Foster Your Baby’s Development Through Touch

This is the first post in our Infant Massage series. Stay tuned this week and next for more information and techniques.

image credit: o5com

As parents we can easily recognize the influence touch has on our little ones. Our crying babies are readily soothed when cradled in our arms. Our tired toddlers find respite and relief on our laps after a busy play period. Our young learners seek a fond embrace as they separate from us before pre-school begins and then again as they reunite with us after their exciting day. In each of these cases, we parents know — both intuitively and intellectually — that our touch supports the development of a strong and meaningful bond with our children. Our touch offers a security akin to nothing else. But touch is so much more than just a hug hello or goodbye. Through research we now know that touch provides far more than the obvious benefits of contact comfort. In fact, touch and massage can be integral to a child’s overall development cognitively, physically, emotionally, and socially. So the next time you and your child hug, add a little rub.  You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish through meaningful touch.

Touch and Cognitive Development

Remember the first time you felt your baby move inside of you? Your first awareness of your baby’s movements occurred long after your baby’s first tactile experience. Touch is the first sense to develop in the growing fetus. The senses develop in-utero and are available for use before and after birth, but the sense of touch is the most functional and finely tuned. It’s no wonder our little ones learn most about the world and organize the world through their touch experiences. Think about the last time your little one learned something new. Certainly, she used her senses of vision and hearing to orient to the new activity. But the real discovery came when she touch the object, patted, pressed and rubbed it, explored it in every physical way possible (especially with her mouth!).

A simple observation of a baby interacting with an object makes it plainly clear that the impact of touch on early learning is paramount. In fact, this impact is so critical that Piaget (a prominent early childhood learning theorist) labeled the first stage of a child’s mental development the sensori-motor period. Consider it for a moment, sensori– use of the senses (the foremost of which is touch) and motor-movement. Our little ones are actually neurologically prepared to learn best through touch and movement.

So what happens to a child’s ability to learn when they are massaged? Researchers have discovered that infants who have been massaged perform better on tests of mental ability than infants who have not been massaged. There is evidence that suggests that massaged children have higher IQ’s than children who have not been massaged. Massage promotes enhanced neurological functioning, which in turn fosters improved brain body communication. Massage for children is not only more than just a hug, but an opportunity to enhance early learning.

Touch and Physical Development

In just about one year’s time, our little ones progress from near helplessness to astonishing physical independence. And as the months go by, they learn to move their bodies as well as everything else they come into contact with. It comes as no surprise that researchers have established that children learn best through movement.

And being massaged helps children learn physically. Studies have shown that children who have been massaged perform better on tests of motor skills than children who have not been massaged.

Every organ system of the body is affected by massage. Massage stimulates the circulatory system to move the blood and oxygenate the cells more efficiently. Massage increases respiration. Massage promotes the development of muscle tone. Massage strengthens gastrointestinal function. Suffice it to say massage is more than just a hug. It’s the perfect medium to facilitate improved organ function, encourage motor development and heighten physical proficiency.

Touch and Social-Emotional Development

The parent-infant relationship is the first link in a child’s social circle. The flutterings of fetal movement are often the spark that leads mothers to begin the life long process of relationship building with her child. And partners may begin this process as baby kicks and pushes sharing her presence with the outside world before she is born.

Following birth, counting toes and caressing the newborn’s scalp intensifies the bond. Cradling the nursing baby and rocking our little ones to sleep help to secure the attachment for mother, father and baby. As our little one grows her opportunities for relationships with others multiplies. Infants quickly widen their social circle to include relatives or siblings. Toddlers further widen their social circle too while managing to keep mom at arm’s reach. Preschool aged children open their circle to form social relationships with friends, teachers, and others in their world. But, for young children the relationship with their parents will always be paramount. Massage helps extend the parent/child relationship.

Massage offers parents and young children a few moments of significant sharing. It encourages communication in a respectful and meaningful way. It offers newborn babies access to the simplest yet most effective modes of communication, eye contact and touch. It supports the toddlers’ ever-expanding realms of exploration with a security of connection with mom or dad. It offers a few quiet moments to recap the day’s experiences, discuss tomorrow, or simply be together for parents and preschool aged children. Developing this kind of trusting relationship helps to instill self-worth, acceptance, and a sense of belonging.

Massage encourages a connectedness between parent and child. It increases the parent-child bond. Massage is much more than a hug. It is communication in its most fundamental, purposeful form.

— Mary Margaret Crombez

About the Author: Mary Margaret Crombez holds a B.S. in Special Education and Early Childhood Education, a Master’s degree in Parent and Pre-School Education and a Post Graduate Certificate in Infant Mental Health.  She has been a Certified Infant Massage Instructor since 1990.  As an at-home mom, Mary appreciates work activities that allow her to remain consistently available to her family while supporting her own professional development.  Currently Mary teaches Infant Massage and the As Your Baby Grows series for Beaumont’s Prenatal and Family Education department. 

5 Responses to “Foster Your Baby’s Development Through Touch”

  1. 1 Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Wonderful! Thank you, Mary!

  2. 2 Maurina April 27, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Well done, Mary! Glad to see you are still at it!!!
    Maurina and Joey

  3. 3 Michelle Martin April 27, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    Mary – You are such an inspiration. No wonder I am in awe of your children. 😉

  4. 4 Michelle Martin April 27, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    By the way – You may want to create a way that prevents just “anyone” from commenting on here. I had to do that with the 2 blogs I write. People can be really horrible.

  1. 1 Massage for the Whole Family « Beaumont Parenting Program Trackback on May 3, 2011 at 11:26 am

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