HALIFAX — For this massage, they bring their blankies.
Soothers and squeaky toys too.
And mommies stroke tummies to the tune of skinamarinky-dinky-dink, skinamarinky-doo.
“I love you.”
About 25 babies squirm to the perky notes and soothing strokes as Halifax infant massage instructor Kylie Field demonstrates on a doll.
The moms mimic the moves, rub-a-dub-dubbing their real-life dolls and dudes with clockwise circles or “I love you” caresses that bring gurgles and giggles and wiggles and wails.
Then a chorus of coos.
A symphony of sweet.
And gummy grins galore, courtesy of four-month-old Alexis and her petite peeps — lounging on the pink and blue and purple mats on the floor of the Halifax library.
“I find it’s really soothing,” says Alexis’s mom, Hansford, who practised infant massage on her oldest child, now three, and considers this a relaxing, bonding, unbinding experience for baby.
“I use a lot of the motions, especially when she’s a — needs to poop,” Hansford explains with a laugh. “When she’s backed up, it really helps get things moving.”
“Backed up” comes up a lot in baby massage circles. And during sessions like these, which Field organized to spread the word about classes she says are becoming increasingly popular.
“You’re always moving clockwise because that’s the way the intestines empty. So you don’t want to back the poop up. I’m sorry, we talk about poop and pee and things a lot,” she says, chuckling. “It’s a big deal.”
So are the strokes’ numerous benefits, says Field, also a postpartum doula who runs infant massage classes through her Halifax company The Nurturing Touch (www.thenurturingtouch.ca).
“Touch is the first sense that a baby develops,” she says. “One of the most powerful methods of communication is touch.”
This type of touch enhances bonding between parents and babies, Field says. It improves everything from blood circulation and digestion to the sleeping habits of little ones. It also stimulates their oxytocin, a calming hormone.
It even softens their skin, thanks to the natural (vegetable, canola or olive) oils the moms apply.
“The oils that you use are natural and safe . . . something you would eat on your salad,” says Field, who massaged her daughters, now 14 and 12, when they were babies.
“We don’t advise using baby oil or mineral oil for babies. . . . They’re not edible, and in massaging you’ll get oil on the baby’s hand, and babies put their hands into their mouth, so you wouldn’t want them to eat the mineral oil. And lastly, mineral oil isn’t absorbed into the skin . . . so as a result, you have a very slippery baby.”
Field doesn’t advise massaging very sleepy babies either. Or babies who are crying.
“We want the massage to be a positive thing for the baby,” she says.
“The ideal time for massaging a baby is actually when they’ve just woken up, it’s called the quiet alert stage, and this is such a great time for learning.”
Hansford and other moms say infant massage helps them learn more about their babies, relax with their babies and have fun with their babies amid all the colic or other newborn chaos.
“I massage her legs almost every time I do a diaper change,” Adele Pellerin says of 41/2-month-old Sofia, who is serenely staring at the ceiling.
“And I say ‘Baby massage!’ and she goes ‘Ah!’ She does this little thing … she does this little smile.”
“Oh, she loves it,” Hansford adds about her Alexis, still smiling as her mom circles — clockwise, of course — her little belly.
“I love it,” Field says of the confidence and comfort she helps pass on to parents and children.
“You see the joy.”