The Effects of Massage on Infants
If you lovingly touch your newborn frequently you are encouraging strength, intelligence, depth, and emotional security, and you are supporting physiological growth. A baby who is massaged is alert and responsive. This infant quickly develops adaptation techniques to his constantly changing and stimulating environment. Contact is the comfort infants crave the most; an infant without nurturing care will not thrive or, at best, will develop poorly. Gentle massage supports the nervous system, allowing the baby to develop a strong immune system as well as good neurological development. Also, a baby's tiny muscles make up only one fourth of the baby's weight, and massage helps those muscles grow. Babies who are massaged are healthier with less evidence of colds, infections, and digestive upsets.
Relaxation for Easy Breathing
While infants develop within their mothers they receive oxygen from the placenta. Upon birth the newborn must adapt immediately to breathing without help. Touch becomes an essential ingredient in helping the infant to relax, while the infant learns to breathe deeply on his own. The mother will instinctively hug, kiss, caress, and rock her newborn and constantly rub her baby's back and chest. This massaging assists in the further development of the respiratory system as well as the transition from shallow to deep breathing.
Adequate rocking by the mother or other caregiver creates an environment that is reassuring to the baby. Rocking feels like the mother's womb and supports calmness within the baby. Research has shown that touching in the form of rocking and massaging helps to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Production of Hormones
Massage supports the endocrine system, which produces hormones that dictate the function of the various organs within the body. The activity of every organ is fueled in part by these hormones. Good touch enables the hormone-producing glands of the endocrine system to function in a state of balance, or homeostasis. Infants who receive massage have greater hormonal support, which in turn increases the activity of their vital organs. Remember, a baby's organs are still learning how to function on the outside of the womb, so stimulation on a hormonal level is good.
Support of the Nervous System
The central nervous system—the brain and the spinal cord—works with the endocrine system to support homeostasis. Massage assists the central nervous system by encouraging the formation of nerve and brain cells, including the myelin sheath that protects nerve fiber and serves to speed nerve impulses from the brain to other parts of the body. The myelin sheath is not completely formed before the baby is born, but it responds rapidly to tactile stimulation. During infancy this formation of cells and myelin is very important, and massage contributes to the growth and support of an infant's nerve health.
Relief from Stress and Overstimulation
Being born is stressful, as is surviving outside of the womb. Massaging the newborn and the growing infant helps the baby adapt to the physical world. Entering into the unknown is scary and confusing on any level, but imagine the feelings of a newborn. Massage helps the baby relax from what would otherwise be overstimulation. Touch is essential for the baby to live a healthy life. There is no such thing as too much loving touch.
A baby receives sensory input while in the womb, but the baby's awareness begins upon entry into the physical realm. Everything the baby is exposed to represents a stimulus. As the baby learns to use his or her sensory organs to interpret these stimuli, all the baby's senses contribute to healthy growth and development.
Stress introduces the opportunity to adjust, to take the new and unknown and make it familiar. However, a baby who has only the constant input of strange and new situations and no reassuring touch may tire and burn out. Massage helps an infant cope and adapt. It gives the baby the time to relax and recharge, enabling the infant to continue to grow. If you introduce massage early in a child's development, he will be better equipped to deal with the stress of life as he grows up.