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The Benefits of Infant Massage

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Baby massage has long been a tradition for many cultures

Baby massage has long been a tradition for many cultures. Parts of India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, some African countries and aboriginal communities are known to massage their babies soon after birth.

In the Western world baby massage is far less prevalent. With the idea at the turn of the 20th century that babies should be seen but not heard, the distance between time spent in-arms and out-of-arms grew. Whereas in a tribal village in the Amazon region, a newborn could expect to be "worn" on the body of a family member until able to walk, here in the western world we use car seats and strollers to transport babies.

The growing lack of physical contact has had a strange effect on the population. In the mid-1980s a neurophysiologist named Dr James Prescott found that children brought up with large amounts of physical contact being carried, cuddled, hugged or massaged were less likely to become violent as adults than children brought up with very little touch.

The study findings may not be all that surprising. Showing your baby healthy touch from day one and maintaining a large amount of touch, at least during your baby's first two years, helps develop a strong level of compassion, love, trust and openness. These qualities tend to develop between family members, friends and neighbors. If people are able to listen to each other, they are more likely to be able to work out differences and retain a peaceful relationship.

A Father's Touch

Massage is a time of getting to know one another and building strong family bonds. More men are attending the birth of their children than ever before and being more involved in the care and upbringing of their children.

A father is just as able to give a massage as a mother, and should always be encouraged to do so. In a lot of families, it is the father who is away most of the day at work. Often his time for being with the family is late evening after dinner not always a good time for the baby.

Some dads, especially with their first child, can start to feel isolated, left out, unsure and inadequate. It can seem as though the mother knows how to do everything, but having the father give the baby a massage during the evening can help him find a place in the home. It can be a private time to connect with his child, to share his day and catch up on his child's development. Infant massage can help men find an inclusive relationship with their child. By providing infant massage men are able to create a loving and secure relationship with their children that can last a lifetime.

Parents will always have different ways of massaging. One will be slower, the other firmer, one may have soft hands, the other cool hands. Then there are the games and songs each parent may bring to the massage, and the rhythm of the massage. All these changes are extra stimulation for baby and unique to each family. Having both parents providing massage gives a better balance of male and female energy for the child. It is also thought that more male attention assists a child in the development of self-confidence.

Over the years there has been a wealth of research performed on the benefits of infant massage. Studies by the Touch Research Institute in Miami, Florida have shown that massage provided to pre-term infants helps the infants put on more weight. The infants are more aware and alert to their surroundings and they leave hospital days earlier than pre-term infants who are not massaged.

The type of stroke also makes a difference. A feather-light or a very strong stroke can provide too much stimulation for a baby. However, a deliberate, firm and slow stroke can be soothing and provide the benefits mentioned above. When babies are in hospital due to premature birth or other special needs, it is necessary to consult with the health care practitioner prior to attempting any containment holds (placing hands on the baby and leaving them still for a few minutes) or stroking.

Why Rub?

For babies who are already at home, infant massage provides many additional benefits. Creating such a trusting atmosphere helps babies develop increased self-esteem, an understanding of healthy touch, and an ability to be compassionate toward peers. Infant massage helps a baby release stress and tension, and it also often means the baby will sleep longer. Regular infant massage smooths the digestive system, helping to prevent problems such as constipation, diarrhea, colic and gas. More nutrients from food are absorbed into the baby's body and therefore the baby puts on more weight than an infant who is not massaged. The circulatory system is enhanced and the central nervous system is assisted in working efficiently. It is even thought that babies who are regularly massaged develop a higher IQ than babies who are not.

For more information about infant massage call the Canadian Chapter of the International Association of Infant Massage at (613) 830-6690.

Babes in Arms

Ask the baby if he or she wants to have a massage before starting. The baby will show obvious signs of disengagement if the answer is no. Keep hands warm and relaxed. Use sufficient oil to ensure no friction burns a pure vegetable oil is a good choice. Try each massage stroke six times once or twice per day.

Indian Milking

Hold foot with one hand, cup other hand around outside of thigh and with a firm stroke draw cupped hand up leg toward foot. At foot swap hands so that the hand originally holding foot now cups inside of thigh and is drawn up to foot. Swap hands and continue.

Push up on Sole of Foot

Using one hand to support the leg around the ankle, use fingers of other hand to cup front of foot. Use free thumb to push up from heal to big toe then heal to little toe (creating a criss-cross) and so on. Use a firm slow stroke, do not tickle.

Back and Forth

Place both hands side by side on the lower back/buttocks. Move one hand backward and one forward gradually, moving up sideways toward the neck. Start again at the bottom and repeat the stroke.

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