During the first days of her life, 3-month-old Olivia Hernandez of Springfield didn’t have much of an appetite.
A fussy baby, she was much smaller than her twin brother, Daniel Jr., who seemed to be reaching milestones sooner.
With two other young children in the house in addition to the twins, her mother, Terra Hernandez, worried that she wasn’t bonding well enough with her baby daughter.
“Ever since the twins were born, I didn’t feel as much of a connection as I did with my first two,” said Hernandez, 27. The other children are 18 months and 5 years old.
An occupational therapist who was working with the children through the Center for Human Development’s early intervention program in Springfield, suggested that Hernandez try a free baby massage at the center in Springfield.
After just a few weeks of taking both babies, Hernandez says, she and husband, Daniel Hernandez, Sr. are seeing results.
“We have such a strong connection now,” Hernandez said. “Holding (Olivia) now she is way more relaxed. It is something that is so simple and it makes a big difference.”
Hernandez started out with just a few basic strokes and took some time each day, usually after Olivia’s bath, to massage her daughter.
It was a good way, she says, to get some focused time with her baby the chaos of tending to four children — three in diapers.
She said Olivia’s digestion seemed to improve right away.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Hernandez showed how the technique works on Olivia, who was fussing. As the baby cried, Hernandez set her on her back and, with broad strokes, began to massage her legs, which at first were flailing, but quickly became still. From there she made some circular movements with her hands on the baby’s chest and then rubbed her toes one by one. In a matter of minutes, Olivia was calm, locking eyes with her mother, smiling and cooing.
“She is so relaxed,” Hernandez said. “Right now she is having a really good day. She is incredibly happy.”
Touch is the first sense that is developed in utero and arguably one of the most important for our emotional well being. When we are touched by our mothers early in life, oxytocin, the brain’s “cuddle” chemical is released, says physical therapist Diana Kenney, who instructs the infant massage class at the Center for Human Development. This gives babies a feeling of comfort.
“It is just a wonderful thing to do with your baby. It helps with bonding and it helps with communication,” she said.
During her six-week course, Kenney teaches parents more than 40 strokes that are a blend of Swedish massage, Indian massage and a bit of yoga. The strokes cover most of the infants’ bodies, each with its own technique and purpose. Gentle touch to the skin above the babies’ eyes can relax their facial muscles after they have been crying, Kenney says. Stoking motions just below their chests are said to improve digestion. Massage can also soothe colicky babies and help them sleep better, says Kenney.
“I think it is critical for child development,” she said.
Hadley-based child and family therapist Leslie Fisher-Katz agrees. She says that the first two years of a child’s life are pivotal for learning how to form emotional attachments. If parents don’t put in the time to make eye contact, talk to their babies, and show them physical affection, there could be serious consequences, she says.
“The neurons of our brains grow with emotional connection so if we don’t have it — if there is no attunement and connection to the child, then they can be cognitively delayed,” she said. “If we are not having engaged interaction, then there is actual pruning in the brain.”
Aside from sensing a stronger connection now with her daughter, Terra Hernandez has noticed an improvement in her baby’s bodily functions. She says that after a five to 10 minute massage, Olivia, who usually ate less than her brother, is ravenous. She is also regularly moving her bowels now, which she hadn’t been doing.
Daniel Jr. has benefited, too, his parents say. Typically, dad works with him during the class and he gets regular massages at home, as well.
“I think it is beneficial for any parent,” Daniel Hernandez, Sr., said. “I think that in this busy world, this is something that parents are often missing out on — that quality time with their baby.”
How to connect:
To learn more about infant massage or the classes at the Center for Human Development, call 413-733-6624.
The free massage classes are held on an as-needed basis. To sign up for the next course, call 413-733-6624. The class is held at 342 Birnie Ave., Springfield.
Article by Lisa Spear. Published on November 6, 2017 at http://www.gazettenet.com/infant-massage-13056042
Lisa Spear can be reached at Lspear@gazettenet.com.