How to enhance bonding and increase attunement through touch with our babies born early, with illness or health problems.
Positive nurturing touch
Touch is the first sense your baby develops in the womb, and touch is how your baby primarily experiences and communicates with their world. Your positive nurturing touch has an important role for easing your baby's "transition from womb to world".
Getting to know your baby and enhance bonding through positive nurturing touch
Having a baby who is born early, who has experienced a difficult birth leading to illness, or born with health problems can be a very traumatic and overwhelming experience for you, and your baby. Getting to know your baby through a cue-based dialogue of positive nurturing touch can help to encourage your special connection together, enhance the bonding process and can give you a greater sense of confidence as a parent.
Time spent watching and caring for your baby will help you learn about their unique ways of responding to the world. Through their cues, your baby will let you know what kind of touch they are able to receive and what works for them as individuals at that particular time. Your baby can sense and feel your touch and recognise your special voice and scent. This creates an opportunity for bonding and attachment, that lasts a lifetime.
A cue-based dialogue
In our Association positive nurturing touch (and Baby Massage when you're at home) is not considered a treatment or therapy, it is a two-way communication; a dialogue between you and your baby. The most important element to this dialogue of nurturing touch in any circumstance is that it is carried out in synchrony with your baby, at all times.
Your baby's first contact with human touch may have been a world away from the warmth, security and comfort of the womb. The dialogue you develop with your baby communicates the love and the respect that you have for your baby, as a person in their own right. This communication of love and respect will help your baby to build trust and get used to the feelings of your loving touch. Through this dialogue with your baby, you will also gain a deeper understanding of your baby's cues and therefore their needs, which will in-turn give you a greater sense of confidence as a parent.
Your five-step dialogue with your baby
Avoidance or disengagement cues
Your baby's avoidance, or disengagement cues may appear in clusters. These clusters can be very subtle at first, for example a change in breathing, hiccuping, yawning or sneezing, however every baby is an individual. You are the expert of your baby and your baby is your teacher. Your baby will let you know what their own unique engagement and disengagement cues are.
If you have a baby who is born early, has experienced illness or has health problems they may be more sensitive to their surroundings. If your baby starts to give you their avoidance or disengagement cues during your touch communication together, slow your breathing and consciously relax your hands. Take a moment to wait and watch; are there any outside disturbances that could have unsettled your baby? Has someone come into the room? Are the lights too bright? Have you moved your hands even very slightly? By taking this time to wait and watch you are continuing your cue-based dialogue. This time may also help your baby to resettle, with the reassurance and consistency of your positive nurturing touch.
When at home
If your baby is receiving therapies, such as physiotherapy, consider if this time of nurturing touch could be in a different room to minimise the association between receiving a therapy or completing exercises (which can be uncomfortable) and your dialogue of positive nurturing touch.
It is important that when working through your dialogue together that your baby is positioned nice and close to you, so that you can clearly see their face; on your lap with knees bent works well (as with IAIM and Sunflower Baby Massage logo). To encourage feelings of support and security, you can place a blanket underneath your baby and cocoon this around them, which will also help to keep them warm.
Your role, your baby's role and our roles as CIMIs
As the parent of your baby you are the expert of your baby, and your baby is your teacher. As IAIM Certified Infant Massage Instructors (CIMIs) it is our role to simply facilitate, guide and support you through this process as you learn the holds and massage strokes that are associated with yours and your baby's unique dialogue.
No matter what the circumstance, you are a fundamental part of your baby's development and growth. Your baby will quickly recognise the incredible love that flows through your hands, as you discover your wonderful dialogue together; a dialogue that will continue to grow as your baby does, encouraging a lifetime of love, trust and intimacy between you both.
A final note from Vimala McClure, Founder of the International Association of Infant Massage
"Breath deeply, relax and move through these movements with your baby. Assure your newborn that he or she is OK, that you are here for him or her no matter what happens. The baby needs to feel your strength and confidence"
Have you had a baby born early, with illness or health problems? What are your experiences? I'd love to hear your stories in the comments below.
Sources, with thanks:
Vimala McClure, Founder of the International Association of Infant Massage and Author of Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents
The International Association of Infant Massage, UK Chapter
Book for preterm parents. Caring for your Baby in the Neonatal Unit. By Inga Warren & Cherry Bond CIMI, from www.earlybabies.com
Sunflower Baby Photo
Big Thanks to Sunny Sunflower Baby, Joshua and his Mummy, Karen. What a gorgeous photo of positive nurturing touch.