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When a baby or a child cries, or if a friend or loved one is upset, there's no greater comfort than a hug.
Touch is a powerful therapeutic tool that we all have at our fingertips - literally. Massage therapist and baby massage expert, Justina Perry explains why skin-to-skin touch has a range of benefits that go beyond simply pacifying a baby or little one when they are sad.
Because the skin is the first organ to develop, a baby's most powerful sense, even when in the womb is touch. Massaging your baby from when they are young has a number of long-term physiological and emotional benefits. Regular massage can help build a baby's immune system, boost his or her respiratory system, stimulate the circulatory system and balance the baby's nervous system.
When we massage our infants, we also help release the hormone oxytocin in the baby, which regulates the cortisol or stress levels. In other words baby massage can help relax a tiny one, reducing periods of crying and so aid sleep - welcome news for any new parent. One of the other advantages of baby massage is that it also helps strengthen the digestive system, so relieving common newborn ailments and discomfort such as wind or constipation.
Besides developing your baby's essential body systems, massaging your baby can also help him or her grow. When we massage our babies, a signal is sent to the pituitary gland in the baby's brain. This in turn releases HGH, the human growth hormone, which encourages a baby to grow and thrive. In hospitals it is now common practice to encourage parents of premature babies to touch and stroke their babies as often and as much a possible. Scientific studies have shown that premature infants who are stroked or massaged on a daily basis for three fifteen-minute periods a day for ten consecutive days, increased their weight by 50% more than those who were not massaged.
Another important benefit for new mums is that baby massage can help with breastfeeding. As well as producing 'happy' hormones, baby massage also stimulates the hormone prolactin in mothers, which helps with lactation.
The good news is that baby massage is not just great for mums. An Australian study of infant massage and father-baby bonding, found that at 12 weeks old, babies who were massaged by their dad greeted their fathers with more eye contact, more smiling, more vocal expression and responsive touch than those who were not massaged by their dad. The dads also reported that they felt closer and more involved with their baby.
Once a baby has grown accustomed to regular massage, one of the added joys is that it doesn't need to stop when they get older. Admittedly it becomes a bit more of a challenge when a baby starts to crawl as keeping the little wriggler still will be tricky. However, toddlers and older children are big fans of massage and there is absolutely no reason why you cannot integrate a lovely massage after their evening splish-splash for many years to come!
© Justina Perry
Justina Perry holds a distinction in the International Therapist's Executive Council qualification for anatomy, physiology and massage and is a Guild of Infant and Child Massage instructor for baby massage and baby yoga. Her company MamaBabyBliss specialises in treatments, services and natural skincare dedicated to the wellbeing of mothers, babies and mother- to-be. Please visit www.mamababybliss.com for further information.
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