A great way to bond with your baby is through massage. Studies have shown that massaging your baby regularly can reduce crying and relieve colic, encourage better sleeping patterns, help boost her immune system, and deepen your bond. Massaging can also help you if you are suffering from postpartum depression by building and strengthening an emotional connection with your baby you may be lacking.
If your baby is healthy, it is usually considered safe to massage her at any age, even as a newborn. However, never massage your baby if she is running a fever, has recently had surgery, or has any open sores or skin abrasions. Massage your baby when she is calm and relaxed — such as after her bath or right before bed — and wait until at least an hour after she has eaten.
A baby massage can be as long or brief as you and your baby wish; but it's a good idea to start with shorter massages of five minutes or less, until she gets used to it. If she becomes cranky or agitated, stop and try again some other time. Never force a massage on a baby. It may take a couple of tries for her to get used to it and be able to relax and enjoy it, and if she wants to change positions, let her. Some infants are extremely sensitive and can't deal with a lot of touching at first, so watch her body language and maintain eye contact. Go with the flow and relax, and follow the same pattern during each massage so your baby learns what to expect. If you want, play some soft music while massaging her — she will learn to associate the music with relaxation, which may help at bedtime as well.
It is important to keep in mind that a baby massage is not the time for a deep-tissue work; always use gentle pressure, but not too light — feathery-light touches may tickle and agitate your baby. To determine a comfortable amount of pressure to use on your baby, close your eyes and press on your eyelids. The pressure you should use is the same amount that you can press on your eyelids without feeling any discomfort. When you are massaging small areas of your baby's body, use your fingertips; when massaging larger areas, such as her back, use the palm of your hand.
Begin by placing your baby on a soft surface, such as a folded blanket or cushion. Keep her warm and cover any areas that you will not be massaging. If you plan to give her a massage just after her bath, stay in the warm and humid bathroom where she'll stay warm longer. Before you start, make eye contact and sing or speak softly and lovingly to her, and begin moving slowly and gently. Use a small amount of oil so your hands don't pull on her sensitive skin. Since her hands and feet will probably end up in her mouth, it's a good idea to use edible oils such as grape seed or olive. However, nut-based oils such as almond or peanut can cause serious food allergies if your baby ingests them, so avoid using them during massages.
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