Infant Massage is an ancient tradition of providing nurturing touch as a way of communicating and bonding with baby. In comparison to other parts of the world, infant massage is fairly new in the western world. The use of nurturing touch and massage can be traced back thousands of years and to various cultures around the world. Throughout India, China, Africa and the South Pacific, massage is part of regular parenting practices and is handed down from generation to generation. It was a tradition and a key part of parenting, until the "modern age" came into being. Since the start of the industrial revolution, many of the old ancestral traditions and customs have been lost. Today, cross-cultural studies have found that in societies where babies are massaged, rocked, breastfed, held and carried, grow into adults that are less violent and aggressive, showing more compassion and cooperation amongst their fellow human beings.
The Benefits of Infant Massage There are many benefits of infant massage for both the baby and the parent. The benefits can generally be divided into four categories:
Stimulation (which includes stimulation of all the physiological systems)
Stimulation Skin sensitivity is the earliest developed function. It is the most important of all the sensory systems to overall development. Stimulation of the skin is, in fact, essential for adequate organic and physiological development, both for animals and for human beings. The first communication and the first language for a baby is through skin stimulation. Cross-cultural studies also support the idea that infants should be massaged, held and carried more than they are in present-day Western Cultures. The natural sensory stimulation of massage speeds myelination of the brain and the nervous system. Myelin protects the nervous system and enhances the transmission of impulses from the brain to the whole body. Skin stimulation speeds the process, thus enhancing rapid neural-cell firing and improving brain-body communication.
Relaxation Stress can begin to affect a baby even before it's born. The level of stress hormones that are constantly present in a woman's bloodstream directly affect her unborn infant. Tactile contact, eye contact, and heartbeat sounds are three of the important signals the child receives from its mother after birth. All these interactions tell the infant's brain to stop producing ACTH (a stress hormone). Modern interventions have caused most babies to miss these early signals and thus endure days, even weeks, of high levels of stress to which they respond by shutting down altogether. When stress piles upon stress without the relief of an equal portion of relaxation, the body begins to shut out all sensory intake and the learning process is completely blocked. Touch/massage helps balance our autonomic nervous system. Massage helps to relieve tension build up from all the stimulation in an infant's environment. Massage is one way we can provide our children with relaxing and joyful experiences. We can teach our babies how to relax their bodies in response to stress. The ability to relax consciously is a tremendous advantage in coping with the pressures of growing up in our modern society. A regular massage provides our babies with an early stress management program. This will be very valuable to them in the future.
Relief Massage aids in the relief of various discomforts. It releases both oxytocin and endorphins. The release of these chemicals assists in relieving discomfort from teething, congestion, colic, gas, constipation and emotional stress. Performing massage strokes on your infant helps to tone the digestive tract. Colic ranges from mild, uncomfortable, gassy spells to intense pain and stimulation intolerance. Massage helps move gas and fecal matter into the bowel for expulsion. Chest massage techniques help to deepen respiration and break up the congestion of mucous in the chest. Massaging the sinuses on the face helps to clear the sinuses of excess mucous.
Interaction/Bonding Current and on-going research supports that infant massage is a very important element in the bonding process. Bonding is a matter of reciprocal interaction, meaning that each partner has a role in facilitating each stage. It is a process that builds trust and intimacy. While bonding is akin to attachment, generally bonding is more closely related with imprinting. This starts in the first hours after birth, with various "programmed" behaviors helping the process along; attachment then follows. Human beings can consciously create and enhance this bond at any stage of life; it is not strictly biological. Infant massage is a wonderful way to continue strengthening these bonds of love between baby and parents or caregivers. It can be a tool in creating and maintaining loving bonds in any situation. The bonds of trust and love along with lessons of compassion, warmth, openness, and respect, which are inherent in the massage routine, are carried with this child into adulthood. This contributes to positive values and positive adult behaviour.