The Magical Power of Touch! Infant massage
Infant massage at first glance can appear to be one of those activities designed to get you out of the house as a new mother. When the demands of parenting have exhausted you and you sometimes feel cut off from other adult company, most mothers will look to find a new interest that can engage both mother and baby and help mum socialise a little too. All great benefits as most new mother will agree, however, Infant massage can be so much more .
Massage is tender loving care
The idea of infant massage evokes emotional bliss, as we imagine a lovely bonding session with our warm, sleepy baby. What is truly unimaginable however, are the amazing list of benefits that infant massage is scientifically proven to provide to both child and mother. This simple act of massaging your baby, which by itself is an act of loving care and tenderness, can also be an act of healing and nurturing for baby and of self care for mum.
Infant Massage helps high risk babies
Infant massage has proven to be effective in enhancing postnatal development of high risk infants, such as pre-term newborns, leading to fewer medical complications, less irritability and increased weight, and to an improvement in the performance on social and emotional scales.
Infant Massage is a means of communication
From a neural-developmental point of view, touch is one of the first senses to become active in an unborn child, becoming, thus, one of the primary means of communication with the surrounding environment (Hernandez-Reif et al., 2007). After delivery, touch becomes an even more important channel of communication between mother and infant, communicating security and tenderness, reducing infants’ distress and promoting emotional regulation.
Infant Massage reduces stress and improves growth
In clinical studies, it was proven that exposure to infant massage sessions resulted in an improvement in several health indexes for babies, such as weight-gain, increases in length, head circumference, bone density, and body temperature. For a baby, infant massage reduces and balances cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine hormones which control stress levels, resulting in the infant experiencing less stress or excitability.
Infant Massage reduces feelings of depression
Meanwhile, mothers who massaged their infants, both preterm and full term, reported less anxiety, less depressed mood, and improved mother–child emotional interactions. In a study of mothers diagnosed with postnatal depression, mothers who took part in infant massage classes as opposed to support groups actually achieved a greater reduction in feelings of depression.
Since perinatal depression (during pregnancy) expected to affect around 11,000 mothers every year in Ireland, and up to 15% of new mothers (or 10,200) experiencing postnatal depression, in what can only be described as an epidemic in Ireland, it is hugely important that mothers have resources to hand to lower either their risk or their feelings of postnatal depression. Thus, infant massage is one tool amongst a range of other tools that mothers can use as an act of self care with bi-directional benefits for both baby, mother and as a consequence Irish society.
Infant massage is, at its core, an act of tenderness and love between both mother and child. Whether you wish to learn how to do it to simply to create an even stronger bond with your baby, or for the health benefits for your child or yourself, or indeed for all three, its effects are nothing short of magical.
Written by Clare Collins, Midwife, IBCLC,Postpartum Doula, & Infant Massage Instructor. Owner of Breastfeeding Cork and Independent Doula Contractor with DoulaCare Ireland.