This is one of my most favourite topics – it’s so easy to do – ANYONE can do it – and the benefits are incredible. Such a small thing to do with such an enormous long term result. This is an area where New Dads can shine!
I read “the bible” on Massage and the importance of touching, before I had my baby – “Touching – The significance of the human skin” by Ashley Montague. Don’t forget that I had been a qualified neonatal nurse (caring for sick newborn babies) for many years, and was a very “elderly primip” (older first mother) when I had my baby. I was obviously aware of the importance of skin to skin contact between the new baby and the carer, and encouraged this as much as possible with every new Parent and their Baby.
I really got into it when it was my turn to have a baby – I had been and still am to some degree, a very allergic type of person – suffered from hay fever terribly as a child etc. etc. I wanted to do everything I could to reduce the possibility of my baby taking after me – and what with the very high incidence of asthma in children is Australia – I definitely didn’t want to have to bring up an asthmatic child – if I could help it in any way.
My sister, who teaches Massage as part of natural therapies, put me on to the “bible”. I read every word of it – if you’re not into weight -lifting, and reading encyclopaedia’s – give it a miss – they almost destroyed what is such an exciting subject with all the scientific jargon and studies etc. Just get the message – MASSAGE is really a most powerful tool and scientifically it is proven to help newborn infants “thrive” that is grow faster – a sign that they are doing well. It also is said to reduce the incidence of eczema, and allergies in the infant, strengthens the immune system and leaves you with a feeling of well being. As for the effects on BONDING – well if someone could be bothered to stroke your skin lovingly everyday – how would that make you feel? I bet it would make you feel pretty good – and you’d begin to believe that life isn’t half bad!! We’re talking here about SKIN TO SKIN contact – gentle loving stroking movements on the skin – it’s that simple!
In countries where they have limited medical facilities, preterm babies (babies born before their due date) have been found to outdo their highly technically advanced equals in other countries – simply by the baby being constantly nursed inside the mothers clothing -usually at heart level – in direct contact with her skin, and also kept in an upright position – this is called a “Kangaroo Cuddle”.
Definitely invest in some sort of sling/baby pouch arrangement so that you can keep your baby at close contact as much of the time as possible. (When they are very new-born they don’t weigh much so it is quite easy to do – and from the very beginning your baby will feel safe and protected, while listening to your heart beat.
(I was very ill after the birth of my baby, and asked the nanny who was helping me whether she would mind carrying my baby around in a sling while she went about the chores – she loved every minute of it – the Nanny and the baby, I mean.) It is impossible to “spoil” a new born infant – the more reassurance and cuddles they get – the more positive beliefs they begin to form about life – these sort of beliefs usually last a life-time!
OK so lets get back to the massage!!!
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on my baby – I would have liked to start massaging her the minute she was delivered. I had prepared everyone I knew who would be visiting – that I wanted my baby cuddled as much of the time as possible.
After delivery your baby will need to be dried to prevent evaporative heat loss, and warmed up – against mum’s warm body is the best way to start – but this is not always possible. I wouldn’t start undressing your baby and massaging your baby in the first few days of life – unless it is done with their clothes on. After a few days when I felt ready to give my first baby massage – I was in for a terrible surprise. As soon as I took all her clothes off, Brigitte started to cry – she just didn’t like lying around naked – which in fact is what most new born babies are like – in fact – they feel more secure with their clothes on! My plan had been to massage her before putting her into the bath – I ensured that the room was fairly warm, and thought that the baby massage oil would protect her body from the drying out effect of the water. Any natural oil will do – almond oil (slightly warm) is a good first choice as a baby massage oil, though. Anything with a lubricating effect will do. Remember that the only aromatherapy oils that should be used on a newborn baby is a drop or two of lavender oil.
I was so disappointed when my baby didn’t seem very keen to have a massage – and kept crying and I had to abandon the whole idea. What I discovered is that a large number of babies need to become accustomed to being touched/stroked even if it is very gently. So, after that I started stroking her with her clothes on, for a minute or two at a time. Slowly over the days, I built up on the amount of time I would spend massaging her.
Smooth flowing strokes, very gently at first is a good way to start – your newborn baby will respond and let you know whether they like what you are doing – this is something for the two of you to work out together.
Once I had got her to the point where she knew I was going to start massaging her, she would instantly become quiet and lie there contently.
Once I had established that she enjoyed the contact, only then did I take her clothes off, and judging by her response – started to massage her for short periods initially.
It is important that you choose a time when you won’t be interrupted, so that you can both enjoy the time together. You might like to play some soothing music at the time. Also make sure that you are in a comfortable position, and that you have a clean soft surface/ like a towel to work on, so that you don’t get oil everywhere. Don’t forget, once your babe is all oiled up – they’re pretty slippery – so don’t let them get away from you!
The technique I used to massage my baby was as follows: I liked to lie my baby on my lap, while sitting in a comfortable chair- (that way her body was touching mine all the time). I didn’t like the idea of just massaging her on the change table, before placing her in a bath – by massaging her safely on my lap, I was able to massage her where ever it suited me, whether at a friend’s place, or sitting watching TV – you’ll work out what suits you best.
It was amazing to watch my baby respond over the months – if she were “grizzly” or unsettled for some reason, as soon as she became aware that she was going to have her massage – she would immediately be transformed into my happy contented little cherub! It is only by spending the time with your baby that you will learn what works for both of you – and it will give you both such pleasure!!
I massaged my baby almost everyday of her life until she was about one year old – by that time she was so wriggly that I couldn’t keep her still long enough to do anything, and was really sad when having the whole lounge room covered with baby massage oil was more than I could bear – and I had to give it away.
I have heard of mothers/carers who massaged their babies for years!
Just refreshing your memory on what lubricant to use – the more natural the better, avoid “mineral oils” which can disturb the baby’s mineral balance (if used for prolonged periods), and with essential oils/aromatherapy oils – only use a drop of lavender oil in the early months. I found the best baby massage oil was almond oil, and later I included a mixture of Calendula oil – my baby did in fact develop some eczema, but it was only very slight, and never became a real problem.
I believe the best baby technique for massage is – basically a stroking /effleurage movement is all that is needed. Lie your baby on the back first and do the trunk then the limbs, then turn them over and do the same on the back. My baby did not like having her head massaged – there are no rules – work out what you and your baby like most. If you feel comfortable including the genital area – do so – but don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right for you and your baby – just cause someone else told you to do it. (Their genital areas are just a normal part of their body – after all).
Massage is also said to improve immunity – I personally found that my baby had very few infections in her early life – compared to other babies in my “mothers group”.