Baby Massage & The Importance of Bonding


posted by on Musings

As I often say to customers at the start of a session, one of the main benefits of baby massage is bonding – for both parent and infant.

Most first-time parents expect to feel an instant bond with their baby, but the reality for many is that their new life is more of an uphill battle, and that the bond can often take time to form.  However, studies have shown that poor bonding can affect the baby’s long term behaviour, as well as the parent’s stress levels (and the babies can pick up on that stress).

In many traditional cultures, massage is seen as an important part of childcare, as essential as feeding and changing.  Now UK doctors and midwives are increasingly recommending it as a way to help parents bond with their baby. Here is why…

A baby’s first form of communication is touch, so by massaging your baby you are interacting with them and building a two-way communication with them, often for the first time.  Touch relaxation is what the foundation of massage is built upon, and the importance of touch for the health of humans, whatever their age, has been well documented over time.

The addition of talking (in a soothing/playful voice), singing, and game-playing (such as ‘peek-a-boo’ and ‘this little piggy’) to the gentle massage routine, only adds to the connection.

It’s quiet, treasured time – with peaceful music, a relaxing ambience, and often baby smiles and giggles – a break from the madness of everything else that comes with being a new parent.  A chance for both baby and parent to relax and just focus on ‘being’ with each other, with a lot of eye contact (further developing that connection).

Scientific research tells us that this combination of touch, sight, sound and smell (the smell of the parent is also important in providing comfort for baby) are proven to help in the formation of that bond.  One of the main reasons for this is the mutual release of the hormone ‘Oxytocin’ – the body’s natural stress and pain-reliever, and responsible for bonding and attachment.

Not only is the baby experiencing this feel-good hormone release, but the parent too (it’s non-gender-specific), and with mothers who are struggling with post-natal depression (over half of women say they experienced feeling down or depressed after giving birth, according to a recent report by the Royal College of Midwives), or an early baby; traumatic birth or related medical problems, plus the demands of being a new parent, this chemical release, can prove a heaven-send.

NetMums has highlighted that “the study ‘Massage and mother baby interaction with depressed mothers’, carried out by Fetal and Neonatal Stress Research Group, considered whether mothers suffering from postnatal depression would benefit from attending baby massage classes.  A group who attended five massage classes was compared with a similar group who attended a support group.  At the end of the test period the massage group had significantly less depression and very significantly better interaction with their babies, than the control group.  This is the first time that a method has been found for improving the relationship between a depressed mother and her baby”.  The close physical contact that baby massage provides, can help the new mother become more sensitive to the baby’s needs, and baby will start to respond to that – leading to a more positive relationship.

On top of all of this, a recent article by Tina Allen, the founder and director of the Liddle Kidz Foundation, and an authority on infant and pediatric massage therapy also highlighted that studies are showing infant massage to prove beneficial for children with autism:  “Given that children with autism have been reported to be opposed to physical contact, it is interesting that many of their parents, as well as massage therapists, are finding great success in the use of massage therapy.  Studies have shown massage therapy can improve behaviors such as wandering, resistance to teachers, negative responses to touch and on-task behavior compared to those in a control group. Others reaffirm the use of massage therapy to improve social relatedness behavior during play observations at school, and reduce sleep-related problems at home” (see more here).

In conclusion, taking time out together for a massage is a natural way of relaxing, both for the mother and her baby.  It’s a great thing for dad to learn too, especially if mum is breast feeding and he feels left out.

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