… and change the world!
How would you like a massage every day of your life, given to you by someone you love and trust more than anyone else in the world? Would it make you a better person…a healthier and happier individual? Yes, in fact, it would, according to not only me (a big fan of massage) but a wide range of researchers. Alas, for most people, including yours truly…this is no more than a fantasy. A good fantasy, mind you…daily massage…someone I love…goodbye stress…hello healthy me…aughhh…reality check…hello?…who has the time?…the money? But if I were a baby…now there’s an idea worth exploring.
You see, a fabulous trend is sweeping the nation and making my fantasy a reality for a lucky group of little people. This “new” trend (actually as old as time but not to the Western world where stuff like this takes a little while…say 2000 years…to trickle down) is called Baby Massage. Even though you are long out of diapers and old enough to be reading this, you too can expect to experience the benefits of infant massage first hand. You see, for every baby who is brought into this world and given the gift of loving touch on a daily basis, the number of centered, secure and self-aware persons on this planet increases. And once massage becomes a family ritual, the odds of this practice passing down to the next generation improve, thus, increasing the likelihood that you will one day benefit from a positive interact with one of these well-nurtured individuals. Seem like a stretch? Read on. It is my hope that by the end of this piece, you will be joining me in a mommy revolution to change the world…one listened to, nurtured and securely attached baby at a time.
If you are lucky enough to have experienced massage personally, then you already know the effect it can have on a sore back, a throbbing headache or a stressful day. But have you ever wondered why? Touch was the first sense you ever knew, developing in the womb when you were less than one inch long and only six weeks old. Your skin, the largest sensory organ you have, came from the very same layer of cells from which your brain and spinal cord arose; pretty powerful stuff, huh?
The other senses, including smell, taste, hearing, and vision develop later. But ask your fellow American their first memory, and it’s rare that it’s one of touch…usually it’s a memory involving sight, hearing and sometimes the sense of smell. But ask someone from India, and they may very well tell you about those daily massages mom used to give them. In India, massage is a tradition; with the mother regularly massaging the family and teaching her children the techniques. This tradition has been passed down from one generation to another for centuries, with the benefits of massage listed in India’s ancient Ayurvedic medical text, dating back to 1800 B.C..
Touch…a powerful medicine for our community and a nation of people who are living with a higher level of stress than ever before. Infant Massage gives babies a very important type of stimulation that aids in their development, both physiologically and emotionally. Could this be an answer for keeping our children safe and off the late night news? Massage ensures an infant gets the sort of touch they need, and it compliments the more common forms of touch including rocking, patting and holding. With loving light strokes or comforting firm pressure, a series of massage techniques is performed to babies’ feet, legs, tummy, chest, arms, face and back. These massage strokes allow a parent to communicate to their child in his or her first language…touch.
What We Know
If we look to the animals, as researchers often do, we find that touch is so important that without it, baby animals fail to gain weight, to thrive, and often become aggressive and violent. Studies on the effects of Infant massage have been performed over the past twenty years, with a vast amount of research by Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute in Florida. Her findings reveal dramatic effects on the massaged infants, including improved weight gain, increased serotonin levels in the brain suggesting less depression, better sleeping patterns and increased emotional stability. The list goes on, including benefits to babies who have been abused, to newborns with HIV, cancer, asthma and even autism.
The results of performing baby massage daily are profound, including better digestion, relief from colic and a 50% decrease in time spent crying. Some babies are born with a low threshold for stimulation and so they cry…a lot. They are the ones to often given the label “difficult” or “bad”. Massage helps these babies, elevating their threshold for stimulation and giving them the ability to better manage stress. As you can see, parents also reap huge benefits, and this, combined with the benefits for their young helps to keep the tradition going. If you are a parent, think about adding massage as a family tradition. If you are a grandparent, teacher, healthcare or childcare provider, talk to parents about the benefits of massage. It’s very easy to do, and doesn’t cost a thing.
Here’s a simple overview. Plan to spend 5-15 minutes on massage with your child everyday. Lie your baby down on a blanket or pillow, facing you with their head slightly elevated.
- Use cold pressed fruit or nut oil, such as almond or grape seed oil. Lotion dries too quickly but can be used in a pinch. Avoid mineral oil, scents and additives.
- Make sure the room is warm since you will be massaging directly on the skin…use a space heater if necessary (75-80 degree F optimal).
- Dim the lights…turn the ringer off the phone and enjoy this time with your baby.
Now ask your child if you may begin. Requesting permission gives your child the choice over who and when another person can touch their body, helping him or her build confidence, trust and self esteem. Put a little oil on your hands and rub them together while showing baby your hands. This little ritual is also very rewarding when, after weeks of massage, your baby smiles and giggles at the mere appearance of your hands and the words, “Can Mommy/Daddy give you a massage?” Watch for signs that say, “Yes, I’m ready.” Crying and rolling away are the two big “no” signs. If your child says no, wait 5 minutes and ask again. Usually you’ll see a big and certain “Yes please!”
In order to have this ritual last longer than a week, it is essential you find a time of day that works for YOU as well as your child. Bedtime, after bath, and mornings are favorites. Keep in close contact with your baby during the entire massage. Use slow, long and rhythmical strokes starting with the feet and legs. Add new techniques weekly, moving slowly into the tummy, chest, arms, face and back areas, which are more sensitive/vulnerable areas for your baby. Learning the full infant massage series can take two to four weeks, giving you and your baby time to adjust to and learn the new movements. Most importantly, trust your instincts; you know what is best for your baby.
Making a Difference
But can this ritual of Infant Massage truly make a difference for us as a nation? Yes. As we continue to strive for greater technological advances, we must give our children the tools they need to effectively manage the stress of an increasingly fast-paced culture. With advances in gadgets that entertain, stimulate and even lull our babies off to sleep, the tradition of baby massage is more important than ever. Mom or Dad’s touch is still one of the most powerful tools to help our babies grow and prosper. “Spend half as much money and twice as much time with your children”…an anonymous quote I saw at a nearby childcare center. These are wise words to live by.
So what do you think? Play with the idea of infant massage as a ritual for you and your baby and let me know if you have any questions. I’ll follow this article with three more that break down the “hows” and “whys” a bit further into physical, emotional and spiritual implications so stay tuned. And remember, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. So go on out there and get yourself signed up for a professional massage…and tell your husband or friends that your physical therapist (that’s me) said you had to as part of your postnatal home program!!! Sit ups, sure…walking, fine…but massage, now there’s something every new mom needs, and a lot of. Believe me, you, your entire family and eventually society at large will thank you. One (or two) more centered, secure and self-aware persons walking the planet. It IS a revolution J!!!
I want to know when was the last time you took an hour plus to do something extra-ordinarily nice for yourself…something restorative…physically, emotionally and spiritually? Ummm hummm, I thought so. Massage your baby (and get some for yourself while you’re at it) and change the world.
In addition to mommying to two magical girls born in 2000 and 2003, Suzanne owns a holistic health center in St. Louis, Missouri where she practices as a physical therapist, Certified Infant Massage Instructor and health education teacher. Certified in a number of healing and life education approaches, Suzanne offers life coaching as Zen Mommy Coach.