile stimulation can enhance baby’s ability to connect, relate and communicate with her caregiver as well as her environment in general – skills that are invaluable to any child but especially for those who may be challenged by an impairment.
If you’d like to begin practicing a routine, the following guidelines can help to keep things simple and ensure success. Make massage part of a regimen that baby can anticipate. Choose a time of day that works best for you and baby. (Note: when massaging a newborn, it is not advisable to do so after a warm bath as it may over stimulate her.) Next, begin with a warm room that has natural (not bright) lighting and a calm, quiet atmosphere. Use aromatherapeutic grade or organic oils (such as safflower, grape seed or sweet almond) as they will be absorbed into baby’s bare skin. Always begin with baby’s feet and progress up the body toward the head. Be sure to use long, firm, rhythmic strokes. When caressing limbs try to move bloodflow toward the heart (center) of baby – some massage therapists call these “tip to trunk” strokes. Make eye contact and smile as you give positive non-verbal cues. Be attentive to baby’s reactions. As you respond to baby’s feedback, the two of you will learn to intuitively communicate with each other. Because of the closeness that massage creates, it’s an excellent opportunity for dad and baby to bond – especially if mom is breastfeeding. For both mom and dad, it can be a wonderful way of teaching baby about expressing love, responding positively to others and sharing intimacy.
Many hospitals and health care professionals offer baby massage courses to new and soon-to-be parents. Contact your doctor or midwife for a list of courses in your geographical area. Also, check out the books and websites below for a more in-depth pursuit of the origins and technique. Remember, infant massage is the art of transferring relaxation, peacefulness and love. If you begin with these in mind, your baby is sure to profit from your efforts.
The information provided by earthmother.org is intended for educational purposes. Always consult your physician regarding personal medical guidance.