The Traditional Art of Baby Massage
There has been a recent explosion in popularity of infant massage among today’s mothers because of the physical and emotional benefits massage offers to a developing baby. But as with most natural healing techniques it is by no means a new therapy; people have been massaging babies for centuries. Let’s briefly examine some of the amazing physical and psychological benefits of infant massage.
Benefits at the Neurological Level
Babies need touch to grow. Touch is a powerful way to support baby’s early brain development. When babies are massaged it causes neurons in the brain to form novel connections called synapses that are important for continued brain development. Touch also can decrease production of cortisol, a stress hormone that can inhibit growth. Furthermore, infants are born explorers that learn by sampling the environment around them first through touch. One massage technique that can be used involves alternately touching opposite hands to feet. This technique not only helps to teach the baby to become aware of the right and the left sides of the body, but making tactile connections across the midline of the infant’s body activates deep structures of the brain.
Benefits at the Muscular Level
Newborns have relatively tighter muscles from their life in utero and from the reflexes governed by an immature nervous system. Massage can help to release their tightened muscles which can aid in comforting babies. Relaxed babies means more sleep for baby and parents. Who couldn’t use more of that these days?
Benefits at the Integumentary Level
Infant massage gives a parent the opportunity to become highly observant of your baby’s skin. From my personal experience, when massaging my baby I am able to notice rashes or other things on the baby skin that I would never find if I wasn’t giving her a massage. When you are busy changing a baby’s diaper you don’t have the chance to be observant of your baby’s skin. During a massage you have the opportunity to thoroughly notice any irregularities and take any concerns to your pediatrician. Massage also increases blood flow to the skin which enhances healing and temperature regulation.
Benefits at the Digestive Level
Since infant digestive system functions are rapidly adjusting to accommodating milk, formula, and new foods, gas and constipation can easily develop. There are many massage techniques that help release painful, obstructing gas and waste. Speaking from my own experience, massage has helped me get out of some difficult situations.
Once, we were out at a fancy restaurant and my infant son suddenly started to cry profusely. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I had tried feeding him, I checked the diaper but for the life of me I couldn’t determine the problem. In a scene straight out of a parent’s worst nightmare, tables of restaurant goers around us stopped to stare as if to say, “Do shut him up, please.” We were seconds away from asking for our meals to go but just then, in a moment of desperation I started with a massage technique that released a large, loud push of gas from my son’s behind and immediate quiet and a happy smile. We enjoyed the rest of the meal. Massage was my life-savior.
Benefits on parent-infant relationship
Massaging your baby makes you and your baby release love hormones called endorphins. Through their eyes you can see the loving bond you are building between you and a baby. This bond continues to grow every time you massage your child. Creating more positive experiences between you and your baby. Because let us be honest, there are many times you feel stressed and overwhelmed by your child, which could cause negative feelings between you and your child. Infant massage has the power to quickly replace negativity with loving and nurturing touch.
A ten minute massage just two or three times a week can help to build a solid caregiver-infant relationship and bring happiness and health to baby. The benefits of infant massage range from relaxation, relief, stimulation, and interaction. So many benefits from something so natural; one may ask why not do it? I love massaging my children and my children look forward to massage time. Both of them love spending one on one time with Mommy. I can see how our loving bond continues to grow every time I massage them. I know I am creating positive memories that will last a lifetime.
Editorial provided by Adina Rosenberg, NCMT. Adina is a Nationally Certified Massage Therapist specializing in Prenatal and Infant Massage in Chicago, IL, a Mother of a three year old and an eight month old baby, and President, Breathe Bodyworks, Inc.