Physical touch is used regularly, whether it is for observation when taking a pulse and noticing how a patient’s skin feels, if a pulse is beating strong or weak for example, or for comfort with a gentle reassurance by lightly placing your hand on a shoulder. Touch is the first form of communication we experience. Nothing makes us feel safer than being in the arms of a loving embrace and nothing has the power to heal more, than touch. Having worked in a neonatal intensive care unit for over a decade, I have seen first-hand, the power of touch. Nothing soothes a baby like a mother’s touch. Premature infants and term infants can respond differently to touch and often in the hospital setting, tactile experiences can at times have negative associations. In the clinical setting, positive touch is used to provide comfort and nurturing.
Massage is an intimate form of touch. It is important from an early age to teach children the importance of appropriate touch. Therefore, it is imperative that massage for infants and children is given by someone who has a strong bond and connection with the child. Asking a child for permission to touch, even at an early age, sets them up for learning about appropriate touch and knowing that they have an choice
Massage is a special and lovely way to bond with your baby and can allow you to learn more about your baby’s cues and body language. As massage is a great way during infancy to nurture and strengthen your relationship with your baby, it is important to use an oil that is not scented so as not to mask maternal scent. Massage is not only a lovely way to create many beautiful memories with your baby that endures through time, it also has been shown to have many benefits.
Research has shown there are many benefits for infants who are massaged. Some of the benefits for infants include:
• Enhances bonding and attachment
• Reduces stress levels (hormone associated with) in children and parents
• Strengthens body awareness
• Helps strengthen the immune system
• Can reduce the symptoms associated with eczema
• Reduces cortisol levels in children and their parents
• Improves mood and emotions
• Aids digestion
• Used to relieve pain and reduce discomfort
• Relieves symptoms of colic, wind and constipation
• Improves communication between the brain and body
and to any sleep deprived parent, music to their ears, massage helps improve the quality of sleep. As infant massage is a mixture of both stimulating and relaxing strokes it is important to know which strokes and sequence is appropriate for your baby.
There are also studies which show that there are benefits as well for parents and caregivers who partake in infant massage. Studies indicate that adults who massage their infants are less likely to experience anxiety, show an increase in mood and self-esteem.
Massage is not purely restricted for babies but it is also a wonderful way to bond with your older child. There comes a time when your child may become more self-conscious and modest and want to keep an item of clothing on. As your child grows, massage can still be an important part of your life. When an older child requests a massage, it can be because they would like time to have a talk or want some one-on-one interaction with a parent. In our fast paced lives, it is a nice way to stop and have a moment where you can both chat or just enjoy each other’s company without competing with everything else that is going on.
Massage is as timeless as the unique relationship between mother/caregiver and infant. Never underestimate the power of touch.