It has been well-established by research that touch is essential to babies. It is the primary form of communication between infant and parent, and it has been shown to enhance the baby’s physical and mental health. It has benefits for the parent as well: studies have shown that people who engage in positive touch with their babies may experience easier postpartum recovery.
Positive touch can take many forms. Caring for a newborn inherently involves a lot of touch, since babies are entirely dependent on their caregivers for survival. Most babies receive parental affection as part of caregiving: hugs, kisses, snuggles.
Baby massage is a form of positive touch that is intentional – in other words, touch is the whole point of the interaction, rather than being an incidental consequence of it. Initially used to aid the development of medically vulnerable premature babies, baby massage found its way into mainstream parenting when its benefits became apparent. According to a 2004 study, it shortens babies’ hospital stays and reduces postpartum complications. It may also have a positive impact on developmental test scores.
What Is Baby Massage?
As the name suggests, baby massage is intentional touch aimed at promoting healing and relaxation for the baby. It can include gentle stroking of the baby’s body and soft manipulation of their joints. It is a safe practice for almost all babies, and although classes are available, massage can easily be done at home. In fact, for some babies, formal classes prove to be overstimulating during the early weeks of life.
How Is Baby Massage Done?
There are no hard-and-fast rules about how to do a baby massage: there are many instructional videos and websites covering this topic, and they all propose different methods. There are some general guidelines that are commonly recommended, though:
Do the massage when the baby is content and alert, and interested in interaction.
If the baby starts to fuss or look uncomfortable, stop the massage and try again another time.
Both you and the baby should be comfortable: sit on the floor or on a bed, with the baby on a blanket or towel in front of you. Ensure that the lighting and room temperature are comfortable.
During the massage, ensure that the baby’s head and joints are properly supported.
Massage techniques include rubbing the baby’s belly in a circular clockwise motion, gently, pulling each toe in turn, stroking the legs from the thighs to the ankles, and making circles on the palms of the hands.
What Are The Benefits Of Baby Massage?
The benefits are many, and include parent-child bonding and a sense of safety and security for the baby. Research studies are still delving into several other potential benefits of baby massage. Three of the biggest reasons to try this form of bonding with your baby are listed below.
Benefit #1: Improved Health Outcomes
There is a growing body of evidence supporting the idea that babies who receive massages experience fewer and less severe episodes of colic than babies who don’t. In fact, baby massage can enhance the digestive system as a whole, helping reduce gas, cramps, and constipation. In addition, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that baby massage can reduce teething pains and muscular tension, and promote growth in premature babies. However, more research is needed to explore these claims.
Benefit #2: Improved Interactions
Humans are social beings, and this starts at the beginning of life. It is already well-established that at the time of birth, a baby recognises the voice of the person who gave birth to them. Until the child starts acquiring language, however, touch is the primary method of interaction. Most touch comes with the territory of caring for the baby: feeding, diaper changes, bath time, rocking the baby to sleep. Massage is a different kind of touch because it is intentional. It is the tactile equivalent of two people sitting down and having a conversation just because they enjoy spending time with one another. Along with the positive interaction of a baby massage comes a sense of trust, wellbeing, and safety.
Benefit #3: Improved Proprioception
Proprioception is our sense of where our bodies are in space. For example, you know without looking that your knees are slightly bent, or which way to move your arm in order to scratch your nose. Baby massage is a wonderful way of helping babies develop this sense. Strong proprioception in turns leads to strong interoception, which is an awareness of the sensations that are going on in our bodies. This awareness is a critical part of enhancing and maintaining physical and mental health throughout life.
The Somatofulness Approach
It is this sense – interoception – that we aim to promote. While it is now commonly understood that mental health and physical health are equally important, we are still discovering just how strong the connection is between the body and the mind. By helping our babies develop their interoceptive awareness – in other words, by teaching them to listen to their bodies – we can empower them to respond to the signals their bodies are sending them and make the adjustments needed to restore the body to a healthy state.
Through a series of workshops and programs, we can show you how to strengthen the mind-body connection in yourself, and how you can help your children learn about that connection in themselves.