The postpartum period is a time of monumental transitions. It is an adjustment period for both baby and parents to become integrated into the new rhythms of life as a family. Some even refer to the first few months postpartum as “the fourth trimester,” when mom and baby experience physical, emotional, and hormonal shifts.
Many cultures observe the first 40 days postpartum as a sacred time for mom and baby. Taking the time to relax and bond together encourages long-term health and wellness. Traditions vary, but the amazing art of infant massage stands the test of time with modern science proving its many benefits. Touch, after all, is the first language communicated between mother and baby.
Documented benefits of infant massage include:
-Improved weight gain, as it improves nutrient absorption
-Improved neurological development
-Lower stress hormones
-Improved immune function
Think about the concept of rhythm, ritual, and repetition that we learn during preparation for childbirth. These three things can be beneficial when applied to newborn care as well, when used in a nurturing way, nourishing the nervous system, keeping baby grounded during times of stress, and building trust. Listening to the rhythmic “swish” of the oil warming in mom’s hands can, over time, almost immediately relax baby. Making a ritual of massage by dimming the lights in a warm room after bath time, or whenever works best for your family, is reassuring to baby. The repetition, over time, can even further increase the benefits.
Babies actually carry a lot of tension in their tiny, growing bodies. Massage and gentle, yoga-like movements help them to release some of this tension, increasing digestion, and improving sleep. It can be incredibly healing for premature babies, those suffering from colic, and those with special needs. The best part is, it’s easy, and really, the only extra cost is a quality, organic oil to use. A little goes a long way, and for a small baby, one bottle can last a long time.
What you need:
-Mild, organic food-quality oil like safflower, sesame, or coconut for warmer climates. Ayurvedic wisdom tells us that massaging baby with oil is extremely nourishing to new babies, and helps them transition into our big world. As it is absorbed through the skin and enters the blood stream, use the best quality oil you can find, never mineral oil that is often marketed as “baby oil”.
-Towels to nestle baby into while massaging to help them feel secure and warm. This also protects floors or sheets from any “accidents”.
-Warm, comfortable space. Turn off the television, keep any music soft and soothing, and lower the lights. Touch can be very stimulating to baby, so all other distractions kept to a minimum help baby enjoy her massage without being overstimulated.
-Extra diaper and wipes nearby, as well as clothes or a sleeper to dress baby afterwards.
What to do:
-Calm yourself first. Take a few moments to breathe deeply and relax any tension in your own body first.
-Ask permission. Of course, your baby is not going to give you a verbal yes or no, but asking their permission before massage teaches a powerful lesson of respect for their bodies beginning in their first days.
-Start with legs and feet. Young babies explore their world through tiny kicks, and establishing the connection here first, helps them feel secure.
-Establish eye contact and a relaxed face. This is very important for neurological development.
-Don’t get discouraged. Sometimes, especially initially, babies will fuss or kick through their massage. Sometimes this is because they are actively relieving tension, but sometimes they can become tired or overstimulated. You can always stop and try again tomorrow.
-Give firm pressure, but be gentle. Light, “tickly” touches can be irritating to baby. Gentle, firm pressure is reassuring.
-Avoid head, but do stroke face and ears.
-Consult a trusted resource. Some areas have trained baby massage teachers, but there are also some wonderful books on the subject. “Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents” by Vimala McClure, and “Yoga Mama, Yoga Baby” by Margo Shapiro Bachman are a couple of my favorites.
Contributor Haley Sonnigsen, Childbirth Educator, Prenatal Yoga Teacher, and RYT-200 is dedicated to preserving woman’s right to a healthy and empowering birthing experience based on her innate ability to give birth. Every woman deserves to have a loving, nurturing, and supported birth environment based on her own needs and desires. Haley weaves ancient, yogic traditions with modern, scientific evidence to ensure
each woman is supported with both tools and practical information to support her in motherhood.
“Because women have always been the guardians of life’s wholesome practices, when we strengthen our health and spiritual power, we also strengthen the health and wisdom of the men, children, and communities around us.” –Bri. Maya Tiwari
Teaching: All Levels, Prenatal, and Mommy and Me Yoga.