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  • INFANT MASSAGE: Rubbing baby the right way

  • Touch is one of the first senses to develop in the womb and is a primary way to communicate with our babies from before birth and beyond. Communication, motor skills, socialization, self-help and cognitive awareness are all influenced and nurtured through touch. "For a baby, there is nothing indulgent about touch. It is as ne...
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    • TINY FINGERS, TINY TOES
      When beginning infant massage with your baby, it's important for both baby and parent to be relaxed and comfortable. "In the beginning we used a towel or blanket to swaddle Mallory and just took ou...
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      TINY FINGERS, TINY TOES
      When beginning infant massage with your baby, it's important for both baby and parent to be relaxed and comfortable. "In the beginning we used a towel or blanket to swaddle Mallory and just took out a limb at a time to work on. Now that she is bigger and used to the massage, she just lays on the bed in her diaper on top of the towel," says massage therapist and mother Elaine Mencas.

      Those tiny fingers and toes are an easy place to begin a massage. Open the baby's hand with one hand and gently stroke the palm and top of the hand with your thumb. Very softly roll each of baby's fingers between your index finger and thumb.

      On baby's feet, use your thumb and forefinger to stroke from toe to heel along the sole of the foot and toe to ankle on top of each foot.

      "Moderate pressure is required for full benefits," advises Mencas. "Light stroking is a tickle sensation and will not lead to relaxation. There are no broad strokes with a baby. It is all very delicate and precise. Let the baby give you feedback on your pressure."
  • Touch is one of the first senses to develop in the womb and is a primary way to communicate with our babies from before birth and beyond. Communication, motor skills, socialization, self-help and cognitive awareness are all influenced and nurtured through touch. "For a baby, there is nothing indulgent about touch. It is as necessary to their well-being as air," says Elaine Mencas, licensed massage therapist and mother to 11-month-old Mallory. So what better way to encourage their development than through massage.
    "Evidence keeps pouring in to show us that loving, nurturing touch between baby and parent is essential to our baby's development in all ways," says JoAnn Lewis Melin, licensed massage therapist and trainer with the International Association of Infant Massage. "It's a method of communication."
    One benefit both Mencas and Lewis Melin see is the opportunity massage provides for parents to get to know their baby and learn the "cues" they will offer. "The most important thing is to not force the massage and to look for cues if the baby is willing or not. Is the baby smiling, cooing, relaxed and still? Or is the baby fussy, moving away from you, tense and does not make eye contact?" prompts Mencas. Massage, reminds Lewis Melin, is not meant to put babies to sleep or to solve fussy time but it is a way to communicate between parent and child. Infant massage will provide the best benefit when Baby is in a "quiet alert state," advises Lewis Melin.
    And Baby is not the only one to benefit. Lewis Melin, who teaches infant massage classes through the Ashland Community Hospital and the Phoenix Spa, has found that massage is a bonding technique that builds strong families, a benefit that Mencas has experienced first hand. "I am surprised at how much I benefit from being the 'giver,'" says Mencas. "I have been rewarded with an incredible bonding experience, a foundation of trust and the ability to read Mallory's cues."
    And it offers Dad, who can sometimes feel left out of infant care, a great way to connect. "My husband and Mallory have a routine every night where he gets her out of the bath and massages lotion on her before putting on her pajamas. I know they both look forward to and enjoy this time of bonding and interaction," says Mencas.
    Touching is a very instinctive reaction between parent and child but there are also a few cautions when practicing infant massage. Lewis Melin says it is important not to massage an infant while they have a fever. And Mencas adds "not using pressure behind the knees, no pressure on the soft spot or xiphoid process and not pressing directly on the spine. "Part of Lewis Melin's class demonstrates how to adapt strokes as the babies get older to adjust to their growth. And each baby will have a different tolerance for massage, reminds Mencas "It is a reciprocal interactive form of communication and should only be done as long as the baby is interested." And always consult a professional if you have any questions or concerns about it.
    Lewis Melin refers to massage as a "dance" between parent and child. "Parents can really relax for the first time with each stroke as their baby responds to their touch, their voice, and their complete, loving attention," she says. "This simple and strengthening nourishment of massage builds their confidence, their bodies [and] their trust in each other; setting a strong foundation for life."
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