Bonding with Baby: Infant Massage Can Help
Published on June 5, 2013 by Karen Newmeyer
There is nothing like a baby to bring a little light into your life, especially at two o’clock in the morning. New parents often struggle with the demands that come with a “wee one.” I have often wished that babies had an outside gauge that would show what they needed. Alas, they do not even come with an owner’s manual. What is more, those least qualified (no prior experience) are the ones that become new parents.
The one thing I wish I had known when my children were small is infant massage. Recently, students in the Prenatal Massage class, part of the massage therapy program at Broadview University, held a clinic for mothers and babies as an applied learning project. Students ReAhna Dobson, Estee Mace, Terri Vasquez and Alene Litteral taught moms the basics of infant massage. How fun! Darling babies were running/crawling everywhere.
The benefits of infant massage are amazing. I never had a colicky baby, but massage helps with digestion by stimulating the vagus nerve, which can help relieve gas discomfort. When massaging the tummy, always massage in a clockwise direction, the same direction substances move through the colon, assisting in elimination. Not only will colic relief result in better sleep for parent and baby, massage is relaxing and positively affects the stress hormone cortisol, thus reducing stress and reducing crying.
Infant massage may also help with the baby’s immune system. A study last year on preterm infants reported that massage increased the infant’s immune cells’ ability to fight infection and disease (120 preterm infants received 45 minutes of massage, five days a week for four weeks). Not only did massage help their immune systems, according to the study, the infants in the massage group gained more weight than those who did not receive massages. The study showed infant massage to be safe and effective with no negative side effect. What is not to like?
Maybe the greatest benefit for infant massage is the bond that results from the interaction between the parent and child. In fact, any trained caregiver can give a massage, including parents and grandparents. When giving a massage, it is important that the baby be in the proper “mood.” If they are tired and cranky, or have just eaten, it may be better to choose a different time. Initiate the massage with eye contact and some kind of physical contact. Make massage time into a game by naming the body part as it is massaged. This can help develop motor skills, sensory awareness, and promote intellectual development.
Keep in mind that babies may not always cooperate in the massage process. If they are not happy, do not force them to hold still for a massage. In a way, it is teaching children to “own” their own body. They can say who touches them in a somewhat intimate way. They can say no, as well. One mom, Bailey Wood, said about infant massage, “At night time, it will be nice to help calm her down.”
While increasing parental confidence, massage strengthens the parental/infant bond. Want a happy mom? Start with a happy baby!