Friday, February 27, 2009

Infant Massage: Part II - Tummy

Stomach massage is a great tool for babies, not only for relaxation and bonding, but also because it can really help with the many digestive problems that infants face. Early on, your baby may be dealing with gas pain and colic. With the introduction of solid foods, babies can become constipated as their gut adjusts to the new array of materials which it is expected to digest. Stomach massage can help with all of these things, and so you should practice it regularly on your baby, even if he is very young.

Stomach massage, although brief, is a bit more complicated than other massage. You must wait until at least 45 minutes after your baby's last feeding before massaging his stomach. If he has just eaten, you may give him a stomachache by massaging his tummy during digestion. Therefore, it is sometimes tricky to find a time to do stomach massage because an extra factor is involved: a calm, content baby, and 45 minutes after a feeding. Whenever you see such an opportunity, be sure to take it!

The other very important factor regarding stomach massage is that you must always massage in the direction of "poop flow." The goal of stomach massage is to help your baby clear his bowels of gas and poop more often, so as to reduce pain from common infant GI problems. If you massage against the "poop flow," you may hurt your baby and you will certainly be counterproductive to what you are trying to achieve. The way to massage the stomach is always DOWN and CLOCKWISE. Never massage your baby's stomach up or counterclockwise.

This simple diagram of the abdomen may help you to visualize the lower GI tract, which you are massaging, and which I will describe in the video below. Poop flows from the ascending colon across the transverse colon, and down the descending colon to the rectum for excretion. This is a guideline for how you should be massaging your baby's tummy.

Hopefully with some effective tummy massage, your baby will experience less gas and GI pains. I had a bit of trouble shooting this segment - James recently learned to sit up and roll onto his belly. He did not like staying on his back for this video. Despite the interruptions and breaks, the video includes a complete belly massage.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Infant Massage - Part I: Legs

Infant massage is a great tool for both you and your baby. For you - who doesn't need an excuse to touch, cuddle, and spend time with their baby? For your baby - massage can provide relief from gas and constipation, aid digestion, improve circulation, enhance nervous system development, reduce stress, improve immune function, help with sleep, release more oxytocin (the bonding hormone), etc........... the list of benefits is endless.

It does not matter if you are not an expert masseuse. Merely learning basic techniques, and then spending a little time each day with your baby to practice them, can lead to all of the benefits mentioned above.

I recently "graduated" from a short baby massage class offered by our city's community center. Many infant social programs and/or mother and children groups offer such classes. If you are interested in baby massage, do an internet search to find classes near your home, or simply look through the plethora of flyers and handouts which you can get at the hospital or your pediatrician's office.

Although I'm not an expert, I will show you the techniques that I've learned to give you an easy way to start practicing massage with your baby. Your baby is never too young for a nice massage from his parents. Simply pick a time when your baby is well-fed, calm, and awake - and then proceed with a massage for as long as things are going well.

For infant massage, you will need:
  • A warm place
  • A blanket to spread on the floor
  • Some oil, to reduce the friction between your skin.
It is important to use an oil that will not harm your baby. Typical baby oil found in the baby products isle at the store is not safe for infant massage. These oils are petroleum based, and if your baby were to get some on his hand and into his mouth - you would not want your baby to eat petroleum! Also, it is important to avoid mineral oil, which is used in adults as a laxative. Instead, pick from among these safe, edible oils in the cooking section of your grocery store:
  • Almond oil - Almost no scent, except slightly sweet. Both sides of your family's history must indicate NO NUT ALLERGIES for you to use this oil.
  • Olive oil - Inexpensive and works great. However, its strong scent can sometimes leave your baby smelling like a salad.
  • Safflower Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Apricot Kernel Oil
You can watch this short video for infant leg massage below. Have fun spending time with your baby!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Does Father Know Best? Part II: Safety

After lecturing you on a hands-off approach to letting dads be dads, I think a word regarding some common sense safety is in order:

James, our 6-month old, LOVES to put things in his mouth. Absolutely anything. He licks it, sucks it, chomps it, kisses it.

Steve, my 24-year old, LOVES to put things in James' mouth. Absolutely anything. Especially adult food items of which I disapprove heartily.

Yesterday, Steve was making smoothies in the kitchen. I was holding James doing various other chores. I walked into the kitchen with James to see what daddy was up to. Daddy promptly offered a freshly peeled banana to James to see what kind of antics the banana and James' mouth could get themselves into. James licked the banana. He reached out to touch it. He licked it again. He put his mouth around the end. "Stop!" I said, "I don't want James to chomp off the banana in his mouth."

"He can't do that," Steve answered. "Stop worrying." Well, you never know how hardy a baby's gums can be...

Steve again offered the banana's tip to James' gaping mouth. "See," he said, "it's no problem," as he pulled a half-banana away from James. Where did the other half go? That's right... it was firmly wedged into - and taking up the entirety - of our baby's oral cavity, sealed behind tightly closed lips.

On instinct, we immediately pried James jaws open and pulled out a good 2 inches of solid banana. He screamed that we had taken away such a precious treasure, and I gave Steve my very motherly "told-you-so" stare. I have perfected this gaze in only 6 brief months. I still am not sure which triumph I am happier about: that James did not choke, or that I was "right," and Steve was a nincompoop. (Somehow, that just makes you feel good sometimes...)

Nevertheless, it's important to know what to if your baby DOES choke or lose consciousness. Many offices that offer birthing classes also offer "baby care" classes that teach infant choking and CPR techniques. These classes are often relatively cheap, and need I explain why they are worth your time?? You never, ever want to be caught in a situation when your child is choking, and you don't know what to do. The Red Cross also offers day courses (just ask at your nearest local branch), even ones you can take online at your own convenience.

At the very least, post instructions for infant CPR and choking techniques somewhere in your home. My mom hung a poster inside a kitchen cabinet when we were kids. Everyone in the house knew where to look, if we ever needed an on-the-spot reminder of what to do, should one of our siblings choke. She always pointed it out to babysitters too. Here is an easy to print guideline for your home. If nothing else, make sure your spouse and any older siblings have read through it and practiced on a teddy bear. And be sure to mash your bananas.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Does Father Know Best? Part I: Play

Any mother can tell you approximately 3 hours postpartum that her parenting style is very different from that of her husband. Chances are, she is so delighted at the birth of her baby that she will admit to this fact in a gleeful and teasing manner: "Oh yes, he's so wonderful with Jennie! He loves her to death, and she's daddy's little girl."

In four-months time however, the same answer to the same question might sound more like this: "He is really rough with Jennie, and he never knows when to stop. He doesn't realize how tiny she is. I have to watch them, even just to make sure he's safe with her!"

Fathers and mothers nurture their children in different ways - and while the fathers may send the mothers to their graves, tearing out their hair in worry and fret - it is a simple truth that both kinds of interaction are very much necessary for children's brains to learn and grow. (Oh shoot, my husband is going to hold me to this....)

Mothers tend to comfort children with play that includes cuddling, talking to, gazing at, or lightly moving their babies. Mothers often hold their babies inward, face-to-face. Fathers, on the other hand, often challenge children by rough-housing, rolling, chasing, hanging, swinging, or spinning their babies. They often hold their children facing outward toward the world.

You may, like me, be apt to reach in the fridge for a cold beer when faced with the bounding of your 180-lb. husband with your 18-lb. baby. Somehow that extra zero really seems to "tip the scales" in favor of someone getting injured. However, try your best to let your husband develop into the playful, guiding, challenging father-figure that he is to your children. If you really let 2-year-old-little-cousin-Bobby hold the new baby, chances are he's more likely to drop the baby than the father. Despite how terrifying fatherly play can appear, it's highly unlikely that your husband will actually succeed in bringing your infant to an early death. Rather, your child is learning to appreciate that he can expect comfort and soothing from his mother; play and adventure from his father. Call me sexist, but these typical parenting roles often play themselves out in many families. It's OK to let nature take its course.

So be thankful that you baby's dad is involved with family life, even if his play-style is enough to set your hairs on end. The important thing to watch for is that your baby feels safe and comfortable with both parents.

If you'd like some ideas to encourage your hubby, regarding different ways to engage and play with your child, check out the website published by the National Center for Fathering.

Of course, the exceptions to this include if you fear that the father is abusive or shakes your baby so violently that she could be at risk for Shaken Baby Syndrome. In any of these cases, you should of course contact emergency help immediately.

Opening Credits

I dedicate this blog to my son, James, and my husband, Steve. Two wonderful guys who drive me absolutely nuts. Two amazing men who never give me a break. Two fun boys who have driven me to cyberspace, in order that I might find my sanity.

James is 6 months old tomorrow. I feel I've learned a lot (read: I've aged 10 years) over the past 6 months, and - as I felt in nursing school - I have a strong desire to share what I've learned with anyone else who is curious and has questions to be answered.

While this blog stems from my own experiences, I hope it is informative and useful, rather than merely circumstantial or anecdotal.

So let's begin!