Infant massage has many benefits for parents and babies, learn more about why it’s important and how it will help you bond and learn from your baby.
“Touch is the first sense to develop (even before your baby is born!) Before he can understand your words or see your face, touch is how your baby feels loved.”Parents as Teachers, “Your Nurturing Touch: Practicing Infant Massage”
When my son was born, I was drawn to hold, kiss, cuddle and touch his hands, face, and feet. I could not get enough of his smell and often found myself gazing into his eyes. In fact, I was biologically driven to do these things with my baby, and he was similarly motivated to connect with me and his dad. We were all learning how to communicate, read each other’s cues, and get to know each other in so many ways! While it was a most precious time for our family, there were also challenges. When Sam was around 4 weeks old, he had periods of inconsolable crying and developed colic—both normal but nonetheless challenging behaviors in newborns. It was such an intense time for all of us, and I remember feeling so unsure of myself as his mother. Eventually introducing the practice of Infant Massage helped support our baby and our growing bond with him so much!
The practice of Infant Massage offers many benefits to new parents and their babies. In addition to improved bonding, attachment, and communication (both verbal and non-verbal), studies have shown that practicing infant massage can reduce crying and fussiness, help your baby relax and sleep more deeply, and help to relieve constipation and colic. When I was massaging my baby, I was also helping to stimulate his brain development, circulatory system, digestive system, hormonal system, immune system, lymphatic system, nervous system, respiratory system, vestibular system (responsible for coordination and balance), muscular development and tone, sensory integration, and his mind/body awareness.
I was not thinking about all these benefits at the time; I just knew it felt good to offer healing touch that seemed to bring him immediate relaxation and relief! In fact, during massage, oxytocin is released in both parent and baby. When oxytocin, prolactin, and endorphins are released, a mother’s body begins to help itself feel better. Additional positive feedback is given when we hold or stroke our baby and our baby smiles back.
I also learned to read my baby’s cues with the practice of Infant Massage. I chose to offer massage when he was in a quiet and alert state and signaling to me that he was ready to enjoy a massage. This often happened in the evening after bath time and before bedtime, as I knew he would be really relaxed afterward! Sometimes he would give me cues that he wanted to engage, like holding my gaze, smiling, or kicking his legs in excitement. Other times Sam would let me know he did not want a massage, by arching his back and turning away from me. I built trust with my baby as he learned I could understand and respond to what he was communicating with his facial expressions and body language, and I also felt more confident as his mom!
Before beginning a massage, I would raise my hands in the air and ask permission: “Are you ready for a massage?” This part of the practice lets baby know what is about to happen and introduces the idea that touch is an event for which a child can give or deny permission. Respecting baby’s cues and not doing the massage if baby is saying “No” with his body language (or later with words) is important. Infant Massage is a natural way for children to learn they get to say “No” to touch. This practice introduces the idea that no one has the right to touch their bodies unless they give permission.
The most meaningful benefit I experienced with massage was the opportunity for connection with my child. The massage practice continued as my child grew beyond infancy, although it changed quite a bit! Sam would ask, “Will you do that thing with your fingers down my back?” Or, “My ankles hurt (growing pains!). Will you rub my ankles, Mom?” What might begin as a simple back rub would become a time for Sam to tell me about his day and share how he was feeling and what was happening for him. I am convinced there were times when Sam requested an ankle massage simply because he needed the time and connection with me. Neither you nor your baby will ever be too old for nurturing touch!
If you are interested in learning the practice of Infant Massage for you and your baby, reach out to FC4C staff to be put on a list of interested parents. Janice Mericle, a Certified Educator of Infant Massage, will be offering Infant Massage classes for parents the first three weeks in April, in 3 1-hour Zoom sessions! You can contact her by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-777-1815