By Ali Weatherford
Most people haven’t heard of infant massage at all…or only about infant massage for gas!
Massaging our babies is fun and sweet and does so many great things for their health, our health, our parenting, and our relationships. When babies are first born, their brains are not fully developed; however, the lower part of the nervous system including the spinal cord and brain stem are fully operational. That means that newborns are using mostly that lower part of the brain which is fully developed. It controls reflexes and basic functions and also handles some emotions including feeling anxious or calm. They live in response to what they see, hear, smell, taste and feel. This means that we can help them with their emotions (feeling anxious or calm) by what we offer in their environment. We can offer soothing sights and sounds, calming smells, preferred flavors, and comforting touch through massage.
The Physical Benefits of Infant Massage
Infant massage is so common in some places because research has shown that there are significant benefits to massage for babies.
Baby massage was introduced about 30 years ago in NICUs in the United Kingdom to support the development of premature babies. After evidence from a 2004 study found that NICU babies who were massaged had shorter hospital stays, slightly better scores on developmental tests, and slightly fewer complications, it became common practice.
Additionally, there could be some other benefits for babies including:
- Improved digestion
- Less crying
- Better sleep
- Improved muscle tone for sucking
Other Benefits of Infant Massage: A Culture of Touch
It is also widely understood that massaging our infants can increase a parent’s awareness of the baby’s needs, support an early bond, and improve maternal mental health. Massaging our babies is also fun for all!
In families where there is a culture of touch, bonds are formed easily and we have a way to communicate needs and comfort in a very real way.
When touch is included as part of the daily routine, it can become a way to set patterns and rhythms that benefit the whole family. Using positive touch can make things more enjoyable. Bedtime, bath time, and clean-up time might be a time of day our kids can look forward to when they know it’s also time for some massage and bonding with their parents.
- Bedtime foot rubs: This can be especially helpful once our kids get a little older and start going to school. Many parents find that asking “How was your day?” gets met with the same answer every day. “Fine.” Many kids are fried after a long day at school and honestly just don’t have the words or the energy to communicate right then. You might find that with a bedtime foot rub, you’ll get a much longer answer to your question!
- Bath time massages: Babies can relax during bath time when they are getting some soothing massage at the same time. It’s always a great idea to set up positive associations with bathing from an early age so that later we don’t have to chase them around and deal with tantrums at bath time!
- Diaper change massages: Just like bath time and bedtime, diaper changing can turn into a big frustrating chore when we have a baby that doesn’t like it. Setting up diaper changes as a positive and relaxing experience using massage might mean that your baby is an easy and willing customer even as they get older.
In a previous post, I talked about the importance of skin-to-skin contact at birth and beyond. There are definitely benefits to keeping that going! It’s easiest to start massage and create a culture of touch at home when our kids are babies. It becomes part of our habits and transitions and daily routine. It becomes a love language and a way we can comfort our kids when they are hurt or upset. It means closer bonds and better communication as our kids get older. As a parent, I loved getting baby snuggles and it was easy to get plenty, but I can also remember sometimes feeling like I was being touched TOO MUCH! When I had a fussy toddler trying to be held and a baby who would only sleep on my body in between feeding from my body, I looked forward to moments when no one was touching me!
Now, I don’t regret those times AT ALL. Now that my kids are a teen and pre-teen, I’m not overwhelmed by the touch, but I revel in the snuggles I do get. We developed a culture of touch in our family, and now my teenage daughter insists that I get in bed with her for a snuggle and a conversation about what happened at school EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. My 11-year-old son still holds my hand walking to school while we talk about his new friends or what he plans to do at recess. I am very grateful that, with my kids, touch is still easy and freely given, and that it still works as a way to comfort and communicate.
Taking an infant massage class is a great way to start! You will learn more about how and when to touch your baby. You can learn the specific strokes and locations for massage that work for so many different things, whether that’s to help your baby relax for bedtime or to help with a belly ache.
In the U.S., baby massage is not common practice and infant massage classes can be hard to find. Breastfeeding Success has a great infant massage class and instructor offering virtual live classes you can FIND HERE!
Melanie Wattles of Baby Strokes is the instructor and has been learning and teaching about infant massage for over 20 years. She also has more than 20 years of experience in pediatric and neonatal nursing. Melanie is originally from the UK where infant massage is much more common and even standard for new families.
Register for one of our upcoming infant massage classes to learn more about how you can introduce a culture of touch to your baby and family.
Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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