Find a time when your baby is “quiet-alert,” and you can devote twenty minutes or so to a massage. Think of massage not as another “to-do,” but as a special time to relax and connect with your baby. If you go to work, or plan to, your massage time may be in the evening; if you can make the time in the early morning, so much the better. Both you and baby will be rested (hopefully!) and ready. Find a place that can be warm and quiet. Ideally, sit on the floor cross-legged, your behind propped on a blanket or pillow. Spread out a soft blanket for your baby, have some oil on hand (massage oil or even the vegetable oil with which you cook); also, have an extra diaper on hand. Take several deep, relaxing breaths as you prepare for the massage. Remove baby’s clothing; if your baby is a boy, lay a cloth over his genitals to prevent “accidents.” Begin by having a quarter-size amount of oil in your hand; rub your hands together vigorously in front of your baby. This will become a cue that you are about to begin a massage. Show your hands to your baby, saying something like, “May I massage you now?” Start with legs and feet, move to the tummy and chest, then arms and face. Turn your baby over horizontally in front of you to massage her back.You may want to start small, just massaging the legs and feet for the first week, then adding as your baby becomes accustomed to being massaged. Talk or sing to your baby, making as much eye contact as you can. As you go, gently shake your baby’s legs, arms, etc., saying “Reee-laaax.” Smile and give your baby positive feedback when you feel her relax.
After more than forty years of intensive research, we know that, as with fruit, neglect rather than attention “spoils” a child. Both for babies and parents, the benefits of infant massage are more far-reaching than they may at first seem. For an infant, massage is much more than a luxurious, sensual experience or a type of physical therapy. It is a tool for maintaining a child’s health and well-being on many levels. It helps parents feel secure in their ability to do something positive for — and get a response from — this squealing bit of newborn humanity suddenly and urgently put in their care.
I won’t go through all the instructions for massage here; they are covered in my book, Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents (Random House/Bantam). There are important reasons for the way the massage strokes are done and the order in which you do them. Don’t be discouraged if your baby doesn’t respond right away the way you imagined; it is a new thing, and often at first, it can be a little stressful. Keep yourself relaxed, talk to your baby, and massage firmly with confidence.
Fathers who make the effort to bond with their infants by giving the mother loving massages during pregnancy, talking to the baby, feeling its movements in their partner’s belly, attending classes and reading up on infant development and psychology, tend to be more attentive and accomplished parents. By regularly massaging their babies, they have the bonding time they need.
In the beginning, proceed gently, massaging only the legs and feet. You may have a sense of being too strong or too inexpert to massage your baby, your hands too big or rough. Nearly everyone is a little clumsy and nervous in the beginning. Start by gently placing your hands over your baby’s tummy and chest, feeling relaxation and love flow through your hands to your baby. Breathe deeply and relax; make eye contact with your baby and talk or sing. You need not even move your hands in the beginning; just feel the connection between the two of you, and concentrate on relaxing your body and letting your love go to him. When that feels comfortable, you can begin a simple stroking of the legs and feet, stopping now and then to just hold and relax. Remember to make all your movements very smooth and slow, almost like slow motion.
A new baby is a fascinating, fearful creature to her older brother or sister. Hovered over and protected by adults, she seems an unapproachable, somehow dangerous little thing. It usually takes quite a bit longer for a child to fully bond with a new sibling. His first task is to understand that the baby is “here,” that mother is all right, that he is still loved as much as before, and that life goes on.
Life is even more complicated as children come along. It may be hard to imagine when you can carve out the time to massage a new baby, especially if you still massage your first. Know that it is just as important now as with your first; you can find a time to relax and connect with your newborn. As you massage your new baby every day, your older child will occasionally observe. He may remember being massaged (in fact, he may want to be massaged too!) and identify with the baby. They share an experience and have something in common.
If you give your child the opportunity to massage the baby occasionally (only if he wants to, of course) he will benefit by it in many ways, as will the baby. The older child will bond with the baby in the same ways that you do — eye contact, touch, and sound. He will learn that the baby is not necessarily so dangerous and fragile but a person like himself. His confidence will bloom as he realizes his own competence as a caregiver and protector. The baby will respond to him, overcoming her initial fear of his sometimes clumsy or rough handling, or startling behavior. She will begin to relate to him as a loving peer and ally.
Usually three or four months of age is about the right time for your older child to massage the baby; she has passed the stage of fragility when she is easily startled. Don’t worry about the techniques or whether your child uses oil. You can show him a couple of simple things (like the Open Book stroke on the chest or the Scooping stroke on the tummy). He will at first be hesitant and may need your encouragement to touch the baby. He might stroke her only a couple of times. But even the smallest amount of contact will be very beneficial. Be sure to express your pleasure and pride; let him know that he did a good job and that his massage is valuable to the baby.
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