Massage has special benefits for infants:
- It helps to establish a special degree of physical intimacy that shows your baby that you love her.
- If you doubt your own gentleness, massage can help you get accustomed to handling your baby tenderly and lovingly.
- It stimulates your baby's circulatory, digestive, and respiratory systems.
- It can ease your baby's gas pains, calm her, and quiet her when she seems fussy.
- Studies have shown that massage even improves the growth and development of babies born prematurely. (Whether it does the same for full-term babies is not yet known.)
You don't need to use any special oils to massage your baby. A little moisturizer rubbed into your own hands allows you to rub her smoothly. If you decide you want to use oils anyway, rub a little on your baby's arm about 30 minutes before starting the massage. That way, if she has an allergic reaction, you won't have affected her whole body.
In short, massage can give great pleasure to both your baby and you. If you want to try infant massage yourself, here's how to do it:
- Choose a time when you will least likely be interrupted or distracted. Unplug the phone or let the answering machine take your calls.
- Find a warm, quiet, comfortable place. Lay your baby on her back on a warm towel. If she objects to being totally naked (as some babies do), then just take off her shirt to start and then cover up her torso and take off her pants when you start massaging her lower half.
- Work from the head down and from the center out. Start by gently massaging the top of your baby's head, her forehead, and the sides of her face. Then move down to her neck and shoulders. Use tender squeezes as you move down her arms. Then gently rub her chest and belly. Apply gentle squeezes down her legs, ankles, feet, and toes. Finish with long light strokes all the way down her body from head to toe.
- Use light, gentle, and even strokes throughout the massage. Some babies like a circular motion. Look into your baby's eyes often and smile as you massage her. Quiet talk (perhaps a narration of the massage) may help keep her calm, but your touch itself should also have a soothing effect.
- If your baby seemed to enjoy the massage, turn her on to her belly and massage her back, again working from the top down. But if she's getting restless, don't force the issue. Remember, one of the benefits of infant massage is building feelings of physical closeness-not physical struggle!
Remember to use very tender strokes. After all, she's just a baby. Chances are that she doesn't have sore or pulled muscles that require extensive physical therapy. So focus on gentle, loving touches that both you and your baby will enjoy.