There aren't many activities you can do with a new baby.
Sure, you can go for walks as your baby usually slumbers, and you can read to him while he guzzles down a feed, but even before he's learnt how to crack his first smiles your baby can respond to your touch. Baby massage simply takes this and helps you to both get used to a new physical relationship, beyond cuddles.
What is baby massage?
Baby massage is gentle rubbing and movement of your baby's arms, legs, feet, tummy and back. Some of the moves help your baby to stretch out. (After months in the womb, then weeks swaddled up or snuggled close to you, it's important to allow them to open up their bodies and really breath!)
Using a simple natural oil (like olive oil), you strip your baby down, lay him or her on a towel and do some gentle exercises with your calming hands, to help him relax.
Some of the exercises help him get a feel for opening up his arms and legs, others are good for encouraging him to be feel happy lying on his tummy during waking hours (this is better for the chest and upper body development), some are soothing for tired or colicky babies, and others can ease a sore tummy.
During a session, many babies get fractious when you first take their clothes off (make sure wherever you are is nice and warm), but once he gets into the swing of a session, he'll relax. By the time you've done, some babies so relaxed they decide to have an impromptu wee (hence the need for the towel)! Others drift off into a sleep with a post-massage feed, and many hate having to get dressed again after enjoying the reassuring feel of your hands on their skin.
Even if you go to formal sessions, you can skip certain moves if your baby isn't up to them or doesn't seem to enjoy them. However, doing baby massage will build your confidence in handling your baby without the tension of treating him like fine bone china. This confidence passes to your child.
What do you do at baby massage?
Baby massage can be done at home, on your own or in front of a baby massage DVD, or with a group of friends. However, to get started and boost your own confidence, it is a good idea to find a drop-in class you can attend. You may well see notices for these kinds of session at your local baby clinic (on the noticeboard), church hall, sports centre or YMCA.
Babies are usually accepted at baby massage sessions from ten weeks, but some will let you start earlier (they will advise you to skip some of the movements), and experienced practitioners encourage more basic moves from birth. On weeks when you might have had immunisations, you will be advised to keep away from rubbing over the injection spot if you had the jabs in the last 24 hours.
The kinds of movements you might do include rubbing your baby's thighs with oil, making a bycycle motion with their legs, rubbing their back, and helping them to open out their chests by massaging their shoulders and arms.
Nothing is too dangerously physical.
Depending on where you go, the session might last anything between 30 minutes and an hour.
A precious time
I feel really lucky to have done baby massage with both of my babies, because a friend recommended it before my first was born. It was one of the mother-and-baby experiences that gave me the confidence all new parents need, in the most gentle and enjoyable way possible.
I attended them at a place called the Active Birth Centre in north London. At the time, the teacher was a guy called Peter Walker. We have reviewed a couple of his books here on the website, and he is an internationally recognised expert in the field of developmental baby massage.
Walker is an enthusiastic supporter of the health benefits of baby massage and it's worth checking out his website for more about the idea of massage and soft gymnastics (that is early movement for babies once they can sit up).