Fifteen week old Ashleigh wriggles her body and chuckles with glee as her mother Katie swishes a dollop of vegetable oil between her palms and asks Ashleigh, “would you like a massage?”
Touching and stroking your new baby is instinctive
Who can resist fondling those smooth silky limbs, or gently squeezing your little one’s tender baby toes? But, isn’t expecting a little baby to give permission before you begin to massage, being just a bit optimistic?
Actually, it doesn’t take them long to catch on – or to make their preferences clear about how they like to be touched, according to Maternal and Child Health Nurse, Clare Thorp. Ms Thorp, who offers training courses nationally for prospective infant massage instructors, is emphatic about obtaining baby’s consent before a massage commences. She also advises parents to respond to babies’ body language and subtle cues about their experience of touch. Clare Thorp describes this as a means of teaching babies that respectful touch is a basic right, as well as a basis for developing healthy, trustful relationships and self-esteem. She says, “people spend a lot of time doing things TO babies – like cleaning and changing them and putting them to sleep. Parents aren’t really encouraged to do things WITH babies. By following babies’ cues as they are massaged, parents teach their child, ‘you are worthy enough for people to want to be with you and touch you in a nurturing way,’ and the parents get to know their babies really well.”
Infant massage promotes growth
As well as incorporating all the important elements of parent -child bonding such as skin contact, eye contact, hearing your voice and in turn, responding, infant massage promotes growth. A study conducted by Dr Tiffany Fields at the Touch Research institute at the University of Miami, reports that premature babies who were massaged gained 47 percent more weight, so were able to be discharged from hospital six days earlier than a control group. Follow up studies showed that these benefits had lasting effects.
Massage stimulates the immune and respiratory systems, releases endorphins (feel-good hormones which alleviate stress) and can help babies to develop a relaxation response to stress and specific strokes can help relieve colic and constipation. Massage also encourages babies to become more alert and responsive and is a wonderful tool to calm babies and promote sound sleep. Another study at the Touch Research Institute reports that infants and toddlers who were given daily massages by their parents for fifteen minutes prior to bedtime for one month showed fewer sleep delay behaviours and fell asleep more easily by the end of the study. Massage also provides an opportunity for babies to develop body awareness, especially if you talk to them about their “cute little fingers and wriggly toes” or tell baby, “you are growing so long,” as you stroke along his back.
Infant massage is not only good for babies, it is good for parents too!
Several studies show that mothers who suffer from postnatal depression improve when they incorporate infant massage into their daily routine, and an Australian study of infant massage and father-baby bonding, found that at 12 weeks old, babies who were massaged (by their fathers) greeted their fathers with more eye contact, smiling, vocalising and touch than those in the control group. The massaged babies showed more orientating responses to their fathers and less avoidance behaviour and the fathers showed greater day-to-day involvement with their infants. Perhaps the greatest benefit of massaging your baby is that it is almost as relaxing for you as it is for your little one.
Massage is a beautiful way to keep in touch as your baby grows, but as he becomes more mobile you may find massages are shorter or less frequent for a few months. However, with short periods of massage as he is still for a moment or two, you will maintain the experience in his conscious memory until he is ready once again to enjoy this expression of comfort and security.
Pinky McKay is the author of ‘Parenting By Heart’ and ‘100 Ways to Calm the Crying’(Lothian). She is also a certified infant massage instructor. Visit Pinky’s website www.pinky-mychild.com or, to find an infant massage instructor near you, contact Infant Massage Australia – www.infantmassage.org.au