Are massaged babies really happier?

My mom told me that it would be great for me to take a baby massage class with my new baby. She said she read recent studies saying it could help my baby sleep better and be happier and more alert when she is awake. Is regular massage really good for my baby, and if so, why?


Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

The first year of life forms the foundation of trust and security for your child's future. Being held, caressed and cuddled are part of providing a loving environment during this initial and critical period of bonding. Cross-cultural studies show that babies that are held, rocked, breastfed and carried grow into adults that are more compassionate and less aggressively violent. So, of course, massaging your baby, when attuned to your baby's responses, is likely to promote a loving and positive experience.

Your baby can also benefit from the interactive nature of your massage. This can further enhance the bond between parent and child. Mothers who suffer from postpartum depression improve when baby massage is incorporated into their daily routine. Teenage mothers attention to their babies increased when infant massage was introduced into the mother-baby relationship, but the benefits do not stop there! Premature infants and children with such disorders as asthma and diabetes have also shown improvement with infant massage.

Benefits to you and you baby include:

  • Special time, focused on just you and your baby
  • Relaxing, pleasurable interaction between mother and child
  • Help with stress (or guilt) of being separated from your baby during the day
  • Learning your baby's nonverbal cues

Other benefits are the promise of sounder sleep patterns, relief from gas and colic and decrease in stress hormones for your infant. 

Clearly, infant massage offers a framework for pleasurable interaction with your baby. If it is mutually rewarding, it not only encourages your child's development but also solidifies your bond. Dads, too, would do well to establish an activity such as this to better know and enjoy their babies.

Keep in mind that it is the intent that you carry into any activity that gets communicated to your child. Any activity that promotes holding and caressing, such as breastfeeding and carrying your baby in your arms, are also correlated with positive mother-infant bonding.

The fact is -- babies need touching! It is not a luxury or just a good idea. It is essential to their health and well-being. (There was a study from an orphanage during World War II that described how babies who were not touched and picked up died from lack of adequate holding!) Touch stimulates your newborn's physical as well as emotional health and may indeed be necessary to stimulate the release of certain neurohormones and chemicals that promote health and a healthier immune system. The lack of enough touch leaves children understimulated in their development in ways we may not even yet fully understand.

So, by all means attend an infant massage class, if you wish and enjoy your baby! Do not forget that babies can also be overstimulated, so take your cues from your infant and learn what kind of touch she likes and when she has had enough and just wants to be held or quietly cuddled.

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