Physical contact is a basic human need, as important to babies as milk and sleep. Infant massage provides a special, concentrated dose of this kind of nurturing -- along with many other benefits for parents and children.
Massage can teach your baby to release tensions in her bent arms, clenched fists, constantly working mouth, and neck and upper-spine muscles. In colicky babies, it triggers processes that aid in digestion and relieve gastrointestinal discomfort. And many parents say that massage helps their active babies relax and settle for sleep.
Massage will also help you understand your baby's nonverbal cues; she will teach you what she does and doesn't like as you experiment with different strokes and pressures. If she scowls or cries when you rub her belly or stroke her forehead, show her that you understand by adjusting the pressure or by moving on to a more acceptable area.
Start each massage with your baby's legs and feet -- a gentle, nonintrusive approach. She may not take to it immediately or may initially display a very short tolerance for massage, so begin slowly; she will indicate when she wants you to stop. Each day, you can lengthen the duration, eventually building up to a daily half-hour routine. Or, you can spend a few minutes massaging her legs after her evening bath or her feet before nap time or bedtime.
Wear soft, comfortable, nonbinding clothes. Trim your nails; even though you will be using the pads of your fingers, long fingernails may scratch your baby. Choose a warm, quiet room and a time not directly before of after your baby's meal. Do a few simple stretches to relax -- neck and shoulder rolls, arm and lower-back stretches. Do not massage your baby if she is sick or has a fever. Massage can cause infections to spread through the body. Do not massage swollen areas (e.g., after a shot). Keep receiving blankets or cloth diapers handy for "accidents." Use a vegetable-based oil; avocado is particularly non-allergenic. (Baby oils are mineral-based and should not be ingested, which they will be when they get on a baby's hands.) Dip your fingers in the oil, and rub a small amount over your hands before you begin and whenever they feel dry, lubricating them just enough so that they don't chafe your baby's skin.
Do You Know?
Massaged daily, premature infants develop more rapidly than those who are not massaged. After six weeks, they are more alert and cry less, are more socially and emotionally expressive, and have notably higher levels of serotonin.