By Fiona Wing
Adv. Dip Nat.
The bond between you as a parent and your baby has many advantages to both the physical and emotional well-being of your relationship with your children. We are still learning a lot about how bonding can influence the development of your baby, and how a strong attachment between parent and baby forms a basis for the future relationships that your kids will develop. Bonding techniques such as “Skin to Skin” contact and infant and toddler massage have been shown to foster a deep sense of emotional security in your baby and children, ultimately influencing their social and cognitive development.
Touching is a very natural and unconscious way to express love and affection towards someone. It helps to form physical and emotional bonds that strengthen and solidify feelings of safety and security as well as acceptance and a positive self-esteem.
“Binding your hearts together to beat as one!”
From the time of birth, your babies have an innate instinct to “act like mammals”. They nuzzle around to find comfort from things such as warmth, food and the sound of a heartbeat. This helps them to feel safe, stay calm and breathe more regularly and naturally. Mothers and fathers alike can nourish and encourage this fundamental and primal sense of security by utilising a technique called “Skin to Skin” contact. This is a technique that has been found to provide the most gains to bonding in early infancy – even to the point of binding your hearts up to beat within a millisecond of each other!
Skin to Skin contact occurs when your baby is placed bare chest down onto your bare chest, and left for an hour so at a time while you relax. This can be performed by mum or dad whilst you are feeding or cradling. Coverings can be placed over both of you but not between you.
“It strengthened the bond I had with my kids “
It is always fascinating to me how something that feels so natural and instinctive as a mum, ends up being supported by science. As a mother I utilised Skin to Skin contact with my babies for the purposes of soothing, bonding, facilitating feeding and helping my baby’s overall growth and development both physically and emotionally. Interestingly, it has now also been shown in studies to keep your baby warmer; regulate your baby’s breathing and heartbeat; enhance bonding between you; improve sleep for everybody; reduce crying and fussiness in your baby; improve gut health and immunity; make you better able to read your baby’s unique cues for hunger and distress; and cultivate a sense of security, emotional well-being and positive self-esteem in your baby. I found the experience not only relaxing and nurturing to my children but also to myself. It strengthened the bond I had with my kids, and also offered a little bit of time out for me. I felt relaxed and calm, which I’m sure had positive effects on them too.
As your baby moves from infancy to toddlerhood and childhood, bonding by touch can help to maintain and further establish feelings of security and trust between you. It will reinforce the belief in your child that home is a safe place where they can always come back for protection and guidance from you.
“Trusting, loving and nurturing relationship between you and your child”
As they make their way out into the world, your children will find themselves exposed to stress. Whether it is from sources such as pre-school, or primary school, peer playtime or even at home, they will need some downtime to help them to cope. Touch via massage may help to provide them with a sense that “all is alright” by reinforcing a secure, trusting, loving and nurturing relationship between you and your child. Massage can be performed by mum or dad after a nice warm bath and a snuggle with a book.
Oils and lotions may be used to enhance the effects of the massage. Coconut or almond oil will provide a moisturising base to help reduce friction to the skin during the massage. Adding an essential oil may also provide relaxing or stress relieving benefits, but should only be done after receiving advice from a Healthcare Practitioner or Aromatherapist.
Different forms of massage may provide different feelings of relaxation or stress release for your child. Long, slow, gliding strokes may be extremely beneficial for infants and toddlers, providing them with a gentle form of massage which may also encourage in your child, peaceful and secure feelings which may help to promote a sound sleep. As your child grows older, massage to more specific areas such as the hands, legs and feet may be added to the longer, slower strokes to promote relaxation further and may help with growing pains and other niggles. Children’s attention spans can be limited so sessions should not exceed around 15 minutes. Educating yourself about proper techniques is advised and you should be able to find plenty of information through books, DVD’s and other resources. Your local hospital or clinic may even be able to provide you with information about classes in your area.
“One of the strongest indicators of love in a relationship is a tender and caring touch!”
As your child grows older and starts to view the world more independently of you, you may start to notice him or her pulling away from the more affectionate types of touch they craved when they were younger. One of the strongest indicators of love in a relationship is a tender and caring touch. So it is important to remember that the benefits of touch bonding may still be maintained by the odd rub or squeeze to the shoulder, running your fingers through your child’s hair or a quick kiss on the forehead. These simple caresses may go unnoticed by your child, but will still reinforce your presence to them, maintaining a secure heart felt bond which will further promote feelings of security, independence, and positive self-esteem in your child.