Why do baby massages really matter?
Iím a Child and Family Health Nurse from Australia and Iíve been teaching parents baby massage for over 14 years. As a midwife I knew it was important but didnít really understand why. Now that I know why, I think every parent should be taught this marvelous skill. I think its integral to building a relationship and really understanding your baby.
Baby massage is touch at its most basic. It originated in India, we think, many years ago. It has a very spiritual aspect to it and through practice we can learn to really understand our baby. It is mindful and in the moment. Something that our fast paced, technology driven lives, really are not.
I think thatís what initially hooked me, the in-the-moment stuff! It also seemed a bit mysterious and there was something really powerful about it.
As a Health Visitor, working in a Sure Start area in Salford Manchester, this perception I had was so different to my work reality. We were taught baby massage to work, one on one with fathers in Ďat riskí families to try and reduce child protection issues. The idea was that if the father massages the baby, he forms a relationship with his baby, which then hopefully helps to protect it. The theory was that itís hard to hurt something that youíve formed an intimate bonding experience with. The child protection cases on my caseload numbered 10%. It was huge and overwhelming.
What I witnessed was: learning by both parents of how to read and understand their babies and linking into their cues. It was a light bulb moment. I found that commenting on the reciprocal pleasure father and baby were experiencing really helped the fathers blossom. In England, fathers from a lot of low socio-economic areas are often absent from the parenting role, for a variety of reasons. These fathers blossomed and looked forward to my visits at their home.
Babies benefit from touch in many ways. As well as enhancing the infant-parent relationship and bonding, it also has a beneficial effect on the immune system and circulation. Premature babies that are massaged are found to grow more than babies that arenít. It helps the immature digestive system by reducing colic and wind and treating constipation and reﬂux.
When you massage your baby you really look into their eyes. We know that direct eye contact builds connections in the babyís brain and connects the synapses that cement emotional intelligence. So never underestimate the power of baby massage. Itís so much more than just a series of strokes with some lovely oil.
If you enjoyed this article you may also be interested in ATH’s Massage & Bodywork community.