The Therapeutic Benefits of Massage for Babies and Infants
The therapeutic benefits of massage for babies and infants include deeper sleep, development and regulation of the gastrointestinal tract and improved circulation of blood and lymphatic fluid. Massage encourages the child’s breathing to become fuller and deeper. It promotes a faster weight gain because the massage will increase appetite and feeding.
Massage creates stimulation to the infant’s body. Tiny receptors lie beneath the surface of the skin, gathering information about the outside world of the child’s body. This information sends messages through an intricate network of nerves to the brain. At birth 100 billion neurones are present in the brain. These neurones are connected as the baby experiences the world through sensory stimulation. Skin stimulation speeds up the process of myelination of the brain and nervous system, thus improving brain-body communication and enhances neural cell firing.
Psychological and Developmental Benefits
Massage is important for the baby’s mental and physical development as well as their self esteem. Infants who are massaged regularly are more alert and sociable when awake. They tend to do more “vocalising” or “baby chatting.” As they grow they tend to be more relaxed and open with healthy touch/hugging, cuddling and holding hands.
Newborn babies can feel soft and firm, rough and smooth, hot and cold sensations. The most sensitive areas for a newborn are the face, lower back, palms and soles of the feet. Massaging these areas stimulates the neural pathways (brain development) as well as growing the bond between parent and child.
Babies can suffer from stress of loud noises, bright lights and discomforting environmental hazards. Slightly older children, on the other hand, are acutely sensitive and aware of any changes in their day to day living. Any change, either moving home, mum returning to work or the altering of family dynamics such as a new sibling can increase their stress levels. Massage helps the child learn how to turn off the effects of “stress” hormones and increase the level of “feel good” hormones known as endorphins. Learning to decrease the effects of stress, benefits that individual throughout their life. Stress is a known hazard for erosion of memory, decreased stress can also prevent memory loss as an adult.
Benefits Derived through Infant Massage to a mother who may be suffering with Post Natal Depression.
Research carried out from the Imperial College London, Faculty of Medicine noted the positive effect infant massage has to mothers suffering with post natal depression. Their study involved two groups of women suffering with postnatal depression. One group received instruction on Infant massage, the other women were involved in a support group.
At the end of the trial sessions, the group of mothers involved with massage showed less signs of depression and more interaction with their infant, compared with the ones in the support group.
One of the theories was that during the skin to skin contact the mother released endorphins, which help to alleviate the depressive feelings she has been suffering.
Infants are very receptive to how their parent(s) may be feeling. If massage relaxes the parent, this will have a direct effect on the child and ease their anxieties and worries. In turn massage enhances the parent’s confidence and competence by having a skill they can use on a daily basis. It empowers the parent and helps them deal with an unwell or fractious child.
The nurturing instinct helps to stimulate the hormone Oxytocin, which promotes lactation in breast feeding. Which yet again is another area which at times when milk production is poor can cause great anxiety and disappointment.