Reach Out and Touch Your Baby

Parents have always loved to soothe and cuddle their babies, just as babies have always loved the comfort of a parent’s caring touch. In fact, part of a baby's emotional and neurologic development comes from this physical connection and the feelings of security it provides.

While we tend to think of massage as something reserved for adults, other cultures have long practiced infant massage—the technique of stroking and gently rubbing a baby's limbs. Proponents of infant massage believe it:

• Relieves stress for parents and babies, which can help with sleep

• Provides one-on-one time for bonding and communication

• Increases parent confidence and sensitivity to a baby's signals and cues

• Stimulates growth and development

• Helps with gas and symptoms of colic

Research has shown that infants benefit from massage in other ways, too. In several studies, premature infants who received regular massages for seven to 10 days gained more weight and were hospitalized for fewer days than non-massaged infants.

Full-term babies also benefit from massage’s calming effects. In one study, 40 full-term infants were either massaged or rocked for 15 minutes twice a week for six weeks. The babies who enjoyed massages gained more weight and were easier to soothe, were more sociable, and were better sleepers.

Many books and classes offer detailed instructions on how to massage your baby. However, you may find that just spending time with your baby helps you learn how to stroke and cuddle in ways you both prefer. Follow these tips to get you and your baby started:

• Choose a peaceful time of day when you won’t be interrupted.

• Save the massage for another time if your baby seems upset.

• Make sure the room is a warm, comfortable temperature for your baby.

• Set the mood by playing some soft music or singing lullabies.

• Use a small amount of oil for the massage, such as olive, peanut, safflower, or sunflower oil. For your baby’s comfort, warm the oil first by rubbing your oiled hands together.

• Begin with your baby’s legs and feet, then work your way up to the tummy, chest, arms and hands, and face. To finish, turn your baby over to stroke his or her back.

Online Medical Reviewer: Desrosiers, Florence MD

Date Last Reviewed: 4/2/2010

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