Do you have a new baby in your life, or perhaps know someone who does? There are so many new things to learn! Diapers, feeding, sleep, how to introduce a new baby to siblings and pets … have you ever considered adult/infant communication as part of this new skill set?
Infant massage has been in practice for centuries. It’s something that new parents and caregivers have instinctively turned to for nurturing their new little ones. What most people are less aware of is that touch is a form of communication – for a newborn, a very important form of communication. Touch is the first sense to develop, and the skin is the body’s largest sensory organ. Without words, with little understanding of facial expressions and body language, touch is the lifeline between an infant and the world around her.
Massage has many benefits for a newborn. The calming effect of massage can help the newborn get more restful sleep. The immune system, circulation, brain functioning, muscle tone and coordination all benefit from massage. A gentle caress can help to ease a distressed infant. It can also serve to increase the bond the caregivers feel with their baby, by giving them an additional means to soothe and calm the baby. Parents who give their infants massage report feeling better able to cope with caring for their child. Massage aids digestion, which may help prevent colic, help the baby gain weight easier and grow more quickly. Some studies have shown that premature infants, who were given massage while in the hospital, actually grew up to 47% faster and were released from the hospital as many as 6 days earlier than babies not given massage.
Massage helps to release endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. This can be helpful when the newborn is recovering from birth trauma. In some cases, however, babies should not be given massage – if your baby has a fever, s/he should not receive massage. In cases of premature birth, fracture or incision, talk to a massage therapist certified in infant massage to find out how to proceed. In cases of hemophilia or malignancy, caregivers should consult a doctor or nurse before proceeding. Consider taking a class with a massage therapist certified in infant massage. You’ll receive hands-on training in just the right strokes and pressure to use for your baby, and you’ll learn the safest and most effective means of providing the right massage care for your baby.
Most importantly, look for a massage therapist who can help you learn a baby’s language – time-out cues like gaze avoidance, splayed fingers and different types of cries. Babies, like anyone else, feel the need to be heard. The language of gentle touch will help build the foundation for a lifetime of positive communication between you and your baby.