Infant massage: A special way to communicate with your baby

Flickr, Valentina Powers. CC license.

As adults, many of us enjoy a good massage. Perhaps it’s to relieve tension after a stressful day, maybe it’s to help us loosen sore muscles and improve movement, or simply as a form of relaxation. But did you know that infants can benefit from massage, too?

Massaging your baby just 10 minutes a day creates lifelong benefits for both baby and caregiver.

  • It is relaxing and strengthens bonding for both baby and caregiver.
  • It promotes brain growth.
  • It helps relieve baby’s tummy distress.
  • It encourages better sleep.
  • It facilitates weight gain.
  • It promotes development of baby’s motor skills.

What exactly is infant massage?

Infant massage is a wonderful way to learn about and communicate with your baby through loving touch. Massaging your baby contributes to baby’s emotional security and healthy sense of self. Touch research shows that massaging babies lowers their stress hormones, facilitates food absorption, and stimulates hormones important for growth and immunity.

It is an ancient practice implemented by many cultures throughout the world. The massage routine practiced by certified educators in the United States comprises elements of Indian and Swedish massage, as well as reflexology and yoga.

Next Steps

  • Taking a hands-on course in infant massage will guide you through research-based routines. To learn more or to find an instructor in your area, visit infantmassageusa.org.
  • For additional reading, check out “Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents” by Vimala McClure.
  • Read more about the Touch Research Institute and the research on the benefits of infant massage.

– Jill Thomson, L.M.S.W., IMH-E, CEIM, is an infant massage instructor working in the metro Detroit area. She is also a Parenting Program volunteer.

Having fun with baby’s first summer

big brother holding little brother on bench

Gray and Finley on Finn’s first road trip

There is a country song with a line that goes, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” I always love that line because the first time you do something is so underrated in my eyes. I feel like the last time you do something is always remembered but what about the first? Sure big firsts are remembered such as first words, first day of school, first kiss, and so on, but what about other firsts? Things like the first silly word (my 5-year-old boy calls salad dressing “salad sauce” and it will forever remain salad sauce in our house), your first challenge at school, your first bad kiss, etc.?

little boy playing with sandFirsts are a big deal! As a mom, I try to teach my kids that the firsts are just as important as the lasts. I have two boys (ages 5 years and 16 months). For my little guy’s “first summer” last year I made sure to document and photograph all of his firsts that the summer energy brings. Here are a few of my favorites along with a few notes:

  • First fourth of July (Note: Finley did not care for fireworks)
  • First time experiencing a glow stick
    • Mommy was quick to know Finn wanted to use it as a chew toy
  • First haircut
    • Bribed with snacks to try and stay still.
  • First road trip
    • Colorado at 6 months old.
  • First time feeling sand
  • First time strawberry picking.
    • No help picking the fruit but a big help in eating it.
  • First time camping.
    • Camping “up north” as a rite of passage
  • First time hiking.
    • Sure, he was carried on everyone’s back but still a first nonetheless.
  • First time in a bounce house (How fun is this first?)
  • First time swimming
    • Finley was naked in a bucket but we’re still counting it as first swimming.
  • First time playing at a park
    • Favorite park feature: swings
  • First time at the zoo
    • Loved seeing the polar bears
  • First time at the splash pad
  • First time having a picnic in the backyard
  • First time giving “kisses” to mommy, daddy and brother
  • First time eating peas
  • First time playing on slip and slide

trio of little boy "first" photos

Everyone says that the days go by slow but the years go by fast with children. Ain’t that the truth? I know someday I will look back and think about the last time my kids played on the slip and slide, or went up north, but for now I’m focusing on these first moments.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of two.

Is using a car seat covering safe?

woman carrying infant carrier with canopy

image credit: Amazon

As the winter months approach, children will soon be sledding down snow hills, building snowmen, and really little ones will be traveling in cold weather in their car seats. As a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST), I can assure you that there are many steps that a parent can take to ensure their children stay warm and safe this upcoming cold season.

One recommendation is to avoid heavy, bulky coats on children harnessed in their car seats; there are many articles and infographics that discuss why this is important. However, there is a hidden danger that many parents are unaware of: using car seat covers or aftermarket canopies that cover your infant’s head for a long period of time while installed in his or her car seat.

Before diving into the research and reasons why this is potentially dangerous, let’s rewind for a minute. The practical reason for a covering children is to protect them from wind, rain and snow while you transport them in and out of the vehicle. As the parent of a winter-born baby, I can tell you that I covered my child with a blanket in his infant carrier many times after strapping him in the car during our Michigan winters. My job as a CPST is to provide you with information so you can make an educated decision about keeping your child safe.

There is an increasing amount of research that discusses how car seat canopies and other coverings are potentially dangerous. A specific concern is the risk of CO2 rebreathing. During the breathing process, your body inhales oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide (CO2), maintaining a balance between these two gases. However, rebreathing CO2 can have harmful effects on the body. When an infant has soft, fluffy or loose fabric around his face, the carbon dioxide can build up around the baby’s head. Rather than breathing fresh oxygen, the baby is rebreathing the expelled CO2 (Blair, Mitchell, Heckstall-Smith and Fleming, 2008). Many babies may cry, turn their head or attempt to get out of this unsafe situation, however infants who are at-risk (i.e., preterm, respiratory concerns) may have extra difficulty notifying a caregiver they are struggling (First Candle – Rebreathing Carbon Dioxide and Suffocation as they related to SIDS, 2009).

In April 2014, Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (BCIA) issued an executive statement regarding infant carrying that is applicable to car seat safety and any situation to where a child’s face might become covered and breathing could be compromised. It stated, “[C]overing a baby’s face makes it impossible to monitor a child’s breathing, in addition to putting the baby at risk for suffocation, or CO2 rebreathing.”

This does not mean that you have to expose your infant to cold weather and crippling winds when taking baby to the car in the winter. The key is to protect your child with a temporary cover. Use a receiving blanket to protect your child from the elements, but be sure to remove it once baby is secured in the vehicle. The American Academy of Pediatrics (2016) recommends against over-bundling and covering the face and head.

My recommendations

  • Avoid car seat canopies that strap onto the infant carrier’s handle. Parents often pull back the cover and leave the strap for convenience, but this poses a suffocation risk if the fabric accidentally falls down over the infant’s face.
  • Avoid car seat covers that zip close to a child’s face.
  • Always be aware of your infant’s airways and the car seat environment. We recommend using the “visible and kissable” phrase, which means keep your baby’s face uncovered and able to receive kisses at any given moment. This ensures that you can easily see and assess your child’s breathing while in the car seat.

Together we can ensure all babies stay warm and safe while traveling to and from the vehicle. As we know all too well, the sledding and snowman season will be here before we know it.

– Stephanie Babcock, CPST, is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s also the proud mommy of two boys.

A simple guide to torticollis

baby with torticollis

image credit: spinewave.co.nz

You’ve just given birth to a beautiful child. You’re so caught up in joy and awe that you can’t help but take tons of pictures of the little one. But as you scroll through your pictures you may notice a common trend between 1 and 12 months old: your baby is always looking in one direction.

No, your baby isn’t giving the camera his good side. Your baby may have torticollis.

What is torticollis?

Don’t panic. Torticollis is common and a result of muscle tightness and weakness on one side of the neck. Any diagnosis sounds scary, but caught early enough, torticollis is an easy fix. As a physical therapist, I frequently treat patients with this diagnosis. The key is proactive treatment.

Torticollis occurs when the shoulder muscle, sternocleidomastoid, becomes tight. This can happen due to your baby’s position in the womb or from sleeping position. Twins and large babies are more likely to have torticollis from the reduced womb space. Also, babies’ heads are heavy and tend to rotate to one side when they sleep on their backs. The sternocleidomastoid’s action is lateral flexion (tilting) to one side and rotation (turning) to the other side.

So what can you do?

Start with these two stretches

  • Rotate your child’s head in the opposite direction your child usually looks. Do this hold for 15 to 20 seconds with light pressure every time you change your baby’s diaper (which let’s be real, is 10+ times per day). This improves range of motion and reminds the baby that there is another half of the world to see.
  • The other is the football carry. Place the baby facing out toward the world and turned on his side. Position so that the side of the neck the baby typically tilts is facing down. Put one hand on the side of their head and the other between their legs for support. Use your hand on the side of their head to lightly stretch the baby’s neck. This addresses the tilt component to the muscle tightness.

If you can’t visualize these stretches, I recommend an appointment with a physical therapist. You will see the stretches in person and applied to the specific direction of your child’s rotation and lateral flexion, as well as to learn other exercises for neck strengthening.

Lifestyle tips

  • Feed your child to the direction he doesn’t like to look in order to facilitate active rotation.
  • Adjust crib position so that your child has to turn his head to see what’s happening outside.
  • At playtime, put toys on the opposite side of baby’s head.
  • Have family members stand on the side your child looks to least often when they interact with them.
  • Encourage increased tummy time if your baby has a flat spot on the back of their head so he isn’t falling into that pattern of rotation when on his back.
  • Every adjustment helps!

If torticollis is left untreated, it can lead to a child favoring one arm during sitting and reaching activities, having one-sided weakness, and having an altered crawling or walking pattern. Although it’s an easily treated and often mild condition, ignoring it is the worst thing you can do. Allow your child to see the world from the proper angle and prevent future complications; treat torticollis early!

– Amanda Kirk, DPT, is a physical therapist with Beaumont Macomb Pediatric Rehabilitation.

Childproofing your home

Toddler opening a cabinet

Unaltered image. Jed De La Cruz, Flickr. CC license.

As a parent, it is our job to keep our children safe. So how do you know when to start childproofing and where to start? This can be an overwhelming process for many parents. Have you ever just stood in the safety section at your local baby store? There is an entire wall chock full of products with a variety of door handle covers, outlet covers, drawer and cabinet locks, and other items that you never even knew existed. Here is some advice on how to make sure your home is safe for your baby.

  • Get down on the floor at baby’s level. The world looks a whole lot different from there. Pay attention to what baby can see and reach.
  • When should I start? The sooner the better, however once baby is able to start rolling (typically 4 to 6 months), you want to make sure you’ve started your childproofing.
  • Know your baby. Some babies are much more mobile and curious than others. Some babies need to climb and get into everything. For these children, you may need to be much more thorough.
  • Keep all medications, chemicals, soaps, and detergents away from baby. Make sure these items are in locked cupboards or above baby’s reach in the kitchen and bathrooms.
  • All items that fit within a toilet paper tube pose a choking hazard to baby. Anything that fits inside should be kept away from baby, especially small items like coins.
  • Make sure you have the number for poison control in your cell phone and a central location in your home (800) 222-1222. You can also download an app to your phone.
  • Register for the Consumer Product Safety Recall list to be alerted for recalled items.

Recommended safety items

  1. Outlet covers
    1. Babies are very curious and the outlets seem to attract little fingers.
    2. If you don’t like the outlet covers, you can swap out all of your outlets with ones that have covers built into them.
    3. When traveling to a relative or friend’s home, bring an extra pack of outlet covers to keep your baby safe.
  2. Gates
    • You must use gates mounted with hardware at the top and bottom of stairs.
    • Pressure-mounted gates can be used in hallways and doorways.
    • Some gates have extension pieces to make sure they fit your space properly.
    • If you need to mount your gate to the banister, you can purchase a kit that lets you install the gate without drilling holes into your banister.
  3. Furniture straps
    • All furniture (including dressers and book cases) should be strapped to wall in rooms that baby will be in. These help to prevent furniture from falling on top of baby.
  4. Door locks/handles
    • Make sure you have the correct type of door lock for the correct door:
      • Bi-fold door locks
      • Sliding door locks
      • Universal locks
      • Appliance locks (e.g., refrigerator, drawer under oven/washing machine, dishwasher, etc.)
      • Door latches are very inexpensive and perfect for basement doors.
      • Toilet locks keep children from “playing” in toilet.
  1. Drawer and cabinet locks
    • Plastic locks that screw into the inside of cabinets or drawers.
    • Magnetic locks are less visible, but more expensive).
  2. Cord protectors
    • Mini blind cord protectors
    • Power strip protectors
  3. Thermometer for bathtime
    • Ensures water is not too hot or cold for baby

– Amy Weiss, MPT  Supervisor of Outpatient Physical Therapy at Beaumont Physical Therapy Berkley