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Bonding with Baby

This mother used massage to calm and connect with her infant. Here's how you can, too.by Kara Prater



When my husband and I were preparing for our adoption trip to China, we talked about how we would bond with our baby. Since I am a licensed massage therapist, we felt that using massage techniques would help our child relax and ease the transition from an orphanage setting to that of a loving family.

Soon after we were united, I started rubbing Mae-Lei's back whenever she cried. As time went on, we massaged her forehead; and after her bath, we would rub her with a natural baby oil. The more we held and massaged Mae-Lei, the more she made eye contact and reached for us. In a matter of days, she began to bond equally with me and my husband.

Massage 101
Massage offers many benefits for babies. According to the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami, sensory stimulation (such as massage) reduces tension, irritability, and fussiness in infants, and contributes to longer, sounder sleep cycles. Gentle touch also improves nonverbal communication between parent and child, and conveys love and nurturing.

You can begin massaging your baby shortly after birth. To create the right mood, put on some soothing music and experiment with different positions to see which work best for her. Some babies like to begin their session sitting on their parent's lap, while others can be placed face up on a towel on the floor. (If your child starts off sitting on your lap, lay her down once she relaxes and leans into you.)

Using a baby oil, start by rubbing your child's head, as if you were washing her hair. Then proceed down her body, gently rubbing her neck, shoulders, chest, torso, arms, and legs. Use long strokes toward the heart.

As you work, hold one hand under each part of baby's body for support, and use your other hand to massage it. When you're stroking your baby's tummy, do so in a clockwise motion, using little or no pressure.

Once you've worked on the front of your baby, begin on her back. If she's lying on the floor, place your hands parallel to her spine and massage in long, downward strokes. Don't put direct pressure on your baby's spine, as this can hurt her. If your child is seated in your lap, place your fingers perpendicular to her spine and, starting at her shoulders, massage toward her pelvis in long strokes.

During a massage, always follow your baby's cues. If she's fussy, stop what you're doing and try again at another time. Remember that babies respond differently to massage. Some get energized after a rubdown; others simply get sleepy. If your child gets revved up, try to work in a massage after a nap or morning feeding. If she tends to doze off, give her a massage before a nap or at bedtime. When stroking your child, look into her eyes and tell her you love heróboth your words and your touch add to the bonding process.

Kara Prater is a licensed massage therapist in North Carolina and an adoptive mother.


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