Fathers are getting more and more involved in family life. Right from the start; they are present and supportive throughout pregnancy and at the birth of their babies, they are changing nappies and carrying their babies in slings… but it’s not all plain sailing.
Your first baby totally changes everything – the shift from being a couple to becoming a small family can lead to new fathers feeling excluded by the close bond they see developing between mother and new baby, especially through breastfeeding.
“I wish I could do that,” I can remember my husband Martin saying as he watched me breastfeeding our first baby, Billie. “So do I,” I thought, “especially at 2.30 in the morning!”. He really meant it though… he wanted to feel as close to our new daughter as I looked. Baby massage offers men a chance to feel included in the intimacy of a new relationship with their baby; Martin massaged both our babies and the bond he struck up has lasted through the years. It also gave me a break before the last feed of the day. Sometimes I’d just sit and watch him massaging our babies and it relaxed me too.
Baby massage promotes the same “quiet alert” state in babies as breastfeeding, and of course there is the same eye to eye contact and much more skin to skin contact. It is a time when your baby can see you, feel you and smell you, offering wonderfully positive, safe, sensory stimulation in their new world.
All the benefits of baby massage are well documented. Regular massage can stimulate your baby’s undeveloped circulatory, nervous and immune systems, and can benefit heart rate, breathing and digestion. As well as this it encourages elasticity of muscles, helps your baby to relax and can lead to improved sleep patterns.
It is not only the babies, but the fathers too who are benefiting from this early contact. These fathers establish a warm, positive relationship that continues as the child grows, but they may also experience increased self-esteem and confidence as new parents due to the increased involvement with their newborns. Babies who are massaged by their Dads for 3 months have been seen to reward their fathers with more eye contact, smiling, vocalizing and reaching responses. A baby’s first language of communication is touch, so massage is a wonderful way of establishing trust and helping to build the warmth of your relationship.
BABY MASSAGE CLASSES IN TOTNES Mondays 1-2.15pm Dads welcome.
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WHAT OIL TO USE
Keep it simple when your baby is very young – use a plain, organic cold pressed oil such as organic sunflower oil (which is really nourishing and also said to be a close match to the Ph of your baby’s skin).
Your baby is making sense of their word through touch and smell, so the smell of you is really important.
WHEN NOT TO MASSAGE
Massage is very safe, but there are times when it would be uncomfortable for your baby to receive massage :
- The massage should ideally be between feeds, when your baby is not too full, nor hungry.
- Never massage against your baby’s will. If your baby starts to cry, stop the massage, pick them up and comfort them, then when your baby is relaxed and happy again, continue the massage where you left off, or wait until the next day.
- If your baby has a fever or seems unwell.
- Do not massage directly over skin that has sores, cuts, burns, inflammation or infectious rashes. If you are in any doubt, consult your GP or health visitor.
Massaging your baby will probably come naturally, but these are some guidelines to help you along your way. You can massage your baby anytime, but many parents like to massage in the evening, after bath time and before bedtime as part of their baby’s routine.
Although some babies respond well to massage straight away, others may take a little longer to get used to it—usually 3 or 4 sessions at the most. Don’t give up! It is well worth persevering. Whilst your baby may enjoy this whole routine once they are used to massage, a few strokes will be enough at first. See what they like best, and build up slowly. Always respect your baby’s likes and dislikes.
PREPARING A SPACE FOR MASSAGE
Before you begin massage make sure:
- the room is very warm with no draughts
- the lighting is soft
- you have prepared a comfortable surface, such as a folded blanket covered by a towel on the floor (keep one towel especially for massage) for the baby to lie on
- you are comfortable. Sitting on the floor with your legs apart is a good position to try or legs together with your baby on your lap if he/she is very young
- your hands are warm and clean, free from jewellery and scratchy nails
Never massage your baby if they are not in the mood for it Sometimes, your baby might be too tired for a massage, or just need a bit of space. Make sure your baby is in the mood for massage each time you massage them – If you always start in the same way, such as:
- lying them on their back on a towel
- removing their clothes
- taking some oil and warming it between your hands
- showing him/her your hands and saying or singing “it’s massage time!”.
Your baby will soon begin to recognise these cues and be able to let you know whether they are in the mood for massage or not.
HOW TO MASSAGE
Massage is a natural, instinctive expression of love and friendship. Massaging your baby is simple – use relaxed hands and stroke slowly & gently. Stop if they are not enjoying it.
Baby Massage is about interaction and fun! Both you and your baby should enjoy it. Introduce games and singing and try to keep eye contact as much as possible. You can play music if you like, but your baby will enjoy the sound of your voice just as much – you’ll find they will join in – singing and cooing with you.
Your babies legs and feet are a good place to start the massage, as this is a non-invasive part of the body, and you can keep good eye contact and make sure your baby is enjoying the session and see when they have had enough:
Warm some oil in your hands. Take one leg and give it a gentle shake.With one hand holding the ankle, use the other to glide up the front and down the back of the leg.Then gently stroke the whole leg again, hand over hand from hip to foot.
By massaging the feet, we relax the whole body. This is a massage that you can perform almost anywhere, without having to remove your baby’s clothing, to relax and calm your baby.Using your thumbs, massage the sole of the foot with little circles. Be firm so it does not tickle.
Play with and pull on each toe gently between your forefinger and thumb. Play “This Little Piggy”. You are helping your baby become more aware of each toe – improving fine motor skills.Massage the top of the foot and around the ankle with your fingers
Hold both ankles and send a gentle ripple through the body – make it fun!
Keep taking more oil as necessary
If your baby has just been fed, it will be better to leave out this part of the massage until next time.Use the weight of your RELAXED hand to stroke in big clockwise circles around the tummy. Start very lightly, and increase the pressure slightly as your baby’s tummy relaxes.
WIND & COLIC
Hold your baby’s ankles or lower legs, and gently allow their legs to bend so that their knees move towards their chest. This can relieve wind. Be very sensitive to your baby’s responses. Also, keep a nappy handy!and keep it fun.
CHEST AND ARMS
Using both hands, start in the middle of the chest and gently glide out and over the shoulders and back round to the chest.Now slide over the shoulders and down both arms. You could play “this little piggy” with the fingers.Stroke down the whole body with both hands. Don’t forget to keep eye contact,
Open and cross their arms across the chest—this will relax the shoulders (do not force them) and can be fun.
When a baby lies on their tummy, this gently stretches their abdomen, so can be helpful relieving wind and colicky pain. It will also begin to strengthen the back and neck muscles.Take some more oil between your palms, and stroke down the back, hand over hand. NO PRESSURE ON THE SPINE. Continue the strokes down the legs if you like.
Use a circular movement with your fingertips all over the back and buttocks.Finish by stroking slowly down the whole back of your baby’s body—from neck to feet using both hands—3 or 4 times.
Massaging the scalp with your fingertips is very relaxing – if your baby has cradle cap, use quite a bit of oil and leave it in.
Adapt all massage strokes to your baby – if they want to sit or turn over – go with the flow – it will help keep it fun.
After the massage, dress your baby slowly.
They may well be ready for a feed and bedtime
Massage can easily become part of a really enjoyable regular bedtime routine: Bathe your baby first, then give them a massage and put them to bed in a happy, relaxed state. But don’t be restricted by this – the important thing is to massage your baby when they are in the mood for it – it could be something you do when changing their nappy, for example.
Wherever you live in the UK, you should be able to find a baby massage class. Like many other Baby Massage Instructors, I really welcome fathers into my groups, but it is still usually mothers who bring their babies along. Work commitments may mean that Fathers find it hard to come along to classes, but this does not mean that baby massage should be the domain of mothers alone – a father can easily introduce massage at home. It is a wonderful way of winding down after a day at work, and also gives the mother a very welcome and positive break.
When we think of the bare necessities of life, touch doesn’t usually figure very high up on the list. We’re more likely to list things like food and water, yet touch and affection can be just as important. No infant can thrive fully without positive touch.
By massaging their babies, fathers are setting a blueprint of positive touch for life.