Baby Massage - an expression of love
Baby massage is an expression of love through loving-caring-touching.
Leboyer in his book Loving Hands: the traditional Art of Baby Massage says: "It is through loving, caressing, tactile stimulation and communication that the infant learns that he/she is loved… We must speak to their skins. We must speak to their backs, which thirst and cry as much as their bellies". Touch therefore is as important as food to a baby's development and is highly valuable in establishing a mother/baby relationship. Fathers have an important role too.
Permission to touch
One of the aims of teaching baby massage is to encourage mother-baby contact and to lessen the effects of the many 21st century distancing factors bombarding our lives –baby aids such as prams, buggies, toys that entertain and social myths like 'too much cuddling spoils the baby'. Massage however needs nothing more than a warm room. Rubbing oily hands together and making eye contact with the baby before each massage gradually shows your baby what you are about to do and that you are waiting to see if they are happy about it. This 'asking permission' helps a baby learn they have a choice in the activity and you then respond accordingly.
Listening to babies
Vimala McClure the founder of the IAIM (International Association of Infant Massage) discovered in her work with babies that the one and only problem infants have, is that of not being heard. Massage then becomes the vehicle through which parents learn how to listen to their babies. Vimala states that when an infant is finally listened to wholeheartedly, everything changes. The baby relaxes, colic may clear up and baby begins to really shine with his or her inherent joy.
In my own baby massage classes the benefits I observe and the benefits parents share with me are many. They include:
- Pleasure and relaxation for both mother and baby. Mums find it provides positive and cyclic reinforcement of their mothering abilities to love and care for their babies as well as increasing confidence in handling and relating to baby .
- Massage assists in developing closeness and communication, enhancing the mother-baby bond.
- Massage may establish better infant sleep patterns by soothing the baby.
- Reassurance to mother and baby regarding skin contact and the 'permission' to touch and be touched.
- Helps calm babies' emotions and relieve stress; this can break the anxiety-pain cycle in windy and colicky babies with subsequent improved digestion. Constipation may also be relieved.
- Improves skin texture
- Mums learn and share with other mums so that they may refer to each other as resources, models and positive reinforcement of mothering behaviours and roles.
An example of a baby massage group class
My group classes begin with a sharing time when parents have an opportunity to talk about their experiences as new mums. We talk about recognising baby states and baby cues and topics related to massage. When the majority of babies are ready (!) and we have asked their permission to begin, we learn the strokes; a few at a time. We repeat the strokes if necessary in the session and again over the following weeks. With sensitivity to babies' responses, there is gradual build up over the weeks of the infant's toleration for a full body massage and the parent's knowledge of the sequence. There is plenty of time for everyone; and both laughing and crying are welcomed. My aim is that parents come to me and feel relaxed and leave with a new skill to practice with their babies for the following week. We follow the massage with a group discussion about a relevant topic, such as weaning, sleeping, crying, returning to work etc. I also provide a lot of literature relating to the benefits of baby massage and mothering, for Mums to read in-between sessions.
Baby massage came as a late gift for my family (my babies are now 17, 13 and 11!). I feel very privileged to be able to pass on this skill to mothers of young babies. I am also very happy when I hear parents continue to massage their wriggly toddlers! Tuning into the moments of the day when our children are receptive is worth thinking about. And those precious moments of communication that develop through regular loving touch are among the greatest pleasures a parent and baby/toddler/child/even a teenager can experience. Hopefully as a result of a baby massage course, mothers and babies may learn the strokes that aid relaxation, colic, and body awareness. Making loving touch a regular part of family life and watching the effect it has on our children's sense of well being, security and confidence is a joy to see.
Camilla Plows, reflexologist and mother
"Gina recently taught baby massage to a group of new mothers in our homes, which we all enjoyed. For my part, I have loved having an additional tool at my fingertips (literally!) with which to communicate with my son Sebastian. Through my work as a reflexologist, I am aware of the immense benefits of touch, and baby massage enables me to take touch beyond his feet to the whole of my baby's body, exploring its development with him. Gina showed us how the massage can be adapted to suit our babies' mood, be it playful or in need of comfort, and in her gentle manner encouraged us to use this wonderful skill within our families now and in years to come."
Music & Baby Massage
by Mrs Lowell Herbert, Infant Massage Instructor and Music Specialist
"When a mother comes home with a new baby it is natural and even instinctive for her to sing to and rock her tiny baby. The rocking movement is even thought to help brain development. She may also enjoy oiling her baby after his bath and stroking his back and head. Although many mothers instinctively massage their babies, it is still lovely to come along to a massage group to learn more strokes and movements and to exchange ideas with other mums. Queen Charlotte's Hospital includes Infant Massage as part of its post-natal support services. The smaller babies under three months gather in their own group and the classes are kept quiet and re-assuring. Small babies can easily be over-stimulated.
But as the babies grow older, they begin to wriggle, twist, look around and roll over. They take more interest in their surroundings. This is when some songs can be included in the massage routine. At Queen Charlotte’s, we have made our own tape of songs sung by a single voice with simple guitar accompaniment. The mothers have these to enjoy at home and a gentle tradition of singing is built up. Sometimes the mothers discuss ideas for one-to-one time at home with their babies. One-to-one time is very valuable for language development, and music can play a part. The important thing about these times together is to make them a true dialogue leaving the baby plenty of time to take in and respond to what is happening. For instance, instead of showing a baby a duck and immediately saying ‘quack quack’, slowly hold up the duck and say ‘listen….’ – wait expectantly and then say ‘quack quack’! Other ideas that may come up are illustrating a story with one or two instruments and sound effects or using a song to tidy up or play hide-and-seek. Telling a short story on the baby’s back or tummy is developed and we come up with some wonderful things.
We are lucky. The true importance of a child’s first year of life is now being recognised. We live in exciting times with revealing research into how our brains function and how both music and massage can reduce stress and help healing. Things we practitioners have known for a long time are now getting scientific backing. But rising above science, surely music is a door into the world of atmosphere, magic and more spiritual things. It is something of real value—so sing a song or two while you massage your baby."
Excerpt from talk given at IAIM study day March 2002 International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), South West