1. Improved sleep
It stands to reason that the more relaxed we feel the better we sleep and the easier we fall asleep too.
Have you ever had a massage and felt so relaxed you could...just...drop...off...?
Giving your baby a massage can have the exact same effect. Research has shown a reduction of stress levels and of the stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine in our bodies when we are massaged, as well as higher levels of the relaxing, or anti-stress hormones such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. Regular massage can also lead to an ability to cope better in stressful situations, as it increases their environmental coping mechanisms, and their ability to calm themselves, known as self-regulation. Busy family occasions such as Christenings or Christmas celebrations, where baby often gets passed around, can become quite stressful for a baby, but a baby who regularly receives nurturing touch through massage may learn to cope better in these situations, regulating their behavioural states and being calm. The physical relaxation of the muscles is always amazing to see, as the posture of the baby becomes open and soft, and breathing is regular and easy.
2. One to one quality time
Modern life is distracting. Demands on our attention are constant, more so now than ever with our instant technology. But multitasking really comes in to its own when we have a baby, if we are not doing one of the million and one tasks on our lists that need doing, we are at least thinking of them, and it can be difficult to allow ourselves that time out to stop and really focus. Building baby massage into your routine ensures that you get to spend some time focusing solely on your baby, giving them your undivided attention, noticing their cues as the communicate verbally and more subtly non-verbally, building a respectful understanding of your baby's emotional and physical needs. Getting to know your baby in this intimate way promotes bonding and helps to ensure a secure attachment. Your baby feels loved and respected as you listen and respond with nurturing touch- touch being the first language we learn, and the first sense to develop in utero.
3. Relief from pain and discomfort
Watching your baby suffer is painful in itself. If there was a way to help relieve your baby from the cramps of wind and colic, the discomfort of constipation, and the pains of teething you would want to try it, right?
Taking a course in baby massage will teach you strokes and routines that can help with not only these common complaints, but also releasing excess mucus and soothing stuffy noses, relieving muscular tension and growing pains, as well as psychological tension and can help with sensitivity to touch. If your baby suffers with eczema you can also substitute the use of oils in massage for their usual emollient creams, turning their regular cream ups into a positive and nurturing experience to benefit their skin.
How can something be stimulating and relaxing at the same time?
Whilst massage can calm and soothe both body and mind, reducing stress and inducing sleepiness, there's a whole lot more going on behind the scenes as it also serves to stimulate the many bodily systems. An obvious one being the circulatory system. As we stroke and caress we are moving blood around the body. Cold hands or feet? No problem, there's a massage stroke for that! The digestive system is stimulated when we massage the tummy, helping to move on any trapped wind and more – watch out if massaging a naked baby! Other systems stimulated include: hormonal, immune, lymphatic, neurons, respiratory, and vestibular (coordination and balance). Muscular development and tone are stimulated, and studies have shown that babies who are regularly massaged gain weight better too. Through the recognition of and response to baby's cues, language development is stimulated, and this along with the stimulation of mylenation ( stroking promotes and quickens the growth of the myelin sheath- a protective layer covering the connections between neurons in the brain) leads to improved learning ability.
5. It's good for you too!
Infant massage not only benefits the baby. As the baby's mother, father, or primary carer you can benefit from being able to read and respond to those cues. Getting to really know and understand your baby helps the bonding process and to develop a secure attachment. When you know your baby and can read their cues you feel confident in caring for your baby. Being involved in a positive activity together provides the opportunity to discover your baby's uniqueness. You may also feel your stress levels decreasing as you massage your baby and the levels of the relaxing hormones (such as oxytocin and prolactin) increase. If you are breastfeeding you may find that milk production is stimulated. Relaxation promotes and improves sleep- plus if your baby is sleeping well, you will be too! Studies have also suggested a decrease in Post Natal Depression in mothers who attend a baby massage course and research also suggests better outcomes for those babies. Attending a baby massage course with your baby is a great way to get out of the house and meet other new parents, giving you the opportunity to compare notes on parenthood and be reassured that what you are experiencing is probably normal. It is also one of the few classes you can attend together from as soon as you are ready to get out and about, as IAIM instructors are trained to teach massage from birth up to one year of age. Many parents continue to meet up after attending a baby massage course, forming strong and supportive friendships that last years.
You can find details of the latest Baby Massage courses from My Kid Rocks here, but don't worry if you are not local, find your nearest Certified Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI) here.