No new parent needs to be told to cuddle and touch her baby. But did you know that specific kinds of touch- infant massage- can help preemies gain weight or fussy babies settle down? Research has shown that massage calms colicky babies, improves sleeping patterns, and can help premature or ill babies who have trouble nursing latch on, and breastfeed successfully.
But even if your newborn is full-term and easy-going, massage can benefit your baby. "Any loving touch is good touch," says Susie Plechner, a certified infant massage instructor and spokesperson for the International Association of Infant Massage, "but massage is one of the best ways to bond with your baby."
To get started, lie your baby on her back, either on a blanket on the floor next to you, or on your lap, with her head near your knees. Talk to her in a soothing voice to help her relax. If you wish, put a dab of an unscented massage oil in the palms of your hands (avoid oils made from nuts, since they may cause an allergic reaction). Then:
- Start with the legs. Hold one foot in one hand and use the other hand to "milk" the leg, moving from ankle to thigh. Then, hold the thigh with both hands (like you're holding a baseball bat) and use a very gentle twisting and squeezing motion as you move your hands from thigh to foot. Now roll the leg between your hands from knee to ankle. To finish, lightly stroke the legs from thigh to feet.
- Tummy time. To massage your baby's abdomen, slide your palm and fingers in a hand-over-hand circular motion, moving gently from the rib cage downward. Now slide both hands around the abdomen in clockwise, circular movements.
- I Love U. If your baby has gas, try the "I Love U" stroke a time-tested tummy relaxer. Picture an upside down U over your baby's abdomen. Start with a downward stroke for the "I" on baby's left side. Then stroke along the imaginary upside down "L" and then along the upside down "U."
Dana Sullivan is a frequent contributor to Your Baby Today