If your baby was born prematurely, you may want to ask her neonatologist if infant massage could be appropriate. Not all NICUs embrace the technique, and in those that do, your baby's age and weight will determine whether or not massage is indicated.
One way to learn more about infant massage is to take a class. Habib recommends that parents and babies start an infant massage class when the baby is about 7 weeks old. Classes last four to five weeks, giving parents the opportunity to practice their techniques before returning for the next session. An added bonus is that classes are a great way to meet other new parents.
If going to class doesn't jibe with your schedule, try the do-it-yourself route. There are several excellent resources that you can use as a guide. Any of the following is a good first start:
- Infant Massage, A Gift of Love (with Cheryl Brenman)
- Baby Massage: A Video for Loving Parents (directed by Jim Jenner)
- Baby Massage: A Practical Guide to Massage and Movement for Babies and Infants, by Peter Walker
- Loving Hands: The Traditional Art of Baby Massage, by Frederick Leboyer
- Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, by Vimala McClure
Your Baby's Cues
At its heart, infant massage is about responding to your baby's cues. What time of day seems to work best for your baby? Does massage soothe him and help him sleep? If so, wait until 30 minutes before naptime. What type of strokes does your baby prefer? Are there sensations or settings that seem to disturb her? Habib adds a few additional reminders for new parents:
- Your baby should be awake during the massage.
- You shouldn't massage your baby if he has a fever or an unknown rash.
- Don't massage your baby if you are angry or in a rush.
If you have any questions or feel uncertain about something, ask your baby's pediatrician. And remember, not all babies take to massage and some find it overstimulating.
While infant massage is great for babies and parents, there's no reason for its stress-busting, feel-good benefits to stop with your baby. Some doctors recommend parental massage to relieve the stresses of parenting. When an exhausted parent gets a massage, she may relax and even fall asleep. Most experts agree that what's good for parents is good for babies. So, while you're nurturing your baby, don't forget to indulge yourself and your partner.