Infant Massage: Nurturing Touch for Loving Connection
Published on: December 08, 2020
Massage is a simple act that brings tremendous benefits to parents and babies; there are basic guidelines to follow to create a respectful and pleasant experience for infants.
By Iasnaia Maximo; Image by Khoa Pham on Unsplash.
Touch is said to be the first sense developed in the womb. With skin being the largest organ, touch communicates love and safety through non-verbal communication. From the moment of birth, the baby is already responding to touch; it activates breathing straight after birth and tactile stimulation during the parent-infant interaction is essential for the baby to thrive and grow.
Indeed this nurturing touch can start in the womb when parents touch and massage the growing belly. As the baby develops, s/he will respond to the contact by kicking back and moving around.
When my first child was 2 months old, we joined a 5-week infant massage course. There, I learned a set of gentle strokes, and at the end of each session, I’d bathe my baby in a tummy tub, feed him and wrap him in a woven sling before going home. These sessions have left the most delightful memories of closeness and calm connection; it also provided a little time not to provide care but completely enjoy the moment with the bonus of a long nap that he had after the session.
Baby massage is not a new trend, on the contrary, it is a practice that has existed for centuries in many cultures. A country that comes to mind immediately is India, where French physician Frederick Leboyer found a mother tenderly massaging her baby on the street, amidst the hustle and bustle of the slums in Calcutta and became fascinated by her gentle strokes. She eventually wrote a book on the subject and named the massage technique after the Indian mother, Shantala.
Shantala baby massage is a loving and relaxing massage; it is also very easy to receive and give. Since the publication of Leboyer’s book, studies have been done to confirm the benefits of massage. Extensive research has been conducted to enhance massaging techniques to stimulate the digestive, circulatory hormonal, and immune systems.
During the infant massage walk-in sessions at BAMBI Bumps and Babies, midwife Emma and I follow the guidelines of IAIM (International Association of Infant Massage www.iaim.net) and conduct the training based on studies and updated research.
We invite you to acquaint yourself with these basic principles: observe your baby’s body language, sounds, and movements. Be emotionally present with your baby, maintain eye contact, and observe these 4 simple guidelines when massaging your baby:
- Only parents (or main caregiver) should be massaging the baby, as touch is a silent communication between parent and child. It strengthens the bond, creates secure attachment, and teaches that body autonomy is to be respected from a very young age.
That is why no well-trained infant massage instructor should ever massage or touch your baby when teaching you. Instead, the instructor must demonstrate on a baby doll and only the parent/caregiver should touch the baby.
- Permission. Yes, we need to ask permission to touch and massage the baby. Even a tiny baby communicates with sounds, body language, cry, movement, and receiving permission from your baby is important before the massage.
You may ask, how a baby could possibly tell if s/he is ready and willing to be massaged. It is the same way you know when your baby is hungry, cold or hot. Answering this question requires the interpersonal capacities of a newborn infant; we can gauge from their gaze, facial expressions, posture, and other non-verbal or pre-verbal expressions of comfort or distress.
- Respect the baby’s needs. If your baby cries and shows through body language that it is enough, or needs to be fed or changed, follow their needs, and soothe them.
- Choose the time and place. Ensure your baby is in a quiet alert state – all their physiological needs such as food and nappy change are met, and there is interaction and attentiveness. It could be any time of the day, and usually, babies sleep well after a massage and a bath.
When you massage your baby, you translate feelings of love and acceptance, creating mind and body awareness, teaching body autonomy, providing secure attachment, nurturing respectful relationships based on consent and permission, and improving confidence. It brings benefits for parents and babies.
The benefits of receiving massage for the baby are aplenty and can be categorized into 4 categories: Interaction, Stimulation, Relaxation, and Relief. The more noticeable ones are a baby that feeds better, digests better — less gas, colic, and constipation — sleeps better, and interacts for longer. They will also have more flexibility and muscle tone, reduced crying and stress hormones, and better regulation of behavioral states.
On the other hand, parents benefit from a deep bonding, a flood of relaxing hormones, and increased self-esteem as parents; it builds parental confidence and skill and creates a truly enjoyable moment. Also, it helps a non-biological parent, or a sibling, to connect on many levels with the baby. Leaving the house and joining a baby massage class helps new mothers/parents to combat the isolation that is so common in the first months of motherhood.
In all, it is about giving your baby the conscious exclusive attention s/he deserves and communicating via the loving touch through your sentient and empathetic hands.
About the Author
Iasnaia is a Brazilian with a pinch of Irish who started her career as a lawyer. She now dedicates her time and passion to empower and support women in all aspects of motherhood as a Doula and HypnoBirthing practitioner. Living in Thailand since July 2016, she and her German husband and their 2 Amsterdam home birthed boys enjoy eating their way through Bangkok and beyond. She is part of the BAMBI Bumps & Babies team. www.maedoula.com
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