Touch. It’s the first communication between a mother and her newborn baby. Being touched is a primal need, intrinsic to each one of us – and the most natural vehicle for love, affection and bonding. In our western culture babies are born into a fast paced, technology overloaded world. Gone are the days of birth in the tranquil wild plains of nature. Startling sounds and lights can put undue stress on a small baby. Without relief, this stress can accumulate and may cause a baby to block sensory intake and learning – the body’s natural response to a harsh environment that is not welcoming and safe. Infant massage can help a baby to relax, lessening irritability and soothing mood.
Health benefits for baby
Recent studies suggest that touch deprivation can negatively affect the immune system and that massage can in fact, stimulate immunity. In studies on touch deprivation among preschool children who were separated from their mother, they noted more frequent bouts of illness, in particular - upper respiratory infections, diarrhea and constipation. In a study on human infants (aged 10 weeks old) mothers provided extra touch stimulation. Results showed that the infants whose backs were massaged by their mothers experienced fewer colds and fewer occurrences of diarrhea. In further studies, preterm infants who, upon receiving daily massages, averaged 47% more weight gain than infants in the control group. This suggests that tactile stimulation may speed up development and recovery – allowing them to leave the hospital sooner.
Studies have shown that infants who were massaged:
Showed improved sleeping patterns
Experienced diminished irritability
Reduced stress indicators such as heart rate and stress hormone levels
Improved their circulation
Strengthened their immunity
Enhanced neurological development
Provided relief of gas and colic, tummy discomfort and teething
Deepened the bonding experience
Benefits for parents and siblings
Not only is massage a great way of bonding with your baby, it can also help to build your confidence as a parent. It can provide an activity that fathers can take part in – helping them to actively participate at a time when they may feel left out. Studies in Australia have shown that infants who were massaged starting at four-weeks postpartum showed considerably more responsiveness at a 12-week home observation. These infants greeted their fathers with more eye contact and more smiling, vocalizing, reaching and orienting responses, and showed less avoidance behaviors than did infants who were not massaged.
Benefits for parents include:
Helping parents to feel more competent and confident in their role
Providing an opportunity for focused time together
Increasing parents’ ability to help relax the child in time of stress
Providing a healthy vehicle for stress relief for parents
Enhancing communication and building respect between parent and child
Bringing parents closer to each other by working towards a common goal - loving your baby and building a stronger family bond!
In addition, infant massage can even be used to overcome the rivalry many siblings feel toward new infants in the family. A child who assists a parent in giving an infant a massage will feel included – and learn how to interact in an affectionate manner. The benefits of massage are carried far into adulthood. Recent findings indicate that the secure attachments with primary caregivers formed in infancy produce adults that are more capable of healthy, happy, and trusting relationships.