The Benefits of Baby Massage
The benefits of baby massage are so amazing, that it honestly just blows my mind how much we can help our babies develop with such a tool!
I have experienced the developmental benefits of baby massage first-hand with my son and I will explain some of those below. Here are the benefits of massaging your baby regularly:
Touch is one of the most underrated benefits to your baby’s development. Babies need and desire touch, just as much as they need and require food. This is so important for their overall well being.
Our skin is a vital sensory organ. It is the first organ developed by a baby in the womb and it is made of the same embryonic tissue as our brains. The skin is as thirsty for sensory experience as is the brain. The effect of skin contact, or the lack of it, can have profound consequences on all the systems of our bodies.
The importance of touch for babies is now well-known but this has not always been the case. In the early 19th century in America there was a high death rate in babies under the age of one raised in orphanages. This caused concern, especially as the babies were being provided with food, warmth and shelter. What the babies lacked however, was skin contact, or touch from their carers. The babies were only handled when absolutely necessary. The lack of touch and skin stimulation led to their nervous systems not developing properly and the babies became depressed, withdrawn and eventually died.
The simple fact that you hold, touch and massage your baby gives them a sense of safeness. Bonding can take time, however baby massage plays an important part in beginning, enhancing and continuing the bonding process. Many studies have been conducted on the way that parents and babies bond and a number of key factors have been identified in the process.
Establishing a good bond between a carer and baby is so important and baby massage is a really effective technique to enhance that. Bonding is super important for the mother to feel connected to their own baby and in return being able to meet the baby’s needs.
Mother and baby bonding will help make the baby feel safe and secure, so they feel like they can trust their mother. It is like a safe net for both mum and baby really.
Baby massage can help create the feeling of attachment between you and your baby. Massaging your baby every day shows them that you are the one they can trust. This will, in turn, create a bond and attachment between you and your baby.
Minimising Post Natal Depression
Bonding with baby is super important for the mother to heal after birth. Lack of bonding is thought to be one factor involved in post natal depression in new mothers. When becoming a new mother it can be such a hard journey, always second guessing yourself that you are doing everything correctly.
So bonding with your newborn can make you feel confident in what you are doing with your baby and help your mental health. If mothers feel like they are not bonding with their baby, this can have huge affect on the mother’s mental health.
Making eye contact with your baby whilst massaging them is very beneficial and important. Eye contact helps mama and baby to recognise each other and aids in communication.
Massage is very important for aiding relaxation and reducing stress both for the parent and the baby. Our bodies naturally produce a group of hormones which help us to quickly raise blood pressure, increase heart rate and prepare muscles for movement when the body is under threat.
When you massage a baby, the baby’s body produces a hormone called oxytocin which belongs to a group of “feel good hormones“. These hormones help to lower the levels of stress hormones in the body and therefore help to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and improve appetite.
Stimulation and Development
This is my favourite benefit of massage and one of the reasons why I want to help as many babies as I can.
The development of the brain through massage is absolutely phenomenal. It can help the myelination process grow as massage is stimulating your baby to discover their senses.
Myelination is the process of coating the axon of each neuron with a fatty coating called myelin, which protects the neuron and helps it conduct signals more efficiently. So massaging your baby can help build those signals to deliver messages more effectively and at a greater speed.
The most active parts of the brain at birth are the sensory motor cortex, the thalamus, the brainstem and the cerebellum. The cortex of the brain is not yet able to function and therefore babies are not capable of complex thinking. This part of the brain develops as myelination of the nerves occurs over time.
Studies have shown that in some cases where babies and children have been deprived of sensory input through the nervous system due to lack of tactile stimulation and human interaction, areas of brain development can be prevented which can result in behavioural/social/emotional problems later in life.
A recent study on the effect of maternal contact during infancy suggests that the brain cells of a baby not exposed to maternal touch can degenerate and die as a result of such deprivation thus impeding the development of the infant.
I can personally vouch for this amazing research on baby development through massage with my son. My son had a very traumatic birth and was also born 5 weeks prematurely. He was born with no heart rate, no oxygen and no blood. He was resuscitated and then he had seizures immediately.
In the very first week of his life, he was in the incubator as we were trying to save his life. He was not held or cuddled AT ALL for the first few days of his life. And on day 5, he had an MRI of brain which showed brain damage. He was in hospital for a month at the start.
Then he had another MRI at 6 weeks old which showed some white matter in which they did not know what it was and the myelination on his brain had not developed at all. It was the same as when he was first born. But myelination should be growing and developing day by day.
I still remember that day like it was yesterday.
An entire group of specialists in a room telling me they did not know what exactly was wrong. They had numerous ideas and one of them was he had a degenerative disease, in which the brain was building the myelination but then breaking it down back to zero.
When I asked for help with therapies at the hospital, no one would help me.
They just kept saying, let him rest and be a baby. But deep within me, I knew there needed to be more done. So I started to use massage and movement every day for just 10 minutes.
I wanted to stimulate his senses to try and help his development. 6 weeks later he had another MRI of the brain and the white matter had now disappeared and his brain had developed to where it should be. The brain injury from birth is still there, as we can not undo that damage and he still has many issues.
But helping with the process of building the myelination, I know, came from stimulating his senses from massage, movement and touch. Also I believe that no longer being in an incubator and being held, touched and loved helped so much as well.
The power of touch is amazing…. I have lived through it with my son and the changes it made to my sons brain- blows me away.
I can never take away or cure the brain damage that he suffered during birth. But this has helped in so many ways. Not only for him but for me. To see that i have been a change to my son’s life has honestly helped me along my own healing from trauma journey.
There are so many reasons why massaging your baby is beneficial! I highly recommend that you do it daily with your baby.
If you would like some help, I offer a Baby Massage Session where as well as massaging baby, I also show parent’s how to do it.
I also have Holistic Baby Massage Workshops! These are a fun, interactive four week courses for mum and baby. These have very limited places, so sign up to my newsletter to find out the details of the next course.
Jess Ngaheu, Maternal Bodywork Specialist