Babies Need Touch, Massage and Movement!

By Tara Stivers, CYC Yoga Teacher

When babies enter the world, touch is their most highly developed sense. Their vision is not fully developed, and they cannot communicate through language. Recent scientific research has verified the power of a mother’s touch: babies placed skin to skin with their mothers cry less and feed better; premature babies frequently held skin to skin with their mothers gain weight faster and are more stable.  Babies have a biological need to be held,  touched and close to their parents – for them it is a survival instinct. Unlike many other mammals that can walk within hours after birth, human babies emerge much more vulnerable. Thousands of years ago, not being near one’s parents could jeopardize a baby’s chances of survival. For babies, touch is just as important to thriving and developing (physically and emotionally) as food.

When mothers hold their babies skin to skin after birth, they instinctively “groom” them by stroking them – their arm, their chest, their cheek. This is the baby’s first massage! Massage with an infant is a form of “touch communication,” during which parents often naturally talk and sing while providing their undivided attention. Through touch, parents are saying, “You are safe and loved.” Parents practice tuning in to their baby’s cues, recognizing the difference between the baby engaging with the parent and accepting the massage, and the baby disengaging or sending signals that he has had enough stimulation and would rather be held, fed or rocked to sleep. This practice sets up life long cuing between child and parent.  The result for the baby is a sense of trust and security, which over time, leads to confidence and strong self-esteem as the child grows. If only all children could grow up with loving touch like this! And what a wonderful way for a father – who often wonders what he can do with a baby who can’t yet run and play – to bond with his child.

Infant massage is not complicated. With a few exceptions, one cannot really do it “incorrectly” (some rules for belly massage help ensure better digestion for the infant.) Practicing massage regularly with your baby can be a calming and enjoyable activity that both of you look forward to! And taking a class can be a great way to get out with a new baby and meet others who are parenting a new baby.

Babies do benefit physically from massage as well. Belly massage can help alleviate and prevent colic. Massage helps encourage sleep. It promotes good circulation. It also helps promote body awareness in the growing child.  Babies who have yet to crawl or stand often spend hours in baby seats, car seats or other devices, which don’t allow for natural body positioning; receiving massage helps open the body up, and promote relaxation and muscle development.

Baby yoga is built upon the idea that even young babies need the space to move and the physical and neural stimulation that “baby play” creates. Your baby is in a grand science experiment every day as they explore their senses, and the conscientious parent naturally participates by playing with, moving, and singing to their baby. First parents especially may be a little nervous about being “hands on” with their precious little one, and baby yoga classes teach safe, fun and age appropriate movements and songs to enhance baby’s natural proprioceptive development.  Especially today, when it is easy to park even the youngest child in a baby holder in front of a screen, educating parents about the benefits of interaction and play is a gift that lasts a lifetime!

 

Massage and child/parent closeness need not stop after infancy. Every night at bedtime, I share massage with my two older children. It looks different than the baby massage we used to share – it might be a hand massage, a back rub or a face massage. I believe it is no coincidence that during our routine my kids have asked the deepest questions, told me what really bothered them at school that day, or voiced their worries and fears. And it gives me comfort to know that even though the touch communication will look different as they grow, we will still continue to have that sense of open communication and trust as we venture into the teenage years.

 

Pamm Klieman

Pamm Klieman leads the Infant Massage class at Camarillo Yoga. This four-week class series is a great venue for support, information and community!

Learn more about our Infant Massage Classes
 

Tara Stivers

 

Tara Stivers is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and Certified Childbirth Educator, and leads the Pre-natal YogaClasses at the Camarillo Yoga Center. She still shares massage with her two children, and teaches massage to her students and clients.

 

Camarillo Yoga provides other support for expectant and new parents!

Join us for our Pre-natal Yoga classes and Infant Massage classes.