How can massage help a seriously ill baby in hospital? When a baby is hospitalised, it can be so overwhelming and confronting to see them covered in all the lines, tubes, wires and medical equipment. I asked Judith from Touching Moments a few questions, and she has very kindly revealed just how baby massage can help forge and strengthen your bond with your seriously ill baby.
How can baby massage help (both me and my baby) when my baby is being cared for in hospital?
I think Vimala McClure’s statement in her book Infant Massage: A handbook for loving parents, answers this question beautifully, “Infant massage can be a wonderful bonding tool for parents and babies with special needs….It is something you do with your baby rather than to you baby. It is not another therapy but an opportunity to share your love”.
A hospital setting tends to be bright, noisy, and often involves intrusive and painful treatments. Touch for a baby or child in this setting can become associated with pain and discomfort. Plus, establishing or maintaining a positive connection, can be challenging for both the parent and the baby/child.
The role of baby massage in a hospital setting therefore, is to reinforce that touch can be positive and calming, and to provide opportunities for connection between you and your baby/child.
For this to occur the massage routine needs to be focussed on reducing stimulation and reinforcing connection through firm, calming touch/containment. More on this below.
Is it safe for me to massage my baby when they are covered in monitoring lines, tubes and wires?
Yes!! With care and with their permission.
Studies with premature babies have demonstrated that daily massage is of tremendous benefit. Research
projects undertaken by the Touch Research Institute’s founder, Dr Tiffany Field, have shown remarkable results. In one of her studies, 20 premature babies were massaged three times a day for 15 minutes each. They averaged a 47% greater weight gain per day, were more active and alert, and showed more mature neurological development than infants who did not receive massage. In addition, their hospital stay averaged six days less.
It will be important to avoid the monitoring lines, tubes and wires, which may only leave small areas that can be touched, so focus on providing loving but firm touch on those areas of your baby/child’s body. That might mean stroking their head or feet with firm, slow rhythmical strokes for example or simply providing touch, connection and love via a containment hold.
A containment hold involves placing your baby/child on their side, holding their head with one hand and their base with the other hand or, if that is tricky, holding their head with one hand and placing your other hand on another part of their body that is accessible. If this description is a little confusing, then the containment hold is demonstrated via this link.
Then you take deep breaths and relax. Being relaxed helps you and communicates to your baby/child that this is your special, relaxing time together. You can sing lullabies, and/or use loving words during this time. It is important to always tell them what you are doing.
If possible, create a warm and gentle environment. This can include ensuring your hands are warm, draping the parts of your baby/child that are not involved in the massage to maintain their warmth, playing rhythmical calming music, reducing the lighting, and using a soft voice.
Depending on how you baby/child responds, you can then place one hand on their shoulder and the other hand on their foot for a while and then swap to the other shoulder and foot. Then hold other areas that are accessible. If possible/practical finish with strokes down their back, from head to bottom, and tell your baby/child that that is the end of their massage.
It is critical throughout, that you are tuned into your baby/child’s cues and respond accordingly i.e. respect their timeout signals or removal of permission (see below). These could be expressed through them turning their eyes or head away from you, making unhappy facial gestures or sounds or becoming actively distressed through moving their arms and legs, pulling away etc. Once they tell you they have had enough it is important to stop! They may, after a while, tell you they are ready to resume, or they may make it clear that they don’t want any more for now.
On some days it may be possible to apply massage strokes or use the containment holds a few times across the day/night. On other days you may just manage to hold/stroke your baby/child’s hand.
Irrespective of how often you can provide loving touch, please know that you are making a difference every time you do.
Can the whole family be involved with baby massage? Grandparents, siblings, aunts & uncles?
One of the key elements of baby massage is permission i.e. seeking permission from the baby to start or continue to massage. It is important because massage is one way of teaching a baby/child protective behaviours. So, if the baby does not give permission or removes permission we acknowledge this, thereby demonstrating to the baby/child that they have a right to say who can and cannot touch them and when it is okay and not okay for them to be touched. This is so important in a hospital setting when, due to necessity, your baby/child will often receive touch/interventions without their permission.
If your baby is very premature or very frail or ill, then it would be best that they only receive loving touch from their parent(s) until they are old enough or well enough to receive loving touch from others.
Once they can receive loving touch from others, you can provide the necessary guidance about containment holds, appropriate touch etc., and your baby/child has given permission then the whole family can be involved. It will be very important that they are relaxed and responsive to your baby/child’s needs and cues and understand that they must stop as soon as permission is withdrawn.
What do you love most about baby massage?
The short answers is ALL of IT!! The long answer is I get great joy out of watching the parents/carers and the babies/children connecting with and enjoying each other.
I love the fact that baby massage benefits both the baby and the person giving the massage. That it helps the baby’s development, assists in releasing stress and tension from their body, teaches them about their body, how to relax as well as protective behaviours. I also feel very privileged to be part of a process that will have lifelong benefits for the child.
Where can I learn more about baby massage?
What I have provided here is guidance about how to massage your baby/child when they are in hospital. There is so much more to baby massage and once your baby/child is home then I would encourage you to attend baby/infant massage classes, where you and your baby/child can learn all of the wonderful massage strokes plus get lots of other helpful information.
You can learn more about baby massage and its benefits on my website www.touchingmoments.com.au. You can also get further information on the InfantMassage Association’s website www.infantmassage.org.au or from Vimala McClure’s book Infant Massage: A handbook for loving parents.
A HUGE thank you to Judith for answering our questions and providing us with all this amazing and extremely useful information on baby massage.
At Cocooned®, we want to empower parents and carers as much as we can when caring for a child in hospital, if you can think of a topic you’d like to know more about, please get in touch with us.