I have been a Certified Infant Massage Instructor since 2005. I am big believer in the power of touch. In fact, I have been meaning to write an e-book about Infant and Toddler Massage, oh, ever since I started my blog. With Penelope as my guide, I have been creating new, easier and more effective ways to massage your older baby and toddler, that I can’t wait to share with you.
P.S. the pictures in this post are of Ava Grace Lake, one of the little girls I was a Nanny to before I became a mother. Both Ava and her sister, Ella, got lots of baby massage!
The power of touch was something I had gone most of my life without really understanding. While I had grown up with my fair share of hugs, kisses and cuddles, I never really learned about the deeper emotional and physical connections that could be made with touch, nor the health benefits that could be reaped from it. Like the seemingly million other things, that all changed with pregnancy.
Now, I admit that I carry some emotional baggage that turned me off the idea of massage through my pregnancy, but that also wasn’t helped by my lack of knowledge about what massage can do for a person. The most touch I got when I was pregnant was myself or my husband occasionally rubbing my belly, or the very rare times my husband would rub my swollen feet. But then my baby girl actually came into the world and, like Stephanie, I was slapped with the horrible reality of not being able to breastfeed. In my attempt to look on the bright side, I see many ways in which it was a good thing. In one way it triggered a new obsession for nutrition and alternative healing and among that I learned about the wonder of touch and massage.
My unhealthy lifestyle had taken a toll on me that I could no longer bear because it was no longer just me it was affecting, or some yet unknown life inside of me, but it was the living, breathing human being I held in my arms that was affected now and I could finally feel the weight of that reality. Breastfeeding was supposed to be this miraculous thing, almost like an upgraded umbilical cord for babies to live out the 4th trimester attached to. Without that, I had to improvise. One of the things most frequently mentioned in the natural birthing world, and fortunately it’s become more common in the birthing world at large, is the importance of skin to skin contact for newborn babies. It helps regulate body temperature and breathing, soothing the baby and creating a strong bond with the mother through physical contact. All of this wonderful stuff happening in the first day of life continues to have an impact on babies throughout the infant stage, but the power of touch doesn’t stop there.
Without breastfeeding, I knew infant massage would be a really great way to implement the physical bond with my daughter that I would otherwise not be able to have. I wasn’t going to sit there with my shirt up while bottlefeeding, however tempted I was at times, it would have just been too awkward. Having to hold a bottle also meant I didn’t have any hands free to caress and play with her either. Admittedly with me being a relatively hands-off person and feeling extremely uncomfortable just hugging people, it did take a little bit for me to really decide to go for it with massaging my baby. What really did it in for me was when I realized how bad my health really was at only 23 years old and there were many things I lacked growing up that led to my poor health. I simply did not want the same for my daughter and I wanted to do whatever I could to help her achieve better health, from the biggest things like a clean, organic traditional diet to the smallest things, like a regular massage.
Massage has a lot of benefits, on many levels. The more obvious benefits are physical. It is relaxing, for the muscles and for the mind, which relieves stress and painful tension. It can improve blood flow, especially in the areas where circulation can be impeded, such as the legs, and also help remove toxins and circulate lymph fluid. It can even aid in digestion! All of these things in turn help rejuvenate the immune system. I’ve frequently wondered if babies experience the same kind of muscle soreness from crawling and trying to walk that an adult would feel after a strenuous workout, but I think that becomes pretty clear as the day goes on when I try to stand her up and she immediately plops down again on her butt, refusing to move at all.
While I really do love helping to heal my baby’s body through massage, the part that has me the most passionate about it is the emotional aspect of touch. What neither of us got much of from not spending all those hours bare-bellied against each other with breastfeeding, we got to share through massage. It was especially nice after taking a bath together, spreading out on towels on the floor and just having a little time to really connect. It’s amazing to see my little explorer suddenly so calm and focused, with slower breathing and limp, relaxed muscles. We look at each other and smile and just enjoy the moment. Eventually she will start trying to roll over and get up, but for that time, we’re both at peace.
Picking an opportune time for massage is important so it’s more relaxing and less of a wrestling match. As with most things, take cues from your baby and try some massage during a down time in the day, such as before or after sleeping or perhaps after feeding or even as part of a cool down from a yoga session. Don’t forget to have a good moisturizer on hand to make rubbing easier and rejuvenate baby’s skin. I like to use coconut oil, since it’s a really great moisturizer, not as messy, smells good and I know precisely one ingredient is going in her system.
Laying down on a towel, blanket or mat, on the floor or bed, I’ll playfully dab some globs of coconut oil on her tummy, poking her belly and making funny noises, to make it sort of a game and try to get a giggle from her. Then I’ll start rubbing it in around her chest and abdomen, which with coconut oil also melts it for use. I just take it slow and work out towards the extremities, then taking long strokes back inward to get the blood flow back towards the heart. I prefer to focus on areas that I’ve noticed her using a lot, such as her shoulders and back when she was learning to roll over or thighs and calves when she was learning to stand. Other areas I’d make sure to hit were the lymph nodes; neck, armpits, chest/abdomen, and pelvis/inner thighs. I like to wait to massage her back until she’s starting to get a little more restless and trying to roll onto her tummy anyway, or do it separately when she lays on me for a nap.
A really good thing to keep in mind is that anything is better than nothing, so don’t stress about doing this on a regular basis. While doing it more often is great, I only end up doing it a couple times a month. It’s a wonderful break from our day to day routine and we both end up feeling better, especially if one of us has been really cranky. It’s also probably not necessary to say, but just remember that you’re working with a baby and it would not be a good idea to use overly firm strokes or do any kind of deep rubbing. There is a reason people go through training and licensing to do massage therapy. This is more about physical connection and relaxation. Smile, make eye contact, be gentle and enjoy in the moment together.