How massage helps babies bond
To say there is power in human touch is an understatement. There are nearly 5 million touch receptors in our skin—3,000 in a fingertip. When personal touch is extended to infants, through massage, it becomes a new language you can use to help you communicate with your child.
“Infant massage is a time for parents or caregivers to bond and attach to a child in a very loving and tactile way,” explains Margarita Redmond, certified infant massage instructor at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
Redmond, also a senior pediatric occupational therapist, says the times infant massage is most often used is to help a child go to sleep and stay asleep due to its calming essence or for an infant who’s having trouble staying awake during feeding.
Massage techniques encourage relaxation, promote better sleep and help parents learn to understand their baby’s cues so they can better respond to their needs.
Other benefits of infant massage include helping children become more aware of their body, helping them learn to calm themselves and helping parents ease two particularly stubborn problems: colic and constipation, Redmond says, who teaches an hour-long, four-week class on infant massage.
During the second session of her class, Redmond says she focuses on the abdominal area to teach parents how to address constipation.
“Kids with constipation have strong abdominal muscles that keep bowel movements in so this gets the flow going and helps relieve the pressure and push gas out in a specific direction,” she says.
“Parents love this class. They report back all the time and say, ‘My kid pooped after that class,’” she says. “If parents have too much heavy food, they can use the same strokes on themselves.”
For colic, many of the same techniques for constipation are used since colic is often gas-related, Redmond says.
As part of her class, Redmond also adds a developmental component to each session. For example, in her first class she discusses the importance of “tummy time” and emphasizes what activities she’d like parents to do with their child.
Tummy time means putting babies on their bellies for 50 percent of their waking hours, explains Redmond.
“Parents are surprised by this because they think babies don’t like it, and they’re right, because it’s work,” she says. “The objective is to get the head, neck and back muscles strong, and it helps with hand muscles as well.”
The best time to give infants a massage is when they’re engaged with the caregiver, a state that Redmond describes as a “quiet alert.”
“They’re actively moving their arms, for example, but not so alert that they don’t want to pay attention to what’s going on because it’s about bonding and attaching,” she says. “You want to make sure the baby wants to participate and is able to be touched without crying and that the child is not so hungry that he or she doesn’t want anything to do with you.”
Atmosphere also helps prepare the child—and the caregiver. In Redmond’s class the lights are dim, soothing music plays and she does visual imagery and breathing exercises at the start of class so parents and caregivers are in a calm state before they begin massage.
“This is how I recommend caregivers start because if they’ve had a rough morning due to traffic or they’re trying to get their three kids off to school, they can’t have a nice calm state when they start the massage, which is so much about bonding and attaching to baby in a calm state,” she says.
Infant massage techniques are all very simple so anyone can do them—not just moms, says Redmond.
“We love when daddies come to class to learn infant massage,” she says. “It gives them something to do since they can’t nurse.”
The benefits are not just for parents either.
“It’s the perfect way for the entire family—all members—to socialize and engage with infants in a loving and touching manner,” Redmond says.
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