Originally posted June 26, 2017.
As a licensed massage therapist, certified aromatherapist and licensed professional counselor, I’ve studied and personally witnessed the effects of touch on mood for over 25 years in myself and my clients. Last fall, I took a Joy Dua’s class for LMT’s called Infant Massage Therapy and Technique. It was really an enjoyable class. I was energized and restored from spending a few days with the kind-hearted people in the class, who all choose to spread love in the world!
The class just reinforced so much of what I’ve studied over the years. Joy’s work was a welcome reminder about the positive research about how touch moves the energy around attachment and mood, especially in the perinatal period of a woman’s life. It’s easy to learn; usually classes are given in local hospitals and yoga studios. In northern New Jersey, Montclair Baby offers Infant Massage and other parenting classes. And do check out Tiffany Field’s lovely DVD Infant Massage. Or Zen Babies Massage or Baby Massage Therapy.
Infant massage is a great way to share an oasis of peace with your baby and positively impact your baby’s health and your own mental health. The fact is that infant massage is good for both mom and baby’s mood. The interaction helps promote bonding and calms both mom and baby. Studies show that infant massage decreases stress hormones in both Mom & baby, reduces colic, regulates bowel movements, receives other gastrointestinal symptoms in baby, relieves muscle pains and assists weight gain and recovery for preemies (Onozawa et al, 2001; Field et al, 1996).
Infant massage also works on a hormonal level, inhibiting production of cortisol, the stress hormone and promoting production of oxytocin, the love and bonding, hormone. Excess cortisol surpasses the immune response, affects digestion, this producing either too much stomach acid or slowing down bowel movements, restricts blood vessels, building blood pressure and puts you into the fearful fight or flight response. On he other hand, more circulating oxytocin promotes the emotional attachment, the relaxation response, psychological stability and breastfeeding. Oxytocin is good for baby and mommy!
Touch is primal; it is the first sense developed and the baby has his or her first massage in the birth canal. A lack of touch and nurturing in infancy and early childhood leads to failure to thrive. This sad syndrome was discovered because it was recorded that many babies in orphanages died before the age of 2 due to lack of individualized, safe, loving, holding and touching. Thus, in the 1960’s, touch was studied and found to be as necessary to human development as food and water. In fact, our first massage as infants is experienced at birth in the birth canal.
Perhaps you’re concerned that you’re not bonding with your infant. Some people mistakenly believe that human bonding occurs all at once, with sort of a single, initial, imprinting, like baby ducks imprint on their duck mothers. This is not the case, LOL, we are not ducks!
Human bonding (or attachment) develops as a result of a reciprocal, interactive process on a daily basis. Human bonding develops in the context of daily accessibility to a responsive primary caregiver. It’s not a virtual experience! Human attachment is a body-based, biological and emotional experience involving touching, seeing, smelling the primary caregiver on a consistent basis.
The appropriate lotion to use on an infant isn’t always obvious. The skin is the largest organ. It is made up of five water-resistant layers of keratin and lipid, or fat, components. On the other side of the skin is a network of capillaries and whatever is absorbed through your skin gets into the blood stream via these capillaries. Substances that are lipid rich, or fatty, can bond with the skin and permeate the epidermal barrier via intercellular absorption. The upper epidermis is composed of a matrix of cells bathed in a complex lipid. Oils are absorbed in the body via this intercellular matrix. In addition, hair follicles are places where fatty molecules can slide down the layers to the capillary network and be taken throughout the body. So, stuff can get into the body via your and your baby’s skin. Its best to use organic carrier oil so the pesticides used in growing don’t get carried into the bloodstream via the fatty oil molecules in the carrier oil.
Because of the skin’s ability to absorb and carry molecular substances throughout the body, the best oils to use are organic, unscented, cold-pressed fruit or vegetable oils. The best oil for infant massage is cold-pressed organic jojoba oil. Jojoba oil has a chemical composition similar to human sebum so it is generally safe for sensitive skin. Jojoba oil contains a host of vitamins, such as vitamin E, and anti-bacterial properties and anti-inflammatory properties that have been proven in research. In addition, jojoba oil has a very long shelf life, generally thought to be around 5 years, so it won’t go rancid. Nut oils, such as almond oil, could set the baby up for allergic reaction, so it is best to avoid nut oils for now.
Jojoba oil has a beautiful golden color and using it over time, balances the skin’s oil production. Please test any oil you use on a small patch of your baby’s skin, a thicker part, such as a small part of the bottom of the foot, before using, to be safe.
Remember, safe and loving touch helps you process the deep emotions of learning everyday what it means to be a parent. Those deep emotions of extreme love, intermingled with exhaustion and maybe some depression and anger are building up in your body and mind and need some way to be smoothed out.
So if you’re a new mom looking for ways to enhance your connection to your new baby and looking to experience movement in your own emotions around motherhood, touch is a wonderful experiential way to process your new life with baby.
Enjoy being a new parent of a wondrous baby!
Remember, if you are feeling very depressed and anxious over a period of several weeks, please give yourself the gift of self-care and see a local doctor or therapist. Postpartum Support International has volunteers in every state who can help you with resources. Befrienders Worldwide can help you with any urgent matters you have, or go to your local emergency room.