If you ask me to relate some of the most tender, fun, interactive, musical, nostalgic moments I’ve spent with my babies (first Pari and then Sufiana), those moments have to be from the “maalish time” (massage time) we’ve spent together every single day. Often, twice a day – for more than two years, consistently. Infact, I still massage Pari – before she goes to bed on days when she’s tired or cranky or just needs extra love.
Massaging infants and babies and even toddlers is not a modern concept. Definitely not in India (where the tradition of infant massage goes back several hundred years) and not around the world. Every culture emphasizes the importance of baby massage – for health, bonding, communication, for building trust and love between the baby and her parent/caregiver.
In this article, I share why infant/baby massage is the next best thing to exclusive breastfeeding – for the all-round development of babies. Yes, not just physical but also social-emotional-cognitive development.
Actually, it’s not just babies who will benefit, the mother (or father) stands to gain in ways that cannot be quantified. Think about the one-to-one “you and me” time, the hormonal surge in the mother’s system evoked by the touch on the baby’s tender body, the content and peace she feels watching her baby relax to the point of being blissed-out. All the positive signs and gestures and expressions through which the baby communicates to the mother (or father) how much she/he means to him/her; how much he/she loves her/his company, her/his voice, her/his touch. That “there’s nothing else that brings more joy to me, mamma/papa, than being with you, being loved and caressed by you. Thank you for your touch and intent.”
So, here’re some tid bits from my own experience of “maalish time” with my babies. Also sharing some key notes from expert articles and books on this subject.
Last but not least – a most enriching and aromatic gift for you and your baby – to make your maalish time the best time of the day. This gift – a giveaway – is contributed by Kaavya of Coconess. Coconess – as the name suggests, has come up with coconut oil at its best – extra virgin – infused with the soothing properties of Lavendar, toning nature of Brahmi and Bala – for babies, and for mothers – to tone and strengthen the post partum muscles.
It’s the Touch that Matters – More Than the Technique
I’ve never used the services of an expert maalish-wali (baby massage giver) for my babies, as is common in India. My instinct told me that even if I was a novice (when Pari was born) at massaging a baby, my baby will cherish my touch (or her father’s), vibes, interaction and the energy from my hands. The time that we’ll spend together will be a time for knowing each other, for establishing rituals – of songs, stories.
Okay, wait. Actually, if I jog my memory again, I’d initially given in to the pressure of “delegating” the “task” of massaging my baby to an expert. Yes, I did! But, just for 2-3 days, for seeing my baby cry and wail and kick her legs at the hands of that so-called skillful massage lady made me go right ahead and ‘rescue’ my baby from her. On the third day, I noticed that the moment Pari (mere 10 days old) caught sight of that lady entering her room, she protested. I couldn’t believe how tuned my baby was – to her own sensitivity, to people’s vibes.
So, I knew right then what to do. People around me said, “she’ll be fine. She’ll ultimately get used to, even enjoy.”
My baby – my Pari – didn’t like such a vigorous, heart-less intrusion on her body. She needed loving touch, soothing energy and intentional interaction. And, who else could do this better than I myself. I listened to my heart, as always. And, massage time became her favourite time – for the next 2+ years. And, I became an expert at massaging my baby – as SHE wanted – the movements, the pressure points, the melodies, the moods.
Customized Massage for My Baby!
The rolling movement on the belly – I spent extra time on this (Pari’s and Sufiana’s) when they hadn’t pooed well. I gave (still do) accupressure on their toes and soles to help them sleep better. I would use couple of drops of aromatherapy oil (lavendar) to help them relax. When they had cold, I used mustard oil (infused with garlic) and massaged their soles.
During summers, coconut oil was our favourite – it seeps easily into the skin without clogging the pores and doesn’t feel sticky. It smells so good too! During intense winters in Delhi, I chose oils that have warmer nature – almond oil, sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil.
A nice warm-water bath (on mama’s legs; who needs a bath tub!) after being massaged!
Baby Massage Rituals
Talking about the baby massage rituals in our home, we had (for Pari) special songs that were exclusive for the maalish time, and now a new set of melodies for Sufiana. I have conversations and follow-up conversations and instant feedback sessions – “do you like this much pressure on your back my dear Pari.” “Ah, you are dozing off now, I’ll massage your soles and you’ll feel even better.” We had pop-quiz – “which leg goes up next to grab Sufiana’s nose?” And, parodies to make it humorous – “my fingers on your belly go round and round…round and round….”! Sufiana, at as early as one month, loved some of the vedic mantras that I chanted during massage time.
I like to make the massage time as rejuvenating as possible. During the day (especially winter days), I choose a time when the sun comes streaming through the windows. Or, I massaged in the open – in the balcony (when in Delhi) and do so in the yard – here in Goa. During the scorching summer days, I draw the curtains to make the atmosphere cool and calming.
Massage Can Help Fathers Bond With Ease
I believe baby massage can help fathers establish (and deepen) their relationship with their babies very early on. Fathers are often in a position of disadvantage with their new borns, for infants spend most of the intimate time with mothers. Due to this, they can feel distanced and hence clueless about how to start that bond. They may even get depressed not knowing how to bridge the gap. This is where massaging their babies can truly help.
When Pari was a baby, Avie was in a job. He didn’t get much time with her on week days. But, on weekends, he always liked to create his own massage time with her. I feel, that helped him bond with her and express his feelings and emotions of being a first-time father.
Playful massage-time interaction between Avie and Sufiana – just before her bed-time. (Sorry about the grainy pic – the late evening light wasn’t good.)
And, sibling bonding? Yes, that too!
Massage time can become a family affair! I’ve seen that in our family. In the first month itself, Pari was massaging Sufiana with much joy and responsibility, and little Sufi reciprocated by being extra enthusiastic whenever it was Pari’s turn. As for me, my heart feels so full watching the two sisters bond in this way. Here’s a picture that will go down our memory lanes for ever…
Pari massaging Sufiana when she was around three months
Baby massage is 20% technique and 80% communication
I couldn’t agree more with this view. Here’s a meaningful article by Elaine Fogel Schneider (author of the book – Massaging Your Baby: The Joy of TouchTime™) to read up more on this view.
Some excerpts from this article:
The massage technique for infants is much different from massage for adults. It is not as much manipulative as it is communicative. It is a technique that allows parents to engage and relax their child in mutually pleasurable interaction.
It is not the massage therapist or the infant massage instructor who massages the infant/child-it is the parent/caregiver. In the field of infant massage, the parent is viewed as the primary source of interaction in the context of the infant’s life. The dynamics of infant massage facilitate parenting skills, infant-parent interaction, bonding and attachment, and parents’ ability to read their babies’ cues.
Positive cues may include eye contact, smiling, looking at the parent’s face, making babbling or cooing sounds, and smooth movements of the arms and/or legs. Negative cues may include pulling away, frowning or grimacing, turning the head away, arching the back, crying, squirming, and flailing movements of the arms and/or legs. The focus of infant massage is not solely on the baby, but on the reciprocal interaction between infant and parent. Infant massage is not done to an infant; it is done with an infant.
Give Your Baby The Love (and Power) of Massage
Research proves that massaging babies help tone their muscles, strengthen their bones, stimulate blood circulation, aid digestion and elimination, improves respiration, reduces discomfort from teething, gas. The ancient Indian paediatric text Kashyapa Samhita says massage is very important for the baby’s neuromuscular and central nervous system development as well as for weight gain, pain relief, improving skin tone, sleep, vision and digestion.
Besides bodily benefits, baby massage increases their own awareness of their bodies, promotes mind-body-spirit connection. And, no doubt, helps the baby bond with parents. Babies’ ability to communicate, give and receive cues, reciprocate increases immensely. Their sense of self-respect and dignity gets an affirmation when the parent massages with permission, with respect and sensitivity – guided by the baby herself.
For the parents, massage time is a precious time to relax, open up, express their emotions, cherish the ‘we’ (me and my baby) time without getting distracted. It’s also a break from the world of multi-tasking. It’s actually a time to be yourself without feeling rushed.
Do you think baby massage holds much more power than being thought of as a mere ‘chore’– just another task in baby-care. Is it just exercising the baby’s arms and legs? I think baby massage, breast-feeding are some of the cornerstones of baby-centered parenting and nurturing.
As for the Techniques of Baby Massage:
There are many videos out there. I can think of this one as it’s respectful and gentle and the massage strokes are demonstrated with clarity.
I’ve read that this book – Loving Hands, by Frederick Leboyer, based on age-old Indian Ayurvedic tradition of massaging babies, is helpful. It’s full of pictures – of an East Indian mother massaging her baby by placing the baby on her legs. There are few but relevant words. But, the pictures speak for themselves.
And, now for the Giveaway – the Gift I told you about.
It’s a happiness kit (yes, that’s what it’s called and that’s what it does!) – for you, mamma, and for your baby/child (small or big). I don’t normally review and recommend products, but this one’s so good – actually ‘heavenly’ is the word, I thought all you lovely people must get a chance to win something like this.
Okay, without any more pretexts, let me show you what I’m talking about.
You get to win these two 100 ml jars (worth INR 820) of extra virgin coconut oil (it’s called miracle oil for good reasons) – infused with the most enriching and aromatic herbs – to tone and massage your tired mamma muscles. And, for days of invigorating massage for your baby/kid.
I’m grateful to Kaavya of Coconess for coming up with this high-quality massage oil – 100% pure extra virgin coconut oil – without any mineral oil, parabens, chemicals, artificial aromas, thickeners and such. Not only this, the extracts of Himalayan Lavendar, Brahmi (most precious herb in Ayurveda) and Bala added to the coconut oil – based upon a 2000-year old Ayurvedic recipe – helps tone baby’s bones, muscles and skin tone.
Sufiana loves natural, soothing fragrances. She loves to take frangipani flowers close to her nose to relish the sweet fragrance. She loves to smell roses in our yard. She absolutely adores the sweet, heady fragrance of leaves from our cinnamon tree.
So, no doubt, the moment I asked her to smell the coconess baby oil bottle (right after I opened the parcel), she flashed a smile in approval. I told her, “Do you want me to massage you with this oil?” and she nodded her head in approval again. That evening, after giving her a bath, I asked her to lie down for a massage. She hurried to the mattress on the floor and slept on her stomach – as she always does before I start a massage. I took some coconess oil in my palm and started with gentle strokes. The smile on her lips and the bliss in her eyes confirmed how much she liked it. She also loves a head massage – which she asks me to do by rubbing her own hands into her hair. So, I applied some into her hair and rubbed the tip of my fingers into her scap. I felt so relaxed seeing her relax!
Believe me, the richness, purity and aroma of this oil will enliven your baby’s skin and soul alike! I could see how Sufiana responded after being massaged with this oil. Really, no exaggerating there. It’s that good. It just opens up your senses and soothes them at the same time. It will take your baby into that deeply relaxing state – almost meditative state.
So, enter this giveaway now to win and gift yourself and your baby the most relaxing, rejuvenating and aromatic massage.
The coconess toning oil for mothers is equally good. Again, made with 100% pure, cold pressed, extra virgin coconut oil – it’s also enriched with herbs such as Carrot seeds, Brahmi and some more – that are specially meant to nurture the pregnancy and post-partum needs of women’s bodies – toning, tightening, healing scars, wounds, restoring flexibility. This oil is also great for aging skins.
I hardly ever use creams and lotions. I always prefer something totally natural like coconut oil or aloe vera gel. Knowing that this coconess toning oil is all natural extra virgin oil, I know how precious this can be for my skin and muscles.
Now, all I need is five more minutes after my bath for applying this oil in a way that I can relish! Or, is that asking for too much for this mother whose baby is waiting impatiently for company – for her water play in the yard! Well then I need to find a space in the yard itself – to massage my tired feet and arms! In the meanwhile, just a few drops of this oil into a mug of bath water for the last rinse has been working well for me. My skin feels deeply moisturized and the aroma just enlivens!
On a sincere note, I feel that there isn’t a better time for mothers to rejuvenate their bodies with massage than right after the arrival of their new born. The days and weeks after baby birth can be so healing if daily massage is included in the care regimen. As this article states:
New mothers need time, attention and rest. After the strain of birth, the new mother’s physiology is, in many ways, as delicate as her baby’s. One of the simplest techniques to restore vata dosha (the elements of air and space) balance is abhyanga (massage using warm oil and nurturing, loving massage strokes). When vata is calmed using massage, a new mother can experience improved digestion, deeper sleep and increased vitality. Mothers can also find relief from common postpartum conditions such as weight gain, sleeping difficulties, even depression, and recover remarkably quickly, allowing them to give more attention and love to their children. By combining massage with simple Ayurvedic dietary and daily routine recommendations, new mothers can come out of the postpartum period with more energy and better health than before.
When Sufiana was just two months, she would communicate to me to bend down so she could kiss (suckle) my lips! In this pic, we’re locked in a divine kiss! She did this often. And, this was one time that I asked Pari to take a picture so I can see again and again when I get old and memory may fail…
Touch – that’s the most primal and intrinsic need of expressing, feeling, understanding – for us humans. Much more so for babies. Their first interpretation of this world is through the language of touch. Come to think of it – our skin is the largest gland in our body. So, touch (on the skin) plays a key role in processing messages. “Touching is the first communication a baby receives,” says Frederick Leboyer, author of Loving Hands. “The first language of its development is through the skin.”
To enter the giveaway – just leave a comment below sharing your own special way of bonding with your baby/child.
The giveaway closes on the night of June 7 (Sunday), 2015. I’ll declare the winner within couple of days after that.
This giveaway is for readers in India/with a shipping address in India. Apologies to my reader friends who cannot provide an India shipping address.