Better health, improved sleep, increased bonding, and overall wellbeing…. these are some of the remarkable benefits of infant massage.
We all hold the innate gift of a healing touch. Throughout history, from ancient to modern times, there are references to this most natural ability. With kind touch, we’re able to deeply connect to others, to comfort, to calm, to heal and to give and to receive love.
With our loving hands and bodies, we’re able to communicate in a profound way, especially at times when words fall short. Often when wanting to help, we may instinctively use this natural gift: just without a thought, we hug, touch or hold.
Studies from the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute have shown that touch is an essential part of human health and wellbeing. Touch helps us to feel nurtured and nourished in our lives, and a cuddle can comfort and help to lift our spirits.
The Power of Touch
The skin is the human body’s largest organ, containing millions of receptors that send messages through nerve fibers to the brain. Studies have shown that loving touch helps to increase brain levels of endorphins, a natural painkiller, and oxytocin, a powerful bonding ‘feel good, in love’ hormone. These help to lower a person’s heart rate and blood pressure and greatly help to reduce stress levels. So we all have this powerful tool literally at our fingertips.
Touch is a baby’s most powerful sense; the skin is the first organ to develop, and even in the womb there is a sense of touch. For a crying baby, there’s no greater comfort than to be lovingly touched and held. Touch is like food for babies – they need it!
Infant massage is an ancient art, rooted deeply in Indian, Tibetan, Malaysian, Chinese and African cultures. In the animal kingdom, this expression of love can surely not be missed: almost all species touch in some way to communicate, bond, form groups and colonies, and to help to promote natural growth and well-being.
When babies cry, we intuitively hold them; when children hurt themselves, we offer to kiss and make it better. If we hurt ourselves, we immediately put our hand to the injured site. It’s a natural reaction to stroke it, and by doing this we’re encouraging the natural repair process. Blood and oxygen is quickly brought to the damaged area, the body produces its own corticosteroids and endorphins, and pain, swelling and inflammation are greatly reduced.
When you give your baby massage it’s a wonderful opportunity to nurture and nourish your baby, getting to know him or her better on all levels, while feeling good yourself. There’s no hard and fast rule about when you can start to massage your baby.
Initially, it may be more beneficial for your newborn baby to experience a gentle, nurturing touch, rather than doing too many massage techniques, as this might be a bit too overwhelming at first. However, you’re the best judge of this. Your baby loves spending time close to you; so lots of cuddles, or being carried around in a sling or a papoose would give them the loving closeness and touch they so need to thrive in the early days.
The ‘Warm Hands’ technique from Surviving Baby Colic is excellent for when your baby is feeling slightly fretful and in need of some comfort and calming. This soothing technique enables you to quickly make a warm and loving connection with your baby.
Warm Hands Infant Massage
- Take a relaxing breath, and then rub your hands together to generate some heat in them.
- Next, place your hands side by side on your baby’s abdomen and rest them there for a while.
- Send calm, loving thoughts through your hands and enjoy the loving connection between you both. You may be surprised how comforted and relaxed your baby can become by doing something so simple.
Infant massage is wonderful for so many reasons. It can help you to:
- Empower you by helping you to understand your baby better
- Improve the general functioning of your baby’s immune system
- Regulate and strengthen the digestive system (which may reduce the discomfort of colic, wind and constipation)
- Promote relaxation and improve quality of sleep
- Reduce pain through increasing endorphins, a natural painkiller
- Reduce levels of cortisol (stress hormone)
- Alleviate wind and constipation
- Strengthen the bond between you and your baby
- Balance the nervous system
- Boost the respiratory system
- Release the relaxing ‘feel good’ hormone oxytocin
- Help your baby to grow and flourish.
Where to Start
Why not start by trying some small, gentle massage on your baby’s legs and feet? This can be very relaxing and soothing and it could be just what they need. In the womb they randomly move and kick, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, and in doing so, their legs and feet get used to a certain amount of touch; this means they’re more receptive to massage in these areas.
This doesn’t involve using massage oil so it tends to be done over clothes. Just working intuitively, use your palms and fingers to gently stroke and massage their legs, feet and toes. This can be extremely soothing, relaxing and comforting. If you accompany your massage with some loving words or song, even better. It wouldn’t work well to massage on the skin for too long without some massage oil or lotion, as you could eventually cause friction and discomfort.
Massage with Oil
Some good oils to use are almond oil, fractionated coconut oil, grapeseed oil or sunflower oil. These oils are food for the skin, are safe to be absorbed, and are preferable to a mineral- based oil. It’s always good to do a skin patch allergy test for before a massage.
- Make sure you’re both warm and comfortable.
- Remove any clothing from the legs and feet
- Ask your baby if they are ready for a massage; their body language will soon let you know if they’re not
- Put a small amount of oil in the palm of your hand and with both hands gently warm it
- Apply some oil to one leg and foot and, using gently stroking movements, work up and down the leg and all over the foot including the toes. They’ll relax faster into the massage if you chat away with some comforting words or song.
- If they’re still enjoying the massage repeat on the other leg and foot.
- Finish with a cuddle.
Consider joining a baby massage course; you’ll then get to learn several interesting massage techniques and routines for the whole body. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of having a full body massage yourself, you will understand just how therapeutic and wonderful that feels.
Don’t be afraid to discover what comes naturally to you, as you will be very ‘tuned in’ to your baby and are likely to know intuitively what is best for them. Why not invite other members of the family to try some baby massage? It’s wonderful coming from mums, dads, siblings (supervised), and other family members, too.
If your baby is suffering from colic then massage could be extremely helpful to ease and relieve painful symptoms. You will find in my book, Surviving Baby Colic, illustrations of colic massage routines, techniques and exercises. I know myself how empowering it can be to do something positive for your baby at this time.
The benefits from baby massage are definitely two-way: as you give so, you receive. By giving with your loving hands, you’ll find that the connection between you both is deeply strengthened, allowing love and good feeling to flow freely between you.