& Why you already have one of the most important gifts you can give your baby
This is a love story. And it’s not mine, it can be as much about you and your forthcoming baby or existing child. Baby massage: A love story which is as much an ancient practice in many Eastern cultures, passed down from generation to generation, as it is increasingly relevant – I believe – to our modern and Western lifestyle and parenting approaches.
I fell in love with this practice when I was expecting our second baby daughter. I stumbled across baby massage as something I wanted to learn in my search for ways to ensure “cocooning” moments and connection with my new baby while otherwise running around with the rest of the family.
And so, it was, my love for this practice was ignited and this is what I found: Baby massage is so much more than what first meets the eye (or fingertips!).
Yes, it offers us cocooning time and relaxation with our baby – thanks to stimulating the “love hormone” oxytocin via skin-to-skin contact. And it brings us all the necessary elements for bonding with our baby: Eye contact, physical proximity and imparting your scent, touch, tuning in to baby’s cues, mutual observation and language communication if you sing or talk as part of your practice. Relaxation and bonding are wonderful benefits and so important to the wellbeing of our baby and our own motherhood or parenthood.
But the skin-to-skin contact we give through massage also brings a host of health and developmental benefits to support our baby.
Actually, “baby massage” is a label for the skin-to-skin contact and stimulation that has developed in a natural way over centuries, in response to intuitively nurturing our babies, stimulating their physiological systems and giving our babies some of the “vital touch” needed to survive and thrive.
Our skin is the largest organ in our body. It is absolutely a sensory organ – covered in tiny senses, searching for contact and stimulation from the moment we are born.
Have you ever observed a mammal lick its young? Perhaps on a wildlife program, or perhaps you have seen a cat or dog do this. Particularly after birth, we can note a mammal mother licking their young – this is to stimulate their baby’s skin and is critical to their young’s recognition of their mother (imparting scent) as part of a survival instinct so that their baby develops familiarity with their parent to stay close to them. Their licking also stimulates their baby’s digestive system and other physiological systems.
It’s the same for us humans – we have an instinct to hold our baby close to us when they are a newborn; to pick up our baby when they cry as an automatic reflex to soothe them since our touch is the ultimate pacifier.
We are designed to hold our baby as much as possible. A mother’s chest has an inbuilt thermal system which matches her newborn’s temperature to heat up their baby or cool them according to their baby’s body temperature.
Our touch is the first expression of our love; it communicates security and belonging to our baby.
But what if a baby’s skin is not stimulated; they are not held; they are not sufficiently touched in a nurturing way?
The effect of insufficient contact can have detrimental consequences on an infant’s development – both physiological and emotional.
It is often cited that the reason why almost 100% of orphan babies did not survive in the U.S. in the beginning of the twentieth century, is because they did not receive sufficient touch and caressing – they died due to “marasmus” (wasting away for no apparent medical cause).
Research studies of more recent infants from Romanian orphanages found that babies suffering from touch deprivation achieved only half the normal height for their age. These orphans also found it more difficult later in life to form close attachments to other people.
In particular, the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami continues research into the impact of touch on human health and development. Its conclusions include that massaged babies often showing fewer postnatal complications, greater weight gain and decreased cortisol (stress) levels, which in turn can help aid sleep (“The Vital Touch”, Sharron Heller, PH.D.)
And so, this is a story of love…
…Of falling in love with this practice as a way to relax and bond with our baby.
…Of falling in love over and over again with our baby through this practice because massage gets our love hormones flowing. It can connect us in ways we cannot really explain in words, other than “true love”.
…Of falling in love with shared cultures where, for example, East meets West. Of Western life and motherhood meeting with ancient and still existing practices, including tribal practices, where mothers carry their baby constantly on their back, continually stimulating their baby via their movement and bodily warmth. Baby massage can help us stay true to our nurturing touch, from our baby’s first weeks and months and for years to come (a foot or hand massage to a toddler before bedtime can go down a treat!)
…This is also a story of falling in love with yourself as a mother (or father): Realising that you already have what it takes to give your baby one of the most important gifts possible – your caring touch.
…Of falling in love with your natural healing powers (massage strokes to help with teething, colicky issues, blocked sinuses or colds) and feeling empowered to be able to try these out first before heading to the local pharmacy.
And, finally, this is a story about the fight for survival: We need “touch” to survive. We always did and we always will, even when our modern lifestyles can make it increasingly difficult to take time together, to stay connected to one another, to even hold our baby as much as we may like throughout the day.
A little baby massage after work, or in between running errands and keeping on top of domestic tasks at home, can work wonders for both parent and baby!
Further benefits of baby massage
Beyond relaxation and bonding benefits, (mentioned above), here are some interesting specific health and development benefits that tend to be less commonly known.
Stimulation & development
Baby massage can encourage circulation of blood to the bones to support ossification/their growth, as well as joint mobility. Babies are born with about 100 more bones than adults; this is to help keep them malleable for passage through the birth canal. Massage can stimulate and support the process by which the skeleton takes full shape and strength.
Massage can help a baby’s immune system to mature: It can boost the flow of white blood cells/ “lymphatic flow” around the body, helping to fight off any toxins and waste products that might otherwise cause illness.
Massage can help keep the baby’s skin free from infection by removing dead cells. Stimulation of the skin glands (the sebaceous glands) gives off a waxy or oily substance, called sebum, which lubricates and makes the skin (and our skin hairs) more water resistant and helps to protect it. Massage also helps keep the skin’s pores open to enable it to expel waste and toxin products (the skin expels around a third of the body’s toxins).
Massage can help the development of a baby’s muscular system by increasing the flexibility of muscles. This is via the gentle stretching and relaxing of the muscle tissue in response to massage stimulation. This can help the baby in its continual learning and development of a wide range of physical movement and mobility.
Massage can support a baby’s digestive system. It can help to move wind through the bowel system. This is helpful because a baby’s digestive system is not yet fully developed at birth – the digestive tract for example may not be fully developed, which can cause wind to be trapped in the bowel.
Massage is good for their little brains! Stimulation of the skin through massage can aid the process of myelination of nerve cells, which facilitates the protective covering needed around our nerves to help to keep body and brain coordinated. Our touch also helps our baby be aware of their body and helps the messaging for brain/body coordination.
Baby massage in Luxembourg
Luxmama is happy to offer you baby massage workshops and courses. Come and start your own baby massage love story with our Parent Prep Baby Massage Teacher Jessica Sicre! More details here: www.luxmamaclub.com/babymassage
About the author:
Jessica, originally from the UK, lives in Luxembourg with her husband and two daughters (both born in Luxembourg, now 1 and 4 years). By setting up her own Serenity Cocoon Baby Massage practice, Jessica aims to inspire others to discover, learn and benefit from baby massage. Follow Jessica’s baby massage tips, insights and ideas for “serenity rituals” here: www.facebook.com/serenitycocoon
Jessica loves being a mama of two and reaching out to others to help support one another in their parenthood journeys. This has led to her monthly “Serenity Café” meetups for mamas/2B via our Luxmama meetup group: Come join for their next meetup to exchange tips and experiences about staying serene as mamas/2B: Next date: Friday 18 January, Purple Sage, Bonnevoie