My family is from India and the vast majority of babies there are massaged on a daily basis. The new moms are massaged as well. Massage is not a practice reserved for the those with more money as it tends to be in America. The art of massage is passed down in families. Everyone learns to do it. In addition, there are women called ayahs skilled in childcare who also perform baby and post-partum massage. It is a lovely way to start and end a day especially if you are new mother or a newborn just learning to navigate this big, bright world!
I took a more scientific look at massage when I was preparing my lecture demonstration to a group at the Franklin County MRDD preschool. The power point presentation is on the resource page of the website if you are interested.
The sense of touch occupies such a large percentage of the primary sensory cortex that touch is really vital for survival. It is evident that babies and children who are not nurtured with touch in their formative years can have struggles with relating to the world around them in many ways.
One of the most well established findings from massage research is that parent and child bonding is enhanced with baby massage. In addition, there is the side benefit of reducing post-partum depressive symptoms in many mothers. Studies suggest that babies who are massaged tend to cry less, are less irritable, sleep better and have more organized behaviors.
As children get older, studies show that preschool children who are massaged or are lovingly touched by their parents tend to be less aggressive and may have improved cognitive abilities. For those children who are struggling with anxiety and depression, touch can be a very important piece of the therapeutic plan. These kids experienced overall improvements in their anxiety and depression scores when massaged regardless of what other therapies were in use.
It is not clear in all the studies that massage has such direct benefits, but the preliminary findings are intriguing. Massage research is in its infancy in terms of hard and fast findings on the benefits of massage, but I believe that the continued research will bear out what I already know.
While I am an advocate of scientific evidence, I don't need to look past my own home for evidence. I lay next to my daughter who was ill last week giving her a back rub that she asked for as she fought off a fever and a cold. I could feel her body relax as I gently kneaded her back and legs. Her body quieted and she fell asleep.
Massage is a healing practice that empowers parents and kids alike. I love that!