Introducing your baby to massage early on will help your feel closer and bond, writes Peter Walker
All babies live in the “here and now” and signal their needs as they occur.
By establishing close physical contact with your baby from the outset, you can respond to his or her needs immediately every time.
Human babies are born prematurely compared with other mammals and, although birth is seen as the separation of mother and baby, this is not nature’s intention.
The nerve connections in a newborn’s brain are still developing so a baby retains the emotional– umbilical connection established in the womb.
As a primary caregiver you need to maintain this link with your baby. A vaginal birth gives the baby a powerful massage that stimulates the vital organs to function.
Immediately after birth a baby needs to be placed in his or her mother’s arms, so that skin-to-skin contact can regulate their survival systems.
Communication through touch
Although a desire to be held, stroked and touched continues throughout our lives, it is at its most intense in infancy.
A newborn baby is far from independent and an extended period of exterogestation – a need to be held outside the womb – is known to have a profound impact on physical, emotional and psychological development.
It gives a baby time to coordinate all his or her senses in this new and unfamiliar environment with help.
As adults we open our minds and exhale when we wish to “consume” the pleasure of a loving embrace.
A clenched fist and a sharp inhalation or “freezing” of the body and breath signals resistance to an unwanted emotional exchange.
Likewise a baby’s response to sudden movement and stimuli is not an “anxiety reflex” to be ignored, it’s a message to the parent to slow down, breathe out and relax, to “be here now” with their baby.
Massaging your baby demands that you are in the “right place” within yourself before you begin. Every mother knows through giving birth that deep exhalation can relax body and mind.
Watch your baby too. Babies breathe with their lower two ribs and abdomen; observing this can show you more than just how to slow down.
Getting in touch
In the first days keep your baby close to help her adapt to her new and unfamiliar world.
In quieter moments you can quite literally take your baby into the palms of your hands, as you slowly and gently get the feel of each other.
Your baby has been curled tightly in the womb and doing this will help her to let go of the “physiological flexion” that was imposed on her by this position.
You can also re-establish an umbilical connection with your baby.
Sit quietly for a moment and feel or connect with your tummy as you breathe out – exhalation – then relax your shoulders and hands.
Breathe out to remain calm so you don’t trigger your baby’s anxiety reflex.
Keep your movements slow.
When your baby is happy her tummy will feel soft. If she is upset it will feel hard, like a rock.
Key benefits of early massage
• Combined with the benefits of skin-to-skin physical contact, touch triggers the release of “feel-good” hormones to encourage an even closer relationship between you and your baby.
• Massage enables you to get to know your baby in a unique way – it not only strengthens the bond between you, but also satisfies your baby’s need for physical contact.
• Baby massage helps parents feel more confident when touching and handling their baby, as well as enabling the infant to feel more secure.
• While allowing parents to get to know their child’s structural health, massage also helps maintain a baby’s flexibility as he or she develops. It also encourages abdominal breathing, which not only relaxes the baby, but strengthens the immune system and digestive rhythm.
Top 4 tips to get started
Help your new baby to relax her tummy, arms and legs. Releasing the muscle tension evokes a feeling of ease, which in turn improves her breathing, digestive and circulatory rhythms.
The tummy is a centre of primal energy, emotion and tranquility. These are the first steps towards “tummy time”.
1. Support your baby by letting her lean back against your chest with her bottom resting on your lap. Bring your arms underneath hers and hold her with her feet together and her knees open.
2. Open one hand to support her lower legs and feet. Place the other hand lightly across her tummy and gently massage it from side to side.
Leaning back, slowly remove the hand supporting her legs and feet to encourage your baby to lower her feet, and let her relax and straighten her legs.
Its very important to note, you should never try to force any of the movements. If your baby is not happy with your touches, cradle her in your arms and return to the sequence at another time.
3. Now bring your hands over her shoulders and squeeze softly using relaxed open hands.
4. With relaxed hands stroke gently down the length of her arms to help relax and straighten them.
Then gently lay her facing you with her back resting on your thighs and her legs against your tummy – knees open and her feet together – rock her gently.
Your baby may fall asleep as you do this, but if she starts to fuss or cry, always stop and give her a cuddle. Remember, massage is something you do with and never to your baby.
The article features in Baby Massage by Peter Walker is published by Hamlyn, £9.99.
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