Andrea comes to the door with baby Ginny lying asleep spread across her in her arms. Andrea looks noticeably more relaxed than last time I saw her. ‘The evenings are so different now’ she enthuses. ‘Gone are the periods of colicky pain and solid crying. It was so horrible to see her drawing up her legs in pain and being unable to settle’. She says that the worst part was that this always coincided with dad Mark coming in from work. ‘He couldn’t find any way of settling and easing her and it was challenging as he hadn’t had any of the lovely bonding time, the smiles, the closeness during the day.
Andrea is one of a group of parents I have asked to road test my recently published online baby massage course. However her experiences are fairly typical of high number of parents in my classes. Colicky pains are so common in newborns and parents frequently report that they have been effectively eased and improved by using specific massage movements. The trick is build up the massage at other times when baby is relaxed and receptive to gradually break the cycle. Even a few simple massage movements at each nappy change can bring about an appreciable difference
For Andrea this has completely changed her parenting experience with Ginny, for Mark and for her four year old Gabriel too. ‘Gabriel has just started school’ she explains, ‘and shortly after he came in from school Ginny would start her colicky periods of screaming in pain. So he would not only see Ginny upset and in pain each day he would also not be able to get as much attention from me as he needed at that vital time. Now she is either asleep or alert and settled. As we are learning the massage at home by video he also joins in and enjoys massaging her feet and following along, as well as having a foot or hand mas-sage himself from mummy!’
Evidence that massage has health benefits for parent and baby is not merely anecdotal. It has been shown to release oxytocin, known as the cuddle hormone, with a significant feel-good factor for all involved. The release of oxytocin is relaxing, comforting and has also been shown to support milk production for breastfeeding mums. Interestingly it also has the same positive emotional impact for dads and other caregivers too. Andrea told me that Mark is really enjoying the bonding experience with Ginny and all that massage brings. She told me how as a breastfeeding mother she was delighted how much he was enjoying his own unique bonding experience and closeness with Ginny which she loves watching.
Studies also suggest that sleep problems in infants also decrease following massage therapy. I’ve observed this have a really positive ripple effect for the whole family when parents are able to get more rest, feel more able to cope and have the energy to experience the parenting journey more positively.
I would liken the experience of massaging your own baby to an exercise in deep mindfulness. Everything else fades into insignificance and you are totally in tune with your baby and the sensations of touch, nurture and close communication between you. Every cue, every sensation is important. Other distractions slow down and stop and time seems to stand still. Nothing else matters but you and your baby together.
Andrea describes how much she likes watching the videos on her phone or tablet. She finds these best to follow when Ginny has fallen asleep after feeding and she sits and watches as a form of relaxation. Then she can follow along with Ginny, stop and pause it when she needs to. In a busy day she says it is a relief to not have to rely on memory but still be able to follow at Ginny’s pace and focused on her needs.
Massage classes are a wonderful way to meet other parents and enjoy this time together. However they are not available or suited to everyone. The online course was designed for parents who wish to learn in the comfort of their own home with partners and other family members. It is comprised of twenty five short videos which can be built up in small chunks to learn gradually so baby enjoys it and adjusts to it right from the start. There is a specialist module on colic, tips on teething and other symptoms commonly experienced. There is also a section on baby yoga and one on using massage as baby grows into a toddler and pre-school child. It has been a labor of love drawing on the experiences and tips from hundreds of parents to try to make learning the skill as easy, us-er-friendly and enjoyable as possible.
Massage can be enjoyed from just a few weeks old until your child is into double figures if you start early enough! My son used to love his massage from a young
baby and later would come up to me if he thought I needed a massage and give me a neck and shoulder massage with me sitting and enjoying it. He just sensed when I needed it. No one had consciously taught him the techniques but he had absorbed them fully when experiencing them deeply himself. This continued until he became a teenager and has now emerged again in young adulthood, much to my relief and pleasure! So by spreading the love you will be investing positively in your own future together.
Tips for starting massage
Use an organic, cold pressed vegetable oil, avoiding nut based oils like almond oil in case of any intolerances. I recommend cold pressed sunflower oil, ide-ally organic. Patch test it first.
Always choose an unscented oil so that it doesn’t interfere with your natural odor and bonding process with baby.
Before you start learning massage use as much opportunity as you can for skin to skin contact and gentle stroking. Babies often love their legs and feet being massaged. If you stroke or rub baby’s tummy make sure you always follow a clockwise direction as this is following the direction of the digestive tract. Gentle circles can be done every nappy change.
Tips for enjoying massage as baby grows
Nursery rhymes, songs and stories can all be used to develop massage into a rich and enjoyable learning experience for your baby and child. Singing songs and repeating movements is fun and brings it to life. As your child grows they may enjoy trying out the skills of massage themselves on their favor-ite toy, cuddly teddy or to you! Older children often love being involved with massaging younger siblings and it can be a very powerful way of establishing a strong bond, provided they get enough massage attention for themselves too.
- Vital Touch: How intimate contact with your baby leads to happier, healthier development. Sharon Heller 1st Jan 1997
- Human Significance of the skin by Ashley Montagu
- The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing by Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg
- The Complete Online Baby Massage Course
This was first published in Holistic Parenting Magazine in October 2016