This month we have a guest blog post from Jenni Lloyd, founder and owner of Mellow Baby, an Ottawa company providing baby massage, baby sign language and story massage classes. Mellow Baby is about empowering moms, and through her massage classes Jenni teaches how you can get your little one to sleep better, improve his health, and even help you form that all-important bond.

Mellow Baby

You know how it goes: you put your baby down, he cries. Pick him up and, presto—he's calm and smiley again. If just holding your baby can be so soothing, imagine how he'll benefit from a full-body massage? In fact, studies have shown that massaging your wee one can reduce crying and fussiness, help him sleep more peacefully, and alleviate common wail-inducers like constipation and colic. 

"When you give your baby a massage, you're stimulating his central nervous system," says Tiffany Field, PhD, Director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "That sets off a chain reaction: it makes his brain produce more serotonin, a feel-good chemical, and less cortisol, a hormone that's secreted in response to stress. As a result, your baby's heart rate and breathing slow down and he becomes more relaxed."

Not only does it have physical benefits, but giving your infant regular massages is good for his emotional well-being too. Affectionate touch and rhythmic movement are among the most powerful forms of communication between babies and their parents. It will help you learn how to read your baby's signals and respond better to his unique needs, which can give you so much confidence as a new parent.

The positive impact of the ‘feel-good’ hormone, oxytocin, is now a key factor in research into the physical, emotional, social and educational benefits of positive touch. Oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland. Within 40 seconds of nurturing touch, the hormone is released into the bodies of those giving as well as those receiving gentle touch. So everyone gets the benefit!

More research by the Touch Research Institute in Miami shows that oxytocin has a positive effect on reducing anxiety and aggression, and promoting relaxation, well-being and attentiveness. Research also shows that it helps with bonding and developing trust and social interaction with others, so it is central to understanding the benefits of massage.

"Oxytocin has the ability to lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce the level of stress hormones, increase tolerance of pain, and promote learning and a feeling of calm."
- Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, author of The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing

In essence, her research shows that when a mother touches her baby, oxytocin is released in both the mother and the infant. Touch and connection with the infant changes the mother’s hormone levels. Oxytocin, prolactin, and endorphins are released and the mother’s body begins to help itself feel better. When she holds or strokes her baby and the baby smiles at her, this gives additional positive feedback to the mother. By guiding mothers to use nurturing touch with their infants, we not only help them to begin feeling better about themselves, but their infants are happier as well.

Furthermore, from a neurological point of view the effects of baby massage help to decrease the variability in baby’s heart rate, reduce the stress response and can lead to a faster maturation of visual function and brain activity. (Guzzetta et al., 2011)

The theory underlying the importance of baby massage is to encourage parent-baby interaction and communication and to promote bonding and attachment between parent and child. Touch helps babies thrive, allows mothers to feel connected to their infant, and helps mothers work through the many emotions they are dealing with.

To me, the main benefit of massage is about connecting. I know that sounds a bit hokey, but it starts when they are small and it goes well beyond the new-born stage. My 4 ½ year old loves having a massage, as does my 3 year old. The massage has changed over the years but it is rooted in all the basics I learned when I first took them to a massage class many moons ago. Massage time still provides all the benefits it always has; time to connect and be with each other, time to shut out the rest of the world, put down the cell phone and be in the moment—just you and your baby.