If you’ve ever had a massage, you know how soothing and wonderful touch can be. Infant massage has been the subject of recent studies and shown remarkable benefits. Dr. Marshall Klaus reported that in one study of premature babies, those who received three 15-minute massages a day had nearly 50 percent better weight gain, scored better on developmental tests, and went home from the neonatal intensive care unit an average of six days earlier! For full-term babies, a daily massage during the screaming stage can reduce crying and improve sleep for all concerned.
Massage can be particularly powerful if Mom is depressed. Not only does the baby’s crying decrease, but the brain wave patterns of distress and depression measurably decrease as well. In my experience, Mom also benefits directly from giving the massage (the reduced crying) and also benefits from getting a massage of her own.
Your instincts on how to give a soothing massage to your baby are probably all that you need. But here are some ideas. You might put on some of your favorite relaxing music. With your baby on his back, the feet are a great place to start a soothing massage. You can gently rub the top of the foot with your thumbs and the bottom with your fingers. Then separate his toes, and roll each one lightly between your thumb and forefinger, perhaps tugging slightly. Next, make a circle around the foot with one hand, and pull his foot through, hand-over-hand, and again with the other hand. You may want to lay his leg on one palm and knead the calves and hamstrings. End with gently pulling his whole leg through the partial circle of your hand, from foot to thigh, over and over, working toward the heart. Now it’s the other leg’s turn.
You can do the same for each hand and arm. Open his hands and gently knead and rub the palm and the back of the hand with your thumbs and fingers. Separate the fingers, and one by one pull each through your thumb and forefinger. And then his whole arm through the circle of your hand, working toward the heart.
You can turn him on his tummy, and let your hands glide down his back in gentle, firm strokes, with thumbs just to either side of his spine.
There is no one magic method. Be an artist with your hands to gently massage your baby, paying attention to his cues and your own. I’m a fan of relaxing music, warm towels, and perhaps a little baby oil or infant massage gel. Candles, a safe distance from your baby, can be a mesmerizing treat. There is something primal about a flickering flame.
This is an excerpt from: From First Kicks to First Steps: Nurturing Your Babys Development from Pregnancy Through the First Year of Life, McGraw-Hill, 2004, Pp 230-231