Gentle hugs, soft clothes and loving hands–such feelings of touch are the first forms of communication your baby understands. Your baby’s skin is always working, sensing heat, cold, pain and pressure. After all, touch is the most developed sense at birth. But during their first six months of life, newborns are unable to regulate their body temperature. A massage with warming, natural oils provides a “second skin” of moisture protection for your child, along with innumerable emotional and physical benefits.
Though massage has been practiced as a healing therapy since ancient times, only over the past few decades has research shown how beneficial massage can be for infants and children. A 2006 study done by Touch Research Institute at the University School of Medicine in Miami showed that premature infants experienced healthier weight gain and less crying behavior while being massaged with moderate pressure several times daily over the course of just five days.
For healthy infants, the benefits from massage include decreased sleep problems, improved skin condition, more efficient blood circulation and better waste elimination. A 2009 study in the Journal of Neuroscience has shown massage to improve children’s brain development and visual function. The good effects continue long past infancy. For toddlers and older children, massage increases body awareness and relaxation while helping establish routines. Other typical results after one month of daily massage include reduced fussiness, improved alertness, better sleep and a stronger immune system.
“I very much encourage infant touch and massage,” says New York midwife Kate Prendergast. “The overall sensory development of the infant is supported by skin-to-skin contact and stimulation.”
Connecting through touch
“Touch is so powerful for babies,” says Patricia Pol, an infant massage therapist and doula. In the infant massage classes Pol teaches at Weleda’s spa in New York, she helps parents to see daily massage as a time away from distractions, when they can fully concentrate on their baby. Parents gain an important quality: confidence in their ability to care for their infant. When massaging the baby’s front side, critical eye contact occurs between parent and child. With its sustained eye contact, soft words and gentle contact, infant massage is a wonderful practice for new fathers. “It helps them actively participate in care giving, which takes away the awkward feelings that new fathers often experience,” says Pol.
The best time for a massage is after your baby has been fed and bathed, preferably at the same time each day to promote a healthy, daily rhythm. Your baby can be in diapers or undressed and covered with a soft blanket, so that only the area you are massaging is exposed. Use a 100 percent certified natural oil such as Weleda Baby Calendula Oil, which includes lightly nourishing sweet almond oil, anti-inflammatory calendula and soothing chamomile. Your baby’s face can also benefit from the nourishing moisture content and natural waxes in Weleda Baby Calendula Face Cream, which helps nurture and protect extra-delicate facial skin. Keep a hand towel nearby and use the oil in moderation until you find the right amount so you are able to safely move your baby.
Baby massage couples myriad health benefits with an opportunity to build emotional bonds. With just a warm touch, parents can create something invaluable: an environment of trust. dm
Connect: a simple massage to establish trust and health
Facial massage, using a small amount of Calendula Face Cream
- Place both thumbs on the sides of the nose and move out toward the temples.
- Move thumbs across the cheeks to the chin.
- Place your thumbs on the upper lip and stroke outward and downward in a circle around the mouth to support the sucking muscles.
All-over body, using Calendula Oil
- Slide your hands from the shoulders down the arms.
- Rub the chest, belly, legs and feet, allowing your hands to make full contact with your baby, embracing the shape of his or her body.
Chest and belly, using Calendula Oil
- Place both hands in the middle of the chest and make circular movements.Stroke upward toward the shoulders.
- Stroke down along the sides of the body and back to center.
- Make slow, clockwise movements on the belly.
Hands and arms, using Calendula Oil
- Move your hands from the wrists to the shoulders, gently squeezing.
- Slowly move your hands from the shoulders to the wrists, gently wringing.
- Take each hand and rub your thumbs from the center of the palm to the outside.
- Stroke from the ball of the thumb toward the fin-ger tops so that the fingers spread themselves.
Feet and legs, using Calendula Oil
- Hold a small foot in one hand. Using the other hand, move from the ankle to the thigh, gently squeezing. Repeat with other leg.
- For each foot, stroke with the thumbs from the sole to the outside, then rub the sole with a flat hand from heel to toes.
All-over body, using Calendula Oil
- Starting at the shoulders, move down the back, bottom and legs toward the feet.
- Squeeze upward from the bottom and across the back, avoiding the vertebral column.
- Lay one hand on your baby’s bottom where the legs begin. With the other hand, stroke from the shoulders along the back to the bottom.
- Gently squeeze the bot-tom together between your hands.
- Slightly lift the feet with one hand, and with the other hand stroke in one long movement from the shoulders to the feet.
Congratulations! You have now nurtured your baby and your bond with each other
For more information on an infant massage class near you, contact the International Association of Infant Massage®.