Oh, Uncle Pig, you really have a lot to learn.
Why is it everyone always assumes that the slightest whimper from your baby means they are hungry? Ok so I’ll admit that sometimes it pretty tricky to interpret your baby’s signals, and hunger is a pretty good guess at the reason for your baby’s crying. But what about the rest of the time? Your baby cannot speak but they are born already excellent communicators.
Babies have an innate preference for looking at faces. Experiments have found that babies will spend longer looking at any face-like image over other pictures. Evidence shows that babies learn to recognise their mother’s face very soon after birth and will always prefer to look at her face to any other human face (sorry Dads!).
Who spent hours speaking to bump during pregnancy? Babies learn to recognise their parents’ voices prior to birth and will quickly show this by turning their head when they hear the familiar sounds of a parent speaking. Babies do prefer sing-song intonation – baby-speak or motherese to be technical. There is a reason why nursery rhymes are hundreds of years old! The exaggerated rise and fall that people instinctively use when speaking to a baby is really engaging for the baby and research suggests it helps language formation. You may even find you and your baby fall into a strange babble-reply ‘conversation’. It’s very natural to do this and it teaches your baby the ‘rules’ of conversation ie turn taking and listening for the moment to make your reply.
This means that babies are born ready and willing to communicate; and us adults have some innate responses to babies. Babies need to practise these skills and sometimes it’s not always that easy to talk to a baby. I used to find myself giving a running commentary on whatever I was doing, but even I got bored with that. Baby massage can help.
As you all know by now, oxytocin is produced but both partners during massage. This hormone makes you relax and feel calm. (This is a useful thing to remember for when you are trying to engage your teenager in conversation in the future!). It’s much easier to give your baby your full attention when you are relaxed because your mind isn’t busy wondering if you should have put the blue bin out today.
Baby Massage always starts with seeking permission. Always use the 3 step permission sequence I use in class and look out for the cues from your baby that they maybe aren’t as keen for a massage as you had hoped. See…conversation has already started. Chat to your baby as you massage them. One easy thing to do is to name the different body parts as you massage baby; tell the story of how the Achilles tendon got it’s name, or list some of the skills baby will eventually use their arms to do.
Ask your baby questions (remember that bit about pseudo-conversations?). When I teach toddlers, they love asking their partner ‘how does that feel?’ so ask your baby the very question. You will get an answer. You could ask baby if they’d like a firmer or softer touch as you experiment a little and watch how your baby responds.
One of the key ingredients to baby massage is eye contact between you and your baby. Make faces at your baby and see if they copy. Stick your tongue out, scrunch up your face, or move your head around and see if baby moves to hold your gaze. A lot of communication is non-verbal and you will learn a lot from looking into your baby’s eyes. Holding eye contact with your baby alters your brain chemistry too and gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling.
Body language is something to think about during massage. Hopefully your baby feels nice and relaxed under your hands, but sometimes they will communicate to you that they’d had enough or they don’t like a particular stroke through movements of their body. Remember that babies feel safest when they are close to you, so make sure you are positioned well for massage.
I absolutely love seeing the interaction between parent and baby in my classes. See the conversations in action are amazing; the parents just do all of these things without even realising. So, if you are finding communicating with your baby challenging, try some baby massage. One of the incredible benefits of baby massage is that it really is the most amazing tool for interaction with babies.
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