Sharing the Art of Sacred Baby Massage, by Summer E. Sinclair
"Massaging a baby is an art. As deep as it is old. And yet so simple. Simple but difficult. And difficult because simple." ~ Dr. Frederick Leboyer
We began sharing the art of sacred baby massage at BINI Birth in Sherman Oaks, California when my baby boy Sage was only two and half months old. His grandma from India gave a demonstration, with Sage as the model, to a group of over twenty curious new parents, eager to learn more about Indian baby massage. After such a great response, my workshop partner Carmen Thomas-Paris and I gave another Intro to Indian Baby Massage workshop and my then five-month-old son. I was a little nervous at first, not sure how he would do with me giving him a full massage in front of an audience, but our bond is beyond my sphere of consciousness (or self-consciousness) and it felt just like at home. It was wonderful to see a couple returning moms from our September workshop with Momiji (my mother-in-law from India). Wendy Tahara's live harp playing was a beautiful backdrop at both workshops, as live lullabies are very soothing to babies. After introductions of each mom and baby, ranging from three weeks to nine months old, family yoga teacher Carmen Thomas-Paris led the opening tuning in and setting an intention of loving hands before Sage and I led the demonstration. Thanks to Carmen, I was turned onto French doctor Leboyer's Loving Hands: The Traditional Art of Baby Massage, a marvelous mix of science and poetry, showing women practicing baby massage in Calcutta. His book so closely follows the same techniques I learned from my mother-in-law! As Dr. Leboyer (also creator of the home birthing tub) states in his book, "Women in India learn it from their mothers. Then, someday, they teach it to their daughters, who in turn will teach their daughters..." As daughter-in-law I received this gift from my angel baby's grandma. The common thread many of the moms in our workshop shared was that they had bought various books on baby massage, but wanted a practical in-person application. It's hard to learn such a hands on technique (pun intended) from a book. Which is why I am so delighted to share it with other moms (and dads), so they too can experience the bonding power of touch through the art sacred of baby massage.
Last month I completed my Infant Massage USA (a division of the International Association of Infant Massage) training, also at BINI Birth, to become a Certified Parent Educator. Although I enjoyed teaching previous workshops with Sage, he’s outgrown the demo-model stage (now that he’s so close to crawling) and I’ve found that using a flexible life-like baby doll is a great instruction tool. I still find it interesting that many parents are unaware of baby massage as a beneficial baby care practice. I also found it interesting that Carmen, also a post-pardem massage therapist, often gets calls from parents requesting her to massage their newborns. She in turn offers a massage to the mother and encourages the parents to massage their baby. I don’t believe we need licensed baby massage therapists, nor do parents need a non-family member's hands massaging their newborn. What we need is instruction for parents to learn the techniques of baby massage, so that they can feel comfortable and confident touching their own infants. I've got to be honest, when my little bundle of boy came into this world I was so exhausted recovering from my birth process that there was no way I was going to feel comfortable or confident to massage my delicate little baby. However, watching his grandma (my mother-in-law) practice daily massage on Sage was as eye opening as much as it was heart warming. From his sixth day of life ceremony (a North Indian tradition) to two months old, grandma massaged him everyday before I took him to a warm bath. In the first month she massaged him twice a day if I allowed it. Why wouldn't I allow such an outpouring of love and relaxation twice a day you might be wondering? Well, I didn't want a twenty-four-seven grease monkey in my arms. So, we started a routine of late morning massage, followed by bath (no soap), followed by feeding, which lead to a deep sleep nap. Babies love routine, and this definitely helped establish his sound sleep patterns early on.
Common questions regarding baby massage are: "What time of day should we massage baby?" and "How long should we leave the oil on?" or "How long should the massage be?" As Dr. Leboyer brilliantly writes in his book, and it's the same for our family, "There is no right time to massage." A time when you are feeling calm, but not right after a big feeding. A time when baby is feeling calm, but not when she's hungry or too sleepy. When baby is in what is referred to as “quiet alert” is the best time to massage. Either a morning or evening routine, whatever works best for your family. When my mother-in-law left to go back to India, I took over the daily massage of my then two and half month old son, and my husband started taking him to the bath afterwards. Therefore, evening became the best time for our baby’s massage and bathing ritual. At six months old, we’ve now established a before bedtime routine that starts with me (mommy) massaging baby, followed by daddy taking him to bath, followed by PJ’s and feeding, then he’s soon off to a sound sleep. However, if I know daddy's coming home late, or I have something in the evening, I'll sometimes do it during the daytime by myself instead. Anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes is the typical attention threshold for a baby to enjoy massage, but it can sometimes last as long as twenty or as little as five minutes. All depending on how baby is feeling that day... As far as leaving the oil on baby's skin, the duration of the ten-twenty minute massage is a good amount of time for oil to absorb into the skin, and warm water actually opens up the pores more (per Dr. Leboyer) to help it absorb even deeper while in the bath. The only way the oil would come off is if soap is used, and the more I read about baby skin they really don't need soap until well beyond six months, which makes sense because most are not crawling before then.
Another question that comes up, "What sort of oil should I use to massage my baby?" and "Why not lotion?" Just like soap, lotion is not needed for baby's skin until beyond six months of age. The properties in an organic, plant or food based oil, however, can provide great skin protection, prevent irritation and is safe for babies to ingest since they often put their hands (or ours) in their mouth during massage. Traditional North Indian baby massage calls for mustard oil, which has warming properties, UV protection from the sun, anti-inflammatory qualities and prevents skin irritation. Coconut oil is more traditionally used in South India, and has cooling properties. My son was born in July, and we live in Los Angeles, so after the homemade mustard oil was exhausted that grandma brought from India we switched to coconut oil. Although I can see the cooling properties coconut oil provides, I prefer the mustard oil because it doesn't coagulate and harden like coconut oil. Mustard oil also has richer texture that glides and absorbs easily into the skin. It's also rich in healthy omega 3 fats. I began a search to find organic mustard oil, but came up empty handed, not even Whole Foods carried it. And, I refuse to massage my baby with run of the mill mustard oil found in Indian Markets because it is never organic. So, after some deeper research I found a USDA certified organic distributor of mustard seed oil – Pure Indian Foods in Princeton, New Jersey. After using this organic mustard seed oil for a month, and loving it, I decided to share samples of it at our last Intro to Indian Baby Massage Workshop. Especially now that we are into the winter months, a warming oil is best to use at this time of year. The response was outstanding, and several moms purchased the mustard seed oil from us to use for baby massage at home. Several moms also bought our Sacred Baby Massage Kits, which pairs the Organic Mustard Seed oil with a specially imported waterproof, anti-bacterial, plush Baby Massage Blanket (same as my mother-in-law brought us from India). What I love most about these massage blankets is that baby feels comfortable on a soft, cushy surface, and any happy accidents or oil drips do not absorb into the blanket due to the Silver Nano layer underneath! The blanket surface is velvety smooth, perfect for sensitive baby skin. I know what the next question is... No, he's never pooed during massage. I don’t know why, but I’m happy to say I’ve never seen it. Babies love being naked. It's their natural state, right? We rear them in these sterile, watch out for germs! American environments, but babies still end up getting sick and we have to help build their immunity. Let the baby massage be a time of freedom, joy and ultimate relaxation.
Before my Infant Massage USA Parent Educator Training, per my mother-in-law’s Indian massage instruction I used to start with Sage's backside (belly down horizontally across my lap) for five to seven minutes, until he got fussy. Then I’d flip him over to his back for chest, belly, arms and legs massage, which lasted ten-fifteen minutes and included some advanced baby stretching and calisthenics. Per Indian baby massage tradition, I place his head (on a small pillow) resting on my ankles with his feet facing me, his body resting on top of the massage blanket. Upon completing my training, I now incorporate a mix of Indian and Swedish massage techniques, with reflexology and similar yoga padmasanas at the end. The new techniques have taken my now six-month-old some time to get used to, but they are all fun, gentle and beneficial. The founder of the International Association of Infant Massage, Vimala McClure, also studied Indian Massage in India and formulated her own techniques while massaging her babies in the U.S. Both McClure and Leboyer wrote their well-received books on the power of loving touch and infant massage in the mid-nineteen seventies.
Many modern parents worry that they won't have enough time to massage their babies, or to establish it as a routine rather than just a special occasion. I see baby massage just like I see bath time. Every parent I know takes time to bathe their baby everyday, or every other day (depending on whether or not they have multiple children). We take time to feed, change and dress our babies. All this is prioritized as essential baby care. Baby massage is no different, in that it benefits well being on so many levels. Baby massage helps parents bond closer to their babies through the nurturing power of touch, is calming to baby's nervous system, helps to reduce colic and gas, enhances motor development and blood circulation, and promotes healthier and happier babies!
"Of course there is much more to art than technique, and in time you will come to it. Once technique is fully mastered...and forgotten." ~ Dr. Frederick Leboyer
Upcoming Summer & Sage Sacred Baby Massage Workshops:
Saturdays, Feb. 15 - Mar. 15 2014, 11am-12:30pm
at TLC Midwifery and Womans Health Center
1122 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 17
West L.A., CA 90035
REGISTER at: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/summer-sage-sacred-baby-massage-workshops-based-in-the-east-indian-tradition-tickets-10567767477
For more information about current Workshops and Sacred Baby Massage Kits ~ Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.Facebook.com/summerandsage Follow summer & sage’s Blog at: www.wordpress.com/summerandsage or on www.Twitter.com/summerandsage
*Please note that not all experiences, beliefs and ideas are shared by each member of the “The New Hollywood.” We are a group of shepherds, not sheep.