Infant Massage

Babies Thrive on Touch

“Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language, and the last, and it always tells the truth.” ~ Margaret Atwood.

When a baby is born, their primary communication is touch. Sure, they can cry, and we can speak words to them, but understanding comes from touch. This truth carries on throughout that person’s whole life – many things are presented in many ways, but touch is a communicator of truth. Have you ever heard the idea that a violent person wasn’t hugged enough as a child? There is a lot of validity to that.

Positive and negative touch makes a significant impact on our brains, and our understanding and behavior is greatly influenced as a result. Amazingly, right from birth, we can interpret whether touch is positive or negative, genuine or insincere, peaceful or troubled. It is the massive responsibility of all carers for any age group to guard their touch, using it only in a positive way.

Babies, being brand new people, are hungrily devouring information; learning, developing, growing, and understanding. The caring touch they receive from their parents, usually their mother in particular, forms a bond of trust and security. A baby finds comfort from touch, that’s about the most obvious thing in the world!

As babies are exhausted from learning and growing, and the constant barrage of noise and lights and new sensations, it’s little wonder they tell us they need to sleep by bursting into tears! There is no better form of communication between parent and child than touch. “I hear you, baby…I understand what you need, baby…you can relax, you’re safe with me, baby.” These are the things one can “say” to a baby through touch.

Benefits of Infant Massage

As well as bonding, comfort, and relaxation, touch is useful to babies for treating a variety of afflictions. Upper or lower wind pains are obvious examples. 'Failure to thrive' is another. These days, we summarize all this useful baby touch, create neat little routines and techniques, and call it “infant massage.” This is really helpful for those who don’t find touch to be very natural to them, or for those who don’t have an emotional attachment to the baby.

However, mechanical touch is not good therapy. Even if touch isn’t your natural language, babies are fluent, and they can sense your feelings through your touch. Being gentle and sincere is often more effective than technique, so don't get TOO hung up on the "right way" to perform infant massage.

Tips for massaging your baby:

  • Choose the right time. Don't rush through this, take your time. Choose a time when you won't be interrupted. It's often a perfect thing to do straight after a bath. Babies tend to either love or hate baths, so they're either super relaxed, or needing comfort (massage is great for either mood). They're also conveniently undressed, and often require a bit of moisturising at that time anyway.

  • Set the atmosphere.You're going for calm and peaceful. Dim the lights, shut out the noise, make everything warm and soft. Make sure you have everything you need before you start. Be prepared that the baby will likely want to feed and sleep afterwards.

  • Technique. Infants don't have knots to knead; they require gentle strokes, warm and smooth. Never press on the spine, neck, or top of the head. Massage towards the heart. You don't want to tickle, so be gentle, but firm. Look baby in the eye while you're communicating through touch; remembering that this is a special time to bond and "speak" to baby.

I would never recommend taking a child to a therapist to be massaged, except for the parent to learn the skills for themselves from the session. The parent is the ultimate therapist, as they are already a familiar source of comfort to the child, and the massage will only increase that bond. The parent is also present and available for the child when needed. You don't need to be the child's parent, of course, it's a beautiful thing for anyone to do, but for the sake of regular touch and bonding, parents or primary carers (perhaps a foster parent or grandparent etc) shouldn't miss out on this wonderful experience.

Touch with care, everyone, you never know the impression you'll make.