You probably love to stroke your baby, and chances are he enjoys it every bit as much as you do. While these caress-es help you bond and make your infant feel secure, a true massage can do so much more.
"You'll stimulate your child's circulatory, respiratory, and digestive systems, helping them function better," explains Wendy Dubin, an infant-massage instructor and the director of the Relaxation Center, in Kingston, Massachusetts. And, as you know if you've ever been fortunate enough to have someone give you a massage, it's a very relaxing experience. Learn how to rub your baby the right way with our easy plan -- it's fast, fun, and foolproof.
Massage instructors like Dubin aren't the only ones who swear by the health benefits of touch therapy. Scientists at the Touch Research Institutes, in Florida, France, and the Philippines, have found that preemies gain weight faster and sleep better with massage. They've also discovered that infants in intensive care who receive massages startle less easily and need less breathing assistance than those who don't. Healthy babies get a boost too: Four-month-olds are more focused and attentive after a brief leg rub, says Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
So why don't more parents massage their babies? "People view massage as a remedy for stress," says Dubin, "and they think that babies don't have any!" They're wrong. "Babies are feeling sensations like hunger and fatigue for the first time. They need help releasing their built-up stress," she says.
Luckily, it's never too late to learn how to give a great baby massage. All you need are ten minutes, some baby oil, and this simple routine.
Make the setting as relaxing as possible. The room temperature should be cozy -- at least 75°F. Sit on your bed with pillows propping you up. Spread your legs and put your baby between them, then strip him down to his diaper. Tuck a small pillow under his head and upper back.
Before you begin, set the stage for close contact by doing a brief "containment hold": Place your hands gently on either side of your baby's head, and take three deep breaths. Stroke your hands down the sides of your child's face, then continue down the sides of his body to his feet.
Rub several drops of baby oil between your hands, then repeat each of the following steps two to six times, making sure that your hands remain well oiled.
1. Milking. Hold one of your baby's thighs in both hands and make firm, deep strokes down both sides of her leg to the ankle, as though milking a cow. Once you reach her feet, use your thumbs to stroke up the arch to her toes. Give each toe a little squeeze. Repeat on the other leg.
Next, "milk" one of your baby's arms down to the wrist. If her hand is in a fist, gently stroke it to open it. Then run your thumb across her palm toward her fingers, and lightly roll each one between your own fingers. Repeat on the other arm.
2. Rolling the rope. Gently "roll" one of your baby's legs from side to side with your hands, as if you were rolling out a rope of dough. Work your way from thigh to ankle. Repeat on the other leg, then roll each arm from shoulder to wrist.
3. The back stroke. Lay your baby facedown across your lap with his head pointing to your left. (If he doesn't like being on his belly, try this move and Step 4 only once each, lengthening your sessions each day.) If you wish, remove his diaper and put a waterproof pad beneath him. Starting at his neck, stroke your hands back and forth across his back, moving them slowly down to his behind.
4. The clean sweep. Anchor your right hand on your baby's bottom, then slowly sweep your left hand from his neck to his behind until your hands meet. Next, move your right hand to your baby's feet, and sweep your left hand down your baby's behind and the backs of his legs to meet it.
Try to massage your baby daily so that it becomes a ritual. Find a time when he's quiet but alert, says Dr. Field, or do it just before bedtime. Either way, you'll be giving your child a helping hand.
1. Water wheel. Make hand-over-hand strokes with the pads of your fingers, as though you were doing a gentle doggie paddle, from the bottom of his rib cage to his lower abdomen. Repeat six times.
2. Bend and bounce. Gently push your baby's knees up to his tummy. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then straighten his legs and lightly bounce them. Repeat the whole routine three times. (This stimulates his colon and gets gas moving.)
3. The sun and the moon. Trace a circle ("sun") clockwise on your baby's tummy with your left hand. With your right hand, periodically make half-moons along your baby's left side. (This directs air from his tummy to his colon, then out.) Walk your fingers across your baby's belly from his right to left side. Gently push his legs back into his tummy, and hold for another 10 seconds. Then release and march your fingers across his tummy one more time.