Infant Massage – Understanding Baby Cues



Motherhood was trusted upon me somewhere between ages 9-10. We had a tenant who rented the bottom flat who was also one of my mother’s workmates. She had recently gotten a baby and due to some complications (non-physical) my sisters and I played babysitters. The baby had been circumcised and was still healing and the pain added much misery to the early days of his life. My heart went out to him and I spent much time with him trying to understand his cues. There were different sounds and similar sounds. And there were times when the similar sounds had their differences in pitch/tone and I tried to understand what those changes meant. As the days went by I took my role more seriously and soon found fulfillment each time I ‘got it right.’ He was pleased too and rewarded me with bright smiles and invigorated laughter. I honestly felt I was getting the hang of the motherhood thing.

For first-time parents, having a baby is a fascinating and fulfilling experience, especially if there were infertility issues or prenatal complications. But soon enough the stresses of taking care of a newborn tend to step in and there can be moment of frustration. The baby has its needs, and communication is one of them. It is physically vulnerable and unable to communicate its needs with clarity for several months. The baby tries, and tries again, mixing and alternating cues hoping its parents learn its language sooner than later so that it may have the satisfaction of having its needs met…as desired. So while it is not often viewed as such, baby too experiences stress from the sheer frustration of poor communication.

Thankfully, there is Infant/Baby Massage. Massaging baby from the first or second day after his/her arrival has been practiced traditionally in many cultures. Fresh oil is prepared from local nuts like the coconut and used to rub the baby’s skin. The grandmother or another elderly relative may initiate the process and guide the new mother in the pros and cons of Infant Massage. The guidance is passed down from generation to generation. Somewhere along the line many of us have lost touch with this. However, there has been a resurgence of interest recently and with this has come the need for re-education. With this need, we also see the emergence of Infant Massage Therapists/Instructors who do not actually perform the massage on the baby, but rather they teach the parents how to carry out the treatment by using life-like dolls.

Special time can be set aside when there is little interruption. No feeding, diaper changing, bathing, etc. As the lubricant is massaged into the baby’s skin, it becomes a time of fun and giggles. The parents may play along at first, but soon begin to recognize, understand, and respond to the different cues. They will notice that when baby is not in the mood for a massage, or does not want a particular area massaged, it may turn away, frown, arch its back, or start to cry. This information can then be carried over into other activities and help the parents to understand the things for which the baby does and does not have a preference. By the same token, when the baby is ready to participate it may hold eye contact, smile, or make gurgling sounds.

As the communication channels open between parents and baby, they will become aware of baby’s different activity levels, (e.g. deep sleep, light sleep, drowsiness, alert state, etc.) and this will guide them into knowing what time during the day is best to do different things, massage included. Learning to interpret baby’s cues through massage will also help the bonding process and assure the parents that they are ‘getting it right.’ Infant Massage therefore provides the perfect opportunity for baby and parents to develop strong bonds which lead to more harmonious family life.