Loving Touch Is Essential to Healthy Brain Development

The Importance of Infant Massage

Loving touch just comes naturally for most new moms. It’s like a switch is flipped the moment they’re in your arms, on your chest and cemented in your heart. And it’s no surprise that for many cultures, loving touch is a vital part of an infant’s development. It is also equally important for mothers and fathers to help build a bond that will last a lifetime. 

Surprisingly, Western scientists, developmentalists, and doctors have only in recent years started to really understand the true power of touch in healing, health, stress, brain and social development.

In this article, we will take a look at why loving touch is essential to healthy brain development, how infant massage is a powerful tool to help facilitate touch and the benefits it holds for baby and you.

Touch: Our First Language

It has been scientifically proven that routine touch and massage in infants can lead to improved physiological, cognitive, emotional and social development. 

Massaging your baby has even been shown to boost mental development, increase awareness and improve concentration. 

While the effect on intellectual development is remarkable, physical contact is also responsible for your baby’s first emotional bonds. These moments of touch serve as the foundation of their emotional and intellectual development on which the rest of their lives will be built. 

While we believe this is truly special, we also see it as a responsibility. From the moment your baby is born, your loving first touch and the nervous first touch of the father, help your baby to grow stronger, feel less anxious, and safer. 

Newborns are also often placed on the mother’s chest as soon as possible, as the skin-to-skin touch is so important.

In fact, premature babies who are massaged in the hospital developed faster and went home sooner than those who weren’t. 

This first touch between you and your baby brings you closer and helps you to communicate. Language scientists now believe that in many ways, touch is our first language.

Touch therapy

Touch therapy has been practised for thousands of years. The most popular touch therapies for infants are skin-to-skin touch and massage. The benefits are now being studied extensively as the practice gains more mainstream acceptance. 

Our bodies have the ability to self-heal, but in general, to recover from stress, albeit physical or emotional, takes time. Touch therapy builds on this premise and helps the body develop and heal through connection, love, and healing touch.

Infant massage

Infant massage is the process of gently rubbing the soft tissues of the baby’s body in a manner specifically designed for them. 

It has been proven to help babies with colic, constipation, as well as respiratory and sleep problems. It does this by stimulating nerves in the body and on the skin, that send signals to the brain, aiding digestion, improving appetite, and boosting the overall health of your baby.

Long term studies have shown that children who were exposed as infants to longer periods of skin-to-skin therapy with their mothers had developed more ten years down the line, compared to children who weren’t. 

They slept better, dealt better with stress, had a more mature functioning autonomic nervous system and improved cognitive control.

The benefits of touch therapy for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, Down syndrome, dermatitis, stress and immune function disorders, were also remarkable. Children who received massage therapy were more task orientated, more social and less aggressive. Children with Down syndrome showed improved muscle tone, as well as better motor skills.

Psychologists suggest that the positive emotional benefits gained by infant massage come from the need for a similar close feeling as they had in the womb. Cuddling has a similar effect, as well as “hand containment” in premature babies.

Loving infant massage therapy will deepen your relationship with your baby, giving them the emotional support they need in a time when they cannot say what they need.

The Benefits of Infant Massage

  • Mental

Even a five-minute massage has proven to boost overall attentiveness in babies and children when required to do tasks. The first three years of brain development is crucial for a great attention span. 

Being able to sustain attention allows us to engage in a task long enough to learn to repeat it, the basis of learning. This is crucial for skills development. 

  • Physiological

Research has shown that infant massage positively influences the physiological development of young babies and improves immune function. It has the ability to lower the stress hormone cortisol in both babies and their parents. 

While occasional surges of cortisol throughout the day are normal and help us get things done, it isn’t good for babies.  Continuously elevated stress hormone levels in infancy, caused by a stressful environment, are associated with long-term negative side-effects on brain development.

  • Emotional

Infant massage boosts levels of the hormone oxytocin which has a positive effect on mood and emotions. It has been found that parents who massage their babies enjoy playtime more and feel closer to their babies. This love is critical for the healthy emotional development of your child. 

Touch also promotes the feeling of security in your baby, helping them to feel secure and confident in the family.

Benefits For Parents

While the benefits of infant massage to your baby, such as healthy brain development, improved growth and a happy baby are often seen as the most important reasons to practise daily infant massage therapy, however there is one more benefit often overlooked – the benefit to parents. 

Emotional Benefit

Massage also holds an important emotional benefit for parents. It gives parents an opportunity to really consciously care for and get involved in a loving way with their baby.

Beautiful Differences Between Mums & Dads

Every parent is different, and mums and dads have their own special way of lovingly touching baby. That’s why it’s critical for the healthy development of the baby’s brain that both parents take turns to give massages.

Mothers have been found to be more soothing in their touch, while fathers are more physical, bouncing, and rocking the baby. This differentiation before a baby can truly understand is its way of knowing. Your touch is like your face to a baby who can’t yet see the world all that clearly.

Postpartum Depression

Infant massage is also a great way for mothers with postpartum depression to bond with their baby. There is something almost meditative about massaging an infant and the calming effect on the baby gives mom and dad a much-needed break. 

Am I spoiling my baby with infant massage

Studies have proven that there is no such thing as spoiling a baby. In fact, not picking up or touching your child can increase stress levels and actually slow down their ability to learn.

Loving touch massage therapy is the perfect balance for parents who want to soothe their baby and promote their healthy brain development (no spoiling, we promise!).

How to Massage your Baby

Massaging your baby is easy and should be done in the right mood, with love and care. Use this easy step by step infant massage guide to find your way of loving your baby through touch.

1. Create a safe, warm environment, where your baby and you will feel comfortable.

2. Massage with cream or special massage oil is encouraged.

3. Start by using long strokes down your baby’s body. Begin at the shoulders moving to their hands, then to their hips and feet. Keep in mind just how small they are and how much you love them as you do this.

4. Repeat this a few times and move on to the tummy.

5. Very gently massage the tummy in a clockwise or downwards motion. Don’t apply any pressure, this should just be a gentle stimulation of the skin. 

6. If your baby is constipated, it might be a good idea to do a course to learn how to perform a specific massage that will offer relief.

7. Moving to the legs, gently cup the legs and pull your hands towards the feet. You can include the arms to keep baby warm.

8. Next, focus on the hands and feet. Use your fingers to gently massage each finger and toe as well as the palm and heel.

9. If your baby is comfortable lying on their tummy you can do a back massage. Again, gentle strokes down the back, over the buttocks to the feet. Do not apply any direct pressure on the spine.

10. Finally, smile, talk and sing to your baby during massage time and maintain eye contact with your baby to solidify your bond and create special memories of #massagetime!

Infant Massage Tips

Environment

Always create a calming environment in which to do the massage. This has mostly to do with temperature, but being able to be alone with your baby is also important. I recommend creating a ‘nest’ where you can use a rolled up towel, I love my DockATot for this.

Oils

Some studies have found that using oil boosts the benefits gained from the massage. For babies, natural is best. Opt for coconut oil or sesame seed oil instead of petroleum- or mineral oil-based. Babies put their hands in their mouth and you want to make sure what’s going in is edible + healthy.

Time

Make sure your baby is also in the mood for a massage. They need to be in an alert but relaxed state. This means they’re fed, rested and happy to interact.

Permission

Yes, you can ask your baby for permission. Something as simple as rubbing the oil on your hands and showing it to them will do. This will elicit either a happy reaction or a clear no. Loving touch is all about respect and we need to teach that from an early age.

The healthy development of your child goes so much farther than what they can and can’t do. It’s also about who they are and how we help them become the best versions of themselves. Infant massage through loving touch is a simple and very effective way of loving your child and promoting healthy development during infancy.

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