Touch is a powerful tool for parent-child communication. As parents, we all want our touch to be a testament to our love and care for our children. And baby massage is one of the most intentional ways of providing comfort and security to our little ones.
In this article, Susan Muriithi of Toto Touch Kenya shares how moms (and dads!) can empower themselves to care for their children and bond with them through the loving art of massage.
This interview came from our live talk that Milksta hosts twice a month. You can access the full interview when you join our momma community here.
Susan Muriithi is a registered nurse, lactation consultant, and certified infant massage instructor. She founded Toto Touch Kenya to provide support and education to moms and dads in her community when dealing with lactation issues and a colic baby.
She’s passionate about empowering moms and validating their experiences. As a mom herself, she intimately knows the ups and downs of motherhood, and her wealth of professional expertise fortifies her calling of helping mothers.
She shares, “I love helping new moms and dads discover the joys of new parenthood, guiding them through the joy and bumps of new parenthood. As a Nurse, I bring my extensive knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, and varied physical and emotional needs of an infant and the mother.”
Our caresses and strokes can be a force of calm and healing for our babies. As a mom and a professional, Susan said that she’d been a witness to a lot of perks to baby massage.
Here are the benefits that babies (and parents!) can experience through baby massage:
Since a massage is a soothing session, babies can relax more and have a longer slumber time!
Tummy massages can help babies expel gas better, thus preventing feelings of discomfort that lead to a crying spell.
Frequent physical touch between mom and baby helps release oxytocin. This hormone is known as the “happy hormone,” which makes moms feel a surge of positive emotions and helps trigger the let-down reflex!
Susan suggests that “mothers give love, fathers give security.” As we communicate with our babies through touch, a mother’s gentle rubs can give a nurturing vibe. On the other hand, dads tend to have a firmer touch that conveys a feeling of safety to the child. Involving our partners in infant massage helps communicate these life-affirming values to our baby.
And even if they can’t speak yet, we should know that babies have a way to sense and understand our words, so talking to them while we massage them can make way for valuable connections. We’ll have more chances to know them better as we get familiarized with their cues and coos.
Susan raises that infant massage contributes a benefit to society, too. Because we teach our children what a “good” touch is (one that is out of love and not violence) through the massage, they’ll be more equipped to know and practice that kind of touch in their other interactions.
It’s essential to be intentional about childcare and parenting. Learn from baby massage experts so you can empower yourself to provide care, comfort, and love to your child.
Susan emphasizes the importance of setting a routine for the massage. Decide on the frequency (how many times a week or day) and the timing. She suggests picking a time that is most sustainable for you and your partner to follow. For most of her clients, they choose to do it during nighttime after they’ve bathed the baby and have accomplished other chores.
And please, mommas, take it easy, okay? Don’t let it stress you out when you miss a day in your massage schedule. Susan also suggests letting your partner or the baby’s grandmother learn baby massage so you can take turns. Moms need rest, too! Sharing this responsibility will also help them create a great bond with the baby.
Susan shares the psychological preparedness of the mom and baby when it comes to massage is a prerequisite to a fulfilling session. Forcing it to happen can do more harm than good.
Mommas should be relaxed when starting the massage (not angry or agitated!) so they can set the right mood for the session. The baby should be in a relaxed state, too—don’t initiate a massage when they’re hungry, cranky, and sleepy. If the baby cries before and during the session, that’s how they communicate that they’re not ready for the massage.
Make sure that the temperature of the room is comfortable. If it’s cold, the room must be pre-warmed. Then play some relaxing music and get the oil ready.
At the beginning of the massage session, Susan says not to expose your baby fully. Instead, only take out pieces of clothing that cover the area of the body you’ll be stroking. So, for example, if you’re massaging their legs, you don’t have to take off their shirt. And if you’re rubbing their tummy, keep their pants and socks on.
As Susan said earlier, you must get your baby’s consent to be touched. Massage isn’t their priority, unlike breastfeeding and diaper-changing, so don’t force it on them when they’re not in the mood.
What are the signs that they’re ready for the massage?
Susan says that if the baby recently had a vaccine, they would be sensitive, so give them a week off. She also says that if the baby has an infection and a fever, it’s best to postpone the massage until the baby is well.
For babies who have skin disorders like eczema, we may not be sure which oil is appropriate. Check-in with their pediatrician for oil recommendations or do a patch test first with their hand to see any adverse reactions. Redness is an indication that the oil isn’t a proper match.
Here are some common questions about baby massage that Momma Susan addressed in the interview:
An essential factor in reaping the benefits of baby massage is starting it as early as the child is born. For example, you can start rubbing the baby at the hospital when you change their diaper or whenever you interact with them. This will help them feel settled with you early on.
Even if the baby is in the NICU, parents can simply press on the baby’s legs and tell them, “I’m here for you.” One thing’s for sure: our loving touch and words will always be understood and felt by our babies!
It will be easier for you to do the strokes smoothly when the baby’s skin is lubricated. Babies will have very sensitive skin, so we need some oil to minimize the friction.
Susan says that it’s advisable to use high-quality unscented (no perfume) oil that is cold-pressed (purified and not petroleum). She says that the scent from the oil can interrupt the mom’s natural smell and the mom-baby bonding process.
Your smell is vital for your baby, and it has to be consistent. So don’t use perfumes and deodorants for a while. Babies will associate the massage with the person’s smell doing it with them, so it’s best to stay in your natural scent.
Another important reminder is to look for an oil packaging that will be hard for your baby to open. And don’t leave the baby unattended with the oil.
Massaging a baby has many benefits for both the baby and the parents. It may not be a priority as breastfeeding is, but it’s a beautiful practice in providing care, comfort, and security to your child.
If you have any questions about baby massage and are interested in her services, you can reach out to Momma Susan through the Toto Touch Kenya Facebook page or through their website. She’ll be happy to answer your concerns.