Babies need to be touched, caressed, and held just as much as they need to eat and sleep. Baby massage is another great way to really feel connected to your baby. Loving touches nourish your baby's emotional development and improve her sensory awareness. They stimulate the production of her growth and digestive hormones. Skin-to-skin contact is also soothing and comforting. It reduces stress and helps your baby to sleep.
Your baby's emotional needs are not the only ones met during a baby massage. When you massage your baby, it stimulates the release of oxytocin in your own body, which facilitates attachment and bonding. Oxytocin is a hormone that causes your uterus to contract during labor, promotes the "let-down reflex" during breastfeeding, and relaxes you for nursing.
Simply touching your baby in your day-to-day interactions (such as when you change her diaper or clothes) does not stimulate your baby's brain as much as intentional touching and caressing. Your baby picks up nonverbal messages from you and discovers what it means to trust. These strong feelings of trust for their moms carry over to other people who are nurturing, loving, and warm. When you massage your fussy baby, you show her how to relax with your soothing touch and voice.
There are many avenues to learning about baby massage. (Get a primer here!) Ask the nurses at the hospital if there are any baby massage classes available during your stay. Check with your pediatrician for classes. Local daycare centers or parent education programs may sponsor classes. Numerous books and websites can help you educate yourself, your spouse, or even the grandparents. Simply rubbing down your baby with aromatic lotion in a loving, mild manner will work wonders. Soothing lights, a warm room, and music make a wonderful memory for you and make neural connections in your baby. And your baby will love it.
You can massage your baby a few times a day. Work it into your routine, maybe after her morning bath or before nap, and in the evening just before bedtime. Big sister or brother can help massage the baby's feet, choose the music, and pick out the lotion and blanket for the baby to lie on. Massage can be a family affair as well as one-on-one time.
Baby massage is about learning to communicate your love for your baby through touch.—Jill Vyse