The beauty and benefits of infant massage
The history of massage is a long one that continues to this very day. Who among us does not love a good back rub? Massage has been practiced for many centuries and in fact, there are ancient Egyptian drawings from 2500 BC that show medical practitioners kneading the hands and feet of their patients.
The ancient holistic Indian system of medicine, ayurveda, or the science of life, also describes the process of tshampua (the English word shampoo is derived from this root), or reinvigorating massage. Many cultures, from the Greek to the Mayan have extolled the physical and emotional virtues of massage. Remarkably, however, these benefits are not just for us sore and tired adults, but also for infants!
Do you think a baby lives life on easy street? All hugs and naps and food on demand? Think again! Imagine a life where what you see is blurry, where you can't speak, where your digestion is unpredictable, where your limbs won't do what you want them to do, where you hang out in wet diapers until a parent changes them. Now that's stressful!
Infant massage can help alleviate some of the stresses a baby is under, but it can also do much more than that. Research has shown that infant massage improves the immune system, helps regulate digestion, increases blood circulation, balances the nervous system, improves posture, relieves discomfort from gas, colic, congestion and teething, improves the condition of the skin, facilitates motor coordination, even helps your baby -- and you -- sleep better at night!
A famous study by the Touch Research Institute in Miami showed that preterm infants given regular infant massage gained 47 percent more weight, become more responsive and were discharged from the hospital an average of six days earlier than those who were not. Subsequent studies showed that the beneficial effects lasted well into children's further development.
Massage in India
In India, where infant massage has been practiced for centuries, massage is not the calming, candlelit, muzak-scored activity that it is in the West. Rather, the masseuse sings comical folk songs to the babies and plays innovative games with them, integrating the massage with the hustle and bustle of daily life, the noise of the street, and the chatter of other children. The experience is so fun and stimulating that the baby usually sleeps afterwards for three or four hours, thereby becoming a better sleeper and becoming more alert when awake.
Baby massage research
Research has also shown that stimulation of and interactivity with a baby has lasting positive effects on both physical and emotional development. Just spending 20 minutes a day holding and massaging your baby can provide remarkable results. Studies conducted across many cultures have shown that babies who are held, massaged, rocked and breast-fed grow into adults who are less aggressive, less violent and more compassionate, and better able to relate to other people.