By Colleen T. Fay, LMT, CIMI
Most new parents know that touch is an important way to bond with their newborns, but there's even more you can do. Infant massage goes beyond just a generic inventory of consecutive strokes and has proven benefits.
It involves mindfully engaging with the baby, recognizing nonverbal communication and creatively adapting touch to support the child's sensory needs and capabilities.
Whether your baby is a newborn or several years old, massage can bring immediate and lasting results.
Here are the top four benefits of infant massage:
- Improves sleep. In a study by Tiffany Field, PhD, at Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine, infants and toddlers with sleep onset problems showed fewer sleep delays after being massaged by their parents for 15 minutes before bedtime each day for a month (as opposed to babies who were read a bedtime story). Massage helps babies sleep deeper and more soundly—and you'll sleep better if they're sleeping better!
- Stimulates growth hormone for weight gain in underweight babies. Dr. Field also studied massage for preterm babies (preemies) and found that preemies who were massaged three times a day for 15 minutes gained 47 percent more weight and left the hospital an average of six days earlier than those who were not massaged. When a baby is discharged from the hospital six days early, it saves about $3,000 per infant in hospital costs. Approximately 470,000 premature infants are born each year in the United States. If they were all massaged, the savings would amount to $4.7 billion in hospital costs per year. Not to mention the emotional benefits to the parents.
- Improves overall functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. Colic, constipation and gas can cause a lot of distress for both babies and parents. Easy-to-learn massage techniques can help move along digestion and move out the gas that is causing distress, often relieving pain and discomfort in just a few minutes.
- Relieves the pain and discomfort of teething. Teething is one of the most stressful times for babies and parents. A special facial massage technique helps release endorphins, the body’s natural pain reliever. Massage also reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Colleen T. Fay is a licensed massage therapist, certified infant massage instructor and doula. Visit her website at zenbabiesmassage.comfor more information and to order the DVD.