Babies love to be touched. It is one of the senses that develops even before they are born, and one of the best ways for parents to quickly bond with their little ones.
Massage is a form of skin-to-skin contact that helps improve the bond between parents and infants as it helps to engender trust, especially in the first few years of a baby’s life. Both fathers and mothers also should engage in other forms of physical contact such as cuddling, hugging and rocking newborn babies.
Massage = big benefits
Massage is a primal form of intimacy between mum and her baby. One of its benefits is that it helps stimulate maternal feelings, as well as the release of hormone oxytocin. This hormone is usually secreted before pregnancy, during birth and later as mum comes into physical contact with the baby. It is responsible for triggering various physiological functions and emotions such as happiness, attraction, love, and affection.
Another benefit is that touch also helps mum’s colostrum (the first milk that is full of nutrients that protect the baby) to flow more easily. Mums are also likely to experience more positive breastfeeding and improved breast milk production. So make sure that you supplement your baby massage sessions with lots of hugs and cuddles!
And while mum is reaping those benefits, massage and other forms of close physical touch with baby has a powerful effect on their mental, emotional and physical development, both in the short term, and long term as it helps to:
- Regulate baby’s heartbeat, breathing and body temperature
- Relax and soothe baby, thus improving his sleep quality & quantity
- Decrease crying time
- Improve weight gain
- Stimulate digestion, and interest in breastfeeding
- Reduce baby’s emotional stress
- Promotes closer parental bonds with baby (also helps to reduce mum’s risk of postnatal depression)
Why preemies need this too
Premature babies will benefit from infant massage, but the technique differs from the massage for ordinary term babies. The positive effect of baby massage on weight gain is well documented. Reduced stress hormone (cortisol) has been shown to occur too. There are many other positive benefits as well.
Preemies should not be massaged when they are on the ventilator or require oxygen. Preterm baby massage is only done when the baby is out of the woods and already stable.
Improving your bond
Baby massage is also a great way to improve the bond between parents and their baby. However, avoid giving your baby a massage if he is feeling unwell or has a fever. In the case of colic, baby massage has been shown to help alleviate the symptoms.
While you can give him a massage at any time, it’s preferable to set a routine for him to look forward to – for example, right after bath time or before you put him to bed at night. You may also opt to use baby massage oil/lotion/cream. However, before doing so, do consult with your paediatrician first.
Baby massage should be delivered using a slightly firm but gentle touch to convey a parent’s care and love to their little one. For more details on how you can do this, you may refer to previous Positive Parenting article “Massaging Your Baby”.
Remember to take full advantage of this early chance to bond with your baby by starting right after his birth. Don’t miss out on giving your baby a massage as it is a simple way for you to start bonding with your child!
An educational contribution by Malaysian Paediatric Association.