I recently attended a 'Well Mother' Infant Massage Instructor Course, where they intensively prepare practitioners for instructing and supporting parents and babies through shiatsu, gentle exercise and massage.
I have always been interested in the benefits of massage, after qualifying many years ago in massage therapy. Massage is a lovely way for parents to develop a special physical bond with their baby. Infant massage can help promote a positive relationship with baby, especially for Dad if he is not able to be involved in the feeding of baby during the early months.
What are the benefits of infant massage?
Infant massage has many added benefits for your baby, including:
- greater bonding with parents/carers,
- stimulation of all the physiological systems of the body ( circulatory, nervous and gastrointestinal),
- increased relaxation, helping soothe your baby and help them to sleep,
- it helps baby feel secure and increases trust,
- provides quiet focus, sensory stimulation which is necessary for growth and development.
- Baby massage can aid digestion and help ease teething pain,
- parents often say they find it relaxing too!!
What are the benefits of infant massage for parents?
Infant massage stimulates the feel good hormone Oxytocin in parent's and your baby. The hormone Oxytocin is the hormone that gives you a warm loving feeling when you hold your baby close or breastfed baby, baby massage can raise levels of Oxytocin in babies, which can help them to feed and sleep better and feel more content. It is known to lower blood pressure, reduce pain and minimise stress!
Happy babies = happy parents!!!
Infant massage is a great means of communicating with your baby and develops a greater awareness of baby cues. Infant massage helps parents to learn how to respond to their baby's needs and an increased confidence in handling baby.
Importance of touch!
We know that birth touch, contact before, during and right after birth sets the stage for a child's lifetime sensitivity to tender touch. Loving touches lay the foundation of health and emotional stability, they build trust and security.
Infants need a nurturing environment to activate the genes that develop healthy brains!
Babies in orphanages deprived of loving touch can develop long lasting developmental problems. A Romanian orphans study by Mary Carlson, neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School, concluded that the lack of touching in Romanian orphanages stunted the child's growth and adversely affected their behaviour. She measured their cortisol levels by analysing their saliva; her research study was carried out on baby monkeys and it showed that with the deprivation of physical contact with their mothers, or social contact with others, they developed abnormal stress profiles and exhibited bizarre behaviours.
In the past, people thought survival depended on satisfying basic drives such as hunger and thirst, but the Carlson study showed that touch is the key to bonding between infants and their mothers. Infants in the Romanian orphanages displayed these behaviours as they did not form normal relationships with other kids, therefore they were fearful and unresponsive and exhibited behaviours such as self-clasping, rocking and swaying.
Carlson also studied the children in the Romanian orphanages that were only in these centers during the week, but went home at weekends. They showed the same abnormal hormone levels as their abandoned peers during the week, but not at the weekends when they rejoined their families!
What is infant massage?
Infant massage is a gentle, rhythmic stroking of your baby's body with your hands. Using natural oils to help your hands to glide smoothly over your baby's skin. You can gently manipulate baby's ankles, wrists, fingers and toes. It is a lovely time to communicate with your baby talking softly, humming or singing to your baby while you gently massage, which can help to make it more reassuring for your baby.
Infant massage can be introduced after birth and parents can be shown simple strokes to do on their babies at any time. Through gentle strokes and touch a massage can help develop and relax the nervous system particularly during the early months. Baby massage is about parents being taught skills to then find their own special way to massage their baby. Working on baby's feet can be very grounding and relaxing.
Infant massage can help mums with postnatal depression interact with their babies. Baby massage is great for Dads or partners too, some Dads say they miss out on a lot of hands on care of their newborns, but a regular massage with Dad can become a routine and helps to bring both Dad and baby closer together.
Massage is particularly good for premature babies in special care, resulting in: weight gain; improved digestion and bowel movements; calmer response to stress and pain; more stable brain activity.
Studies show that massaged premature babies tend to be well enough to go home with their families sooner than babies who aren't massaged.
When is the best time to massage my infant?
This can be different times of the day. Try to pick times when your baby is between feeds. Its finding whatever works best for parents and their baby, it can vary from day to day or can be part of a routine. Once you have be shown how to massage your baby you can chose when is a good time.
A good time to massage your baby is normally when they are awake, but settled. If your baby is alert and interested in their environment it means they are ready to interact with you. Some parents like to make it part of baby's bedtime routine, perhaps after a bath and before bedtime feed, it helps to wind baby down after the stimulation of the day, preparing them ready for sleep.
Vegetable based massage oil is best for infant massage as it is kinder to baby's skin, always do a patch test first before you intend to massage your baby.
Learning massage techniques
To learn massage techniques and skills you could find a baby massage course near you. I am now organising baby massage and shiatsu classes in my area of Hertfordshire, providing step by step massage strokes, gentle exercises and relaxation techniques that benefit both mum, dad and baby.
In my recent training with Well Mother not only did we learn massage skills but also simple shiatsu techniques. I am also looking to organise once a month a session for Dads to come along and massage their babies and meet other Dads.
My aim is to teach infant massage by demonstrating the strokes and techniques and encouraging parents to find their own special way to massage their baby. My classes are run in a fun, relaxed environment, allowing time for social and bonding experience's for mums, dad's and their babies.