Babies are born with all of their senses, but it takes time for these senses to develop and “make sense.” For instance, your average newborn can only focus on items about as close to her as your face (8-10 inches), and it will take her time to understand exactly what she’s looking at. She’s also born with fully developed hearing, and she’ll find your gentle voice soothing, but she doesn’t know what the words you’re saying mean yet. But touch? From day one, a soft touch and a warm cuddle make perfect sense to every newborn. That’s why your new baby wants to be held as often as possible, and why baby carriers and slings are so terrific for infants. And that’s also why it makes intuitive sense – even before you examine the studies of the benefits of infant massage – that most babies will find a nice gentle massage to be super relaxing and a great way to bond.
The Infant Massage USA website lists some of the benefits of infant massage:
- Infant-Parent attachment or “bonding”
- Helps baby feel loved
- Promotes better sleep
- Facilitates body awareness
- Boosts immune system
- Sensory stimulation
- Improves skin condition
- Improves blood circulation
- Helps digestion
- Balances respiration
- Relief for teething pains
- Help waste elimination
- Helps build parents’ and baby’s self-esteem
- Helps you learn about your baby (their needs and desires)
- Relaxes parents
- Pleasurable experience
Tiffany Field, PhD at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine explains that baby massage stimulates your infant’s central nervous system, and “That sets off a chain reaction: It makes her brain produce more serotonin, a feel-good chemical, and less cortisol, a hormone that’s secreted in response to stress. As a result, your baby’s heart rate and breathing slow down, and she becomes more relaxed. “
Massage is also a great way to get to know your baby: when you’re massaging her, you can carefully observe her nonverbal cues and get to know what she likes and what she doesn’t. This will help you develop your confidence as a new parent – always a good thing! And this goes double for dads, who can feel a little left out of caring for newborn babies, and who reap many benefits from this opportunity to bond with their child.
A nice massage is also a terrific addition to your nightly routine: in his article about how to avoid nighttime fussiness, Magic Beans co-owner Eli Gurock lists it as an essential step for getting your baby calmed down and relaxed for sleep. It can be just another one of the cues you give your child that it’s time to go to bed, helping her settle in happily for the evening.
You can find plenty of techniques for baby massage online: I like this one at Babycenter because of the cute pictures of little baby hands and feet! This guide at Parents.com also includes a lot of techniques to try, divided up by body parts. Or, if you’re wearing your baby in a wrap carrier, this guide at the Moby Wrap website gives you some ideas to try without even putting your baby down.
You can keep sessions as short as 10 minutes or as long as 30 minutes – find a time when your baby is quiet and alert, and not too hungry or too full (since the latter can lead to an unpleasant mess!).
Some tips from the experts at What To Expect:
- Cold-pressed fruit or vegetable oils are best, since they absorb nicely into the baby’s skin and won’t upset his tummy if he sticks his hand in his mouth afterwards. Don’t use nut-based oils, since they’re more likely to be allergens.
- Find a nice warm room, since your baby will be nearly naked and they get chilly faster than you do.
- Follow the baby’s cues: if he frowns or cries, save it for another day.
- Be gentle, but don’t tickle!
I also like this tip from the NCT UK website: they advise you to ask your baby permission before you start! Of course, she can’t say yes or no, but she’ll learn quickly that “Can I give you a massage?” means that a massage is about to start. And talking to your baby frequently and narrating everything you do is essential for her language development, so, why not?