Such a lovely way to begin...
“Touch- the most underated of all the senses.” It’s true. Touch is so simple yet such a powerful tool. I read about the benefits of baby massage:- that it improved sleep; eased the symptoms of colic and constipation; aided bonding; reduced restlessness and in general helped to strengthen and regulate the babies primary systems (i.e the respiratory, circulatory, nervous, musculature and gastrointestinal), but it is only now after hearing the stories and working on my children, that I really ‘get it’. It works.
It’s never too early to receive a massage. Likewise it’s never too late. Sadly ‘touch’ is something that has been lost in today’s culture. Something that was so natural in days gone by- and still is in other parts of the world- has been muddied. In India, for example, on a daily basis a grandmother would massage her daughter, who in turn would massage her daughter. It's a way of communicating without words. A friend of mine who teaches massage has commented that her teenage son struggles to talk about a bad day but he will ask for a massage. Post-massage he will often share his worries. Baby massage is the beginning of communication- one that can continue into adolescence and, if you enjoy massage yourself, you could also think of it as ‘in-house’ training!
Massage allows you to familiarise yourself with your newborn. I will never forget such an intimate moment in my time as an instructor as when I visited a new mum in her home- the proud mother of a little 4 week old boy. We were learning the abbreviated full body massage- just to get her started- when all of the sudden she welled up. She sadly looked across to me as she explained that she had been so busy feeding, changing nappies, washing clothes etc that she had not noticed a wee birth mark on his leg. This was the first time she had really just been with him, studied him, enjoyed him, taken time to look into his eyes and see him. In the same respect I have taught grandmother’s, pregnant ladies, daddies and siblings- it is a powerful bonding tool.
One of the most difficult things to face as a new parent is colic or constipation- potential hours of a crying, discontented baby. I’m no longer surprised, however, when a mother recounts after learning abdominal massage of the ‘present’ delivered soon afterwards. One baby was regularly not ‘filling a nappy’ for 13 days and we saw great results. How does it work? Massage to the colon relaxes the smooth muscle of the intestine- the outcome- lots of wind and poo!
As a child who had just fallen, I vividly remember my Nanna saying, “Come here love, let me rub it better”. It’s intuitive. And there is science behind it. Research by The Touch Research Institute shows that massage- by stimulating the skin- inhibits some pain impulses being registered in the brain, it also reduces pain by increasing the amount of endorphins- the body’s natural pain killers- in circulation. So, if a baby is in a little bit of discomfort- whether due to teething or generally restless- although you may feel helpless you CAN do something! Whether it is just to stretch out a newborn who has spent the last few weeks curled up in all kinds of positions; to help bring relief; to encourage sleep or just get out of the house- baby massage is a skill learnt for life.
Written by Annaliese Phillips for the NCT (May 2016)