By Pinky McKay
“I was sceptical at first that a baby this young would be able to respond so positively to a massage, but it is the best thing!”
Antoinette Catalano, who started an infant massage course with her baby Claudia when she was just 5 weeks old describes her baby’s reaction: “Claudia ‘goos’ and grins all through her massage – the eye contact is lovely. Her evening massage is a very special family time for our family – my husband loves it too. I think, what would I have missed if I hadn’t learnt massage? I don’t even get that response when I bath her.”
Stroking and caressing your baby is instinctive – who can resist those tiny, tender toes or that fine, silky skin, let alone the delicious smell of a newborn? It is no accident that babies are designed this way – research studies show that loving touch has profound effects on infant development.
Just a little time each day can help your baby become calmer and happier, with fewer stress hormones and healthier immune function as massage releases endorphins, those ‘feel good’ hormones that help us all reduce stress. Massage could also make your child smarter: as well as stimulating your baby’s nervous system and encouraging brain development, studies have shown that babies with lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in their blood do better at mental and motor ability tests.
In a study conducted by Dr Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, premature babies who were massaged gained 47 percent more weight – per day! Massaged babies in this study were discharged from hospital six days earlier than babies in a control group and follow up studies showed lasting effects.
There is good news for tired mums too: a few simple strokes can lull your baby into a deeper, more restful sleep. According to Dr Field, a massage just before bedtime is more effective than rocking at helping your baby fall asleep and stay asleep – for more tangible evidence, just witness a group of babies after a massage class!
Jana Aspeling who has been attending an infant massage class with her baby, 12 week old Nicholas, is delighted to have discovered a solution for her baby’s evening colic - at her fingertips: “The tummy strokes and exercises helped Nicholas so much with his pain in the evenings that I have taught them to the whole family, including my partner and my mother,” says Jana.
Infant massage is not only good for babies, it is good for parents too. Several studies show that mothers who suffer from postnatal depression improve when they incorporate infant massage into their daily routine, and an Australian study of infant massage and father-baby bonding, found that at 12 weeks old, babies who were massaged (by their fathers) greeted their fathers with more eye contact, smiling, vocalising and touch than those in the control group.
Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of baby massage is that it incorporates all the important elements of parent -child bonding -skin contact, eye contact, hearing your voice and experiencing a focused response. For mums like Stephanie Berg, who have experienced a traumatic birth or early separation from their baby, this can play an important role in developing your own confidence. “ Baby massage helped me come to terms with not being able to breastfeed. I now have a beautiful emotional connection with my baby and I have been able to let go of my sense of failure,” says Stephanie.”
By Pinky McKay