By Meghan Mahar
“Being touched and caressed, being massaged, is food for the infant. Food as necessary as minerals, vitamins, and proteins.” –Frederick LeBoyer
In the 1970s, French Obstetrician Frederick Leboyer’s book Birth Without Violence revolutionized the way women gave birth. It also gave way to the idea that there are many things parents can do to help ease the transition for the baby from life in the womb to life on the outside. Leboyer, along with other advocates such as Vimala McClure, founder of The International Association of Infant Massage, advocated for parents to start massaging their babies, and a movement was born.
Touch is vital for the survival of infants. Stimulation of the skin is necessary for both physical and psychological development in infants. When asked what he thought of development in both animals and humans, anthropologist Ashley Montagu said, “People don’t realize that communication for a baby, the first communication it receives and the first language of its development, is through the skin.” All of the elements of infant massage are beneficial for both parents and infants and help with the bonding process. Infant massage can be particularly beneficial for premature babies that spend their early lives in incubators, for parents of babies who have delayed bonding, adoptive parents and mothers dealing with postpartum depression. In these cases, massage can help recreate the elements of bonding.
In addition to bonding, massaging your baby can encourage relaxation, promote better sleep, facilitate body awareness, boost the immune system, improve circulation, aid in digestion and waste elimination and help build the parent’s and baby’s self-esteem. Many parents are better able to read their baby’s cues by having a daily massage ritual.
“While all of these elements come into play during the massage routine, the vital elements which strengthen bonds are eye contact, skin contact, vocalization and communication, as well as the “dance” of learning intimately about one another,” explains McClure.
Starting a daily massage practice with your baby is easy and fun. Start with an edible oil, such as organic, cold-pressed grape seed, safflower, or apricot oil. Edible oils are encouraged so that if the child puts his hands or feet in his mouth, there will be no issue. Mineral oils and adult massage oils with fragrance are not good for babies.
Start the massage as long as your baby is happy and not fussy or disengaged. Listen and watch for the child’s cues: he will tell you when he is done or wants more. Make eye contact and talk to him, take your time and enjoy the experience. Most newborns will tolerate a short 5-10 minute massage before they become over-stimulated, but as they get older they will enjoy a longer massage. Babies with special needs and premature infants may be more sensitive to touch, so massaging over the clothes may be preferable. Always listen to your baby and start and stop as necessary.
“Unlike the clinging monkey, the human infant has no physical means of initiating contact with his mother and thus getting his needs fulfilled. His life depends on the strength of his parent’s emotional attachment to him. Where there is early and extended mother-baby contact, studies show impressively positive results. Mothers who bonded with their babies in the first hours and days of life later showed greater closeness to their infants, exhibited much more soothing behavior, maintained more eye contact and touched their babies more often,” explains Vimala McClure, in Infant Massage: A Loving Handbook for Parents.
Infant Massage is not a passing trend. Parents have been massaging their babies for centuries in all parts of the world and it is never too late to start practicing this ancient art within your own family. The elements of infant massage can be carried on through childhood, the teenage years and even to adulthood. People of all ages can benefit from infant massage. Start with your own family today.