Touch has been proven time and time again to be beneficial to our health and well being – from decreasing blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones (cortisol); touch has also been shown to increase love hormones (oxytocin) and establish stronger feelings of connection. This is especially true for babies – with touch being the first sense that we develop – the power of touch in establishing the parent-infant bond is huge! However, as well as assisting to establish a strong connection between parents and infants, baby massage has been proven to have a great deal of other benefits, many of which I have also personally experienced.
I graduated university as an Occupational Therapist in 2010 and was lucky enough to get a job in my hometown of Port Lincoln, at Community Health. This was a fantastic opportunity that allowed me to gain experience in many of the different fields that Occupational Therapy covers; however I was drawn to paediatrics and was working predominately in this area before having my first baby in late 2014. I thought I was pretty lucky and that my knowledge of working with babies and children would give me a good head start in entering this new world of motherhood…. however after my little bundle arrived – I realised I would need a lot more tools in my toolbox to survive! Long story short, I had an extremely unsettled baby – who slept a little, and cried a lot! It was during my late night googling attempts of trying to find new ideas to try to settle him, I began reading more about baby massage and the wide array of benefits it can have for both parent and baby. As well as this I was intrigued with how well baby massage and touch therapy ties in with Occupational Therapy, and I could see how beneficial aspects of touch and massage would be to my previous clients (predominately 2-4year olds). Fast forward a few years and I have completed my National Accreditation in Baby Massage through ‘Baby In Mind’ and I am running classes from the Port Lincoln School of Yoga; as well as this I have just returned to Community Health from maternity leave following my second child… who needless to say, has had a lot of massages!!
There is so much research being done into baby massage and to the many different benefits that can come from it, however the benefits that I have personally experienced or seen the most with the families that I have worked with include:
– Increasing parent confidence
– Significantly improving gastrointestinal function – especially for those poor babies (and their parents) who constantly suffer with gas, constipation, reflux, colic
– The 2 big ones we all want…. promoting sleep (including sleeping deeper and more soundly) and reducing fussiness/crying
– Encouraging early communication – both with helping to read our babies cues, and being conscious of the cues we are giving them
– Establishing strong parent-baby bonds and attachment, and
– Relaxing both the parent and baby – just to name a few
However the other side of the touch and massage which does not receive as much attention, is massage for the growing child; or touch therapy for children with additional needs. This is an area that I find especially exciting – and have found that all of the strokes can be adapted for the different age/preferences/needs of these groups; and that just by making some small changes (e.g. incorporating songs/actions, using toys, changing positions, sensory considerations) – massage and touch therapy can be used for all children, no matter their age or journey. Some of the benefits that may be more relevant to older children, or those with additional needs include:
– Encouraging neurological development and midline awareness, as well as improving body awareness and coordination
– Reducing hypersensitivity to touch
– Improving joint range and helping to lengthen muscle tissues (which can help with gross motor milestones and to normalise muscle tone)
– Creating a safe space for verbal communication and increasing understanding of non-verbal communication, and
– Assisting to promote self-regulation through learnt relaxation