Why does massage bring such great benefits to a baby?
According to Lise Eliot in What’s Going on in There: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, “Because touch, more than any other sense, has such ready access to young babies’ brains, it offers perhaps the best possible opportunity, and one of the easiest, for molding their emotional and mental well-being.”
Monkeys spend most of their infant lives clinging to their moms’ chest. Other mammals like dogs, cats, sheep, horses and rodents all lick their young extensively. In fact, without this licking immediately after birth, many young animals die. (Though a horse or cow for example could instead reap benefits from a good rubdown by a human if necessary.)
Even newborn rats that are handled every day in the first 10 days after birth experience life-long hormonal and behavioral advantages.
The benefits of touch have been documented as extending to many important facets of a human baby’s development, including intelligence.
In her book, Eliot mentions one study that examined four-month-old babies who received a massage prior to a cognitive test. They performed significantly better than those who did not. The massaged babies could better detect when one visual stimulus changed and a new one appeared. This is called novelty preference, and it “actually predicts later IQ better than any other infant skill, suggesting that regular, early massage may have important cognitive benefits for babies of all gestational ages,” she tells us.
I took a massage class to learn how to massage my first son. I learned different strokes for infant massage and did my best to follow those procedures after every bath.
Then when I had my second baby, my mother-in-law, who is from India, helped me with his baths, massaging him after. But rather than performing carefully orchestrated movements, she really just rubbed in the oil all over every inch of the baby. I could see he loved it.
Lesson learned: A massage is really just an excuse to caress your baby from head to toes.
I don’t bathe my two-month-old son every day, but I think I’ll start giving him a daily massage anyway. What about you? Do you massage your baby?