BABY Massage: THE SECRET TO A GREAT PARENTAL BOND
The first three years of a baby’s life are critical for brain development. Positive nurturing experiences between a caregiver and infant play an important role in the development of the brain. Research has shown that early experiences matter and children thrive in a nurturing environment.
Infant massage promotes nurturing touch and communication. Infants are accustomed to the tactile stimulation of constant movement and they need the re-establishment of those rhythms after birth. Infant massage is the gentle, rhythmic stroking of your baby’s body using your hand which helps build security and trust.
There are many benefits of baby massage.
These benefits can be divided into four main categories: interaction, stimulation, relief and relaxation.
Touch is your baby’s first language – it is the way the baby experiences the world in the beginning. The baby has been in the womb and had a rhythmic experience in the womb.
Research has shown that the sense of touch is detected in the embryo as early as eight weeks.
When you massage your baby you are strengthening its bond with you which is one of the most important benefits of infant massage. Bonding is the ongoing process of connecting with and falling in love between the caregiver and infant. It occurs as a result of intimate moments spent with the baby in reciprocal interactions and promotes secure attachment. This process may have been interrupted due to lengthy hospitalisations, post-partum depression, and extreme stresses of being a new parent.
Baby massage encompasses many of the elements that contribute to and strengthen the bonding process. For example, during the massage the parent is taught how to read their baby’s cues better, becoming more attuned and responsive to their infant’s needs. There is the use of touch – skin-to-skin contact, eye contact which is why positioning is so important, odour – the unique smell of the mother or father as well as the baby, vocalisations – speaking to the baby in a soothing or highpitched voice and engagement with joyful smiles and coos.
Infant massage has shown to reduce stress and promote relaxation for both the parent and the infant. When you massage your baby it releases serotonin and oxytocin (love) hormones, which combats the stress hormone cortisol. A baby experiences stress just like anyone else. Babies can become stressed due to extreme prolonged crying, colic, over stimulation, big changes to routine, hospitalisations and in more serious cases an abusive environment.
Massage also improves sleep patterns. Due to being more relaxed, both the infant as well as the parent sleep better. Research has shown that when massage was used as part of the bedtime routine for the infant, it resulted in improvements in child and mother night wakings and improvements in maternal sleep quality.
Infant massage reduces and relieves colic, constipation and wind. When a baby is born, their gastrointestinal system is not fully developed which is why most babies struggle with gas, constipation and digestive cramps.
Massage on the stomach stimulates the growth of the gastrointestinal system which promotes better digestion and soothes the stomach muscles of the baby.
It also relieves nasal congestion and teething pain. When your baby has a cold, massage helps to increase circulation and loosen mucus, helping your little one to breathe better. It also helps with teething pain by putting pressure on the gums and relieves other growing pains and muscular tension.
Infant massage stimulates all the systems in the baby’s body – their circulatory system, digestive system, hormonal system, immune system, lymphatic system, nervous system, respiratory system, vestibular system (coordination and balance). It also promotes language development, growth and mind body awareness.
In addition to providing interaction, relaxation, relief and stimulation, infant massage has been proven to increase parental confidence. Learning infant massage gives parents a skill to help babies regulate and be soothed. When a parent is successfully able to soothe or provide relief to their baby it increases parental confidence as well as their self-esteem as a parent and as an individual.
Practicing baby massage is encouraged for moms and dads. The mom has more opportunity to bond with the baby from the very beginning, especially when breastfeeding. Dads tend to become more involved at a later stage in the baby’s development. By practising infant massage, dads can play a greater role in taking care of the baby from the very beginning and building a stronger bond.
Kerry Neilands (B.Ed., DIRFloortime® Advanced) is the Founder and Lead Trainer for Tranquil Tots.