In the Indian households, baby massages have been an age old practice and a very important aspect of parent-baby bonding. We have been witnessing massaging sessions for babies by all mothers and other members of the family, several times a day for several months.
The multiple benefits of massaging.
Massages benefit the babies in a number of ways. It helps to increase the blood circulation in the body to each of the extremities, relaxes the baby’s muscle and ligaments and eases out mild pains in the limbs due to continuous movement. Most of all, it helps in creating and strengthening the eternal loving bond between the mother and the baby.
Massaging is also a great way of communication between you and the baby, who can’t speak or understand what you say. Your gentle touch soothes the baby to a large extent. Seeing your baby relaxed and happy due to your touch, grows motherly love in you for your baby.
The right approach to massaging.
Every mother has her own unique way of massage her baby, depending upon the comfort of both the baby and the mother. A proper approach is however anticipated where in while massaging your baby you communicate with the baby consistently while massaging, through eyes, through your expressions, through your words and of course, most importantly through your touch.
The start: Begin the baby’s massage by communicating to the baby what you are going to do. She is never going to deny as your soothing touch is always inviting and welcome. Try to fix up a routine for baby massage. Your baby gets acquainted with it and also loves the schedule.
Keep talking: During the massage, talk to her about what you are doing. Name her body parts as you massage them. Ask her how it feels and respond that it must be feeling very calming and relaxing. Tell her that it is mother and baby time so do a lot of talking and enjoy together. Smile a lot while communicating. Give a warm expression whenever you make contact with baby’s eyes. Keep eye contact and speak softly and sweetly to your baby throughout the session. This enhances the experience for both of you and makes it more nurturing for the baby!
Understand her responses: Your baby is going to communicate back to you, if not initially, after a few sessions. This communication is in tune with the unspoken language that you begin to slowly and intimately understand. You gradually get to know the baby’s needs, likes and dislikes and thus, bond in the most special of ways. Slowly, you also begin to know what your baby is telling you. As each day you connect with your baby during massaging, you begin to fine tune your own skills as well.
Pay heed to the signs: If your baby cries, pulls away or looks away, it signifies that the baby is not ready, choose another time for massaging. Be cautious with the pressure you apply while massaging. Too little may be uncomfortable, like a tickle. At the same time, remember that your baby’s skin is very delicate and stay away from too much pressure. When the touch is appropriate and just right for your baby, you can find your baby settle, bring her gaze to yours and relax more deeply into her natural breath. You must also be very careful with delicate and sensitive areas like the fontanelles, the navel and the genitals.
The effects of massaging.
Massaging has diverse effects on the health and well being of the baby. Some of them are:
Enhance basic body processes: At the very basic level, massaging directly stimulates the musculo-skeletal ( bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons ( nerves) etc), nervous and circulatory systems-thereby affecting the biochemical and physiological processes regulated by those systems as well.
Increase in immunity: For a newborn baby, intimate contact with mother during the first few days of life contributes largely to the mother’s milk production. Neonatal period is highly stressful for a baby and regular parental touch moderates a baby levels of stress hormones (such as norepinephrine and cortisol), thus promoting weight gain and improving immune function. Massaging stimulates the lymph system, the body’s natural defense, against toxic invaders.
Encourage blood circulation: Massaging increases circulation, allowing the body to pump more oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs.
Better hormonal activity: Massaging also increases the activity of the nerve that leads to an increased production of food absorption hormones such as insulin. This increases the absorption capacity of the baby’s stomach. Due to its hormonal effects, massaging alone may help infants overcome the detrimental effects of low birth weight in pre-term babies.
Develop relationship: Babies receiving massage have more positive feeding interactions with their parents, are less irritable, exhibit fewer stress behaviors, and have more organized sleep-wake behaviors. Also colic arising due to gastro-intestinal troubles is also significantly reduced with massages.
Choosing the right oil for massaging your baby.
A baby’s skin is very sensitive and the type of oil you select for massaging the baby should be judiciously chosen. Whatever oil you apply over the skin, penetrates into the skin through pores and reaches the blood circulation. Using oil to massage your baby helps your hands glide easily, cause less friction on your baby’s soft skin and allows you to give a little depth to your massage without causing discomfort to your baby.
Choose non-sticky oils: It is important to use good quality massage oil, so that it is not ’sticky’, facilitating a smooth movement, making the massage action gentle and free flowing. The oil that you use for massaging the baby should be light so that it is absorbed easily and does not leave behind any oily residues after the massage, posing a need to be washed off.
Avoid strong perfumes: Strongly perfumed or strong smelling oils should be avoided for baby massages as they can irritate the sensitive baby skin. Also, babies are sensitive to the smell of their parents for feeding and bonding.
Prefer vegetable oils: Most massage therapists recommend edible vegetable or plant extract oil like vegetable oil, mustard oil or organic olive oil as they are easily absorbed by the baby’s skin and are not harmful even if the baby sucks her thumb or fist.
Use pure oils: The oil you use should be a cold-pressed one such as olive oil or from a seed or fruit that is pesticide free such as sweet almond or sunflower oil. In India, many households use mustard oil or coconut oil for massage as well. Avoid the oils that can trigger some allergic reactions such as wheat germ oil or peanut oil.
Apply in small quantities: For massaging the baby with oil, take a small portion of oil you need into a bowl and then use it. Also, never pour back the used oil into the bottle, so as to prevent contamination of oil.
Massages have manifold benefits and enhance the growth pattern of the baby. Take care to learn proper massage techniques and precautions before you begin to massage your baby. Also care should be taken while choosing the type of massage oil. Since babies tend to put their fingers and toes in their mouth, massage oils should be edible and neutral in flavor and smell.