The Alt.Family have been away for a while, taking some time out in the rain! A very wet holiday, and uexpectedly without an internet connection… so, belatedly, here is the post that you should have had last week!This video has been doing the rounds of facebook over the last couple of weeks, but just in case you haven’t seen it yet, I want to share it with you now:
The baby in that film is so relaxed, there’s no question she is enjoying all the sensations she’s experiencing; the warm water, the gentle touch of the nurse. I have never made the most of baby massage with my two, but having seen this, I wish I had done. There’s so much to be gained from the experience, for the parent as well as the baby, I would think.
The skin is an amazing human organ, passing all sorts of messages to the brain. Touch is important for babies and children (in fact for all of us, who doesn’t like a hug?) for so many reasons. In fact, Deborah Jackson dedicates a whole chapter of her book “Three in a Bed” to the importance of touch. She points out that before birth, the child and its mother communicate solely through touch. They rely, she says, “on physical contact for information”. Yet when a baby is born, we are almost afraid to touch it. We are blinded by the apparent fragility of the newborn, and need to be reminded that this new little person has never before been “untouched”.
How scary that must be for them, how alone they must feel!
I suppose this builds a little on the idea of wearing your baby in a sling, thus mimicking the sensation of being inside the womb. The baby feels secure, snuggled from all sides, and is happy to sleep and wake, and feed and sleep again, in something resembling its own familiar environment. It really is like a massage from all directions!
When Alt.D1 was born, she was whisked away from me to a rescuscitaire on the other side of the room. She’d been distressed during her long and uncomfortable journey into the outside world, and they needed to check her over. I needed stitches, I was still uncomfortable, but I was aware of the importance of skin-to-skin contact for my new baby. I suggested perhaps she could have that contact with Alt.Father, whilst I was being attended to. I was met with a confused look from the midwife. The baby was wrapped up so as not to be cold, and she waited to be put on my chest when I was once again sitting. I felt a bit cheated, although she was nice and clean and not slimy. She hasn’t suffered through not having had immediate skin-to-skin contact, as far as I can tell, and we’re a very cuddly household (as you can probably imagine!) so hopefully we have made up for it since.
Alt.D2’s experience was different, in that she was delivered straight into my hands and up onto my chest (very slimy, that one!). I held her for a while, and then Alt.Father held her, also skin-to-skin, while I bathed and had more stitches (don’t ever ask me about my stitches!). Then we attempted biological nurturing, where the baby finds its own way to its first feed. This was with limited success, but all the while giving Alt.D2 constant contact. We weren’t hurried to dress her immediately, and we all loved it.
I read a passage in “Three in a Bed” where the author describes being encouraged by writer Jean Liedloff to hold her young daughter up by her ankle. I tried it with Alt.D2 (about 6 months old at the time) and she loved it! She absolutely howled with laughter, grinning and dribbling upside down into her hair. I mentioned it to Alt.Father, who looked a bit sideways at me, but later admitted he’d tried it with her at bedtime, and conceded that it did seem to make her very happy (weird child, loves being upside down!). So maybe we should be a bit braver in how we handle our kids. I should probably put a disclaimer in here, shouldn’t I? People, be a bit careful, use your common sense, but have a good giggle – remember how much you used to love dangling head down from the monkey bars?
There has been much research into the health and healing benefits of touch. Kangaroo Care for premature babies has yeilded amazing results. This technique was introduced in the early 1980s in Columbia, a country suffering from high infant mortality rates. The babies were placed inside their mothers’ clothing, against their chests, where they remained for 24 hours a day. Similar methods, where babies born early or with low birth rates are held by parents or carers for several hours at a time, have been introduced in many hospitals around the world. It’s hard to believe that premature babies were once kept away from the touch of their parents and nurses in the belief that risk of infection outweighed the benefits of physical contact.
It seems that it works both ways, too. The touch of her baby was enough to rehabilitate Australian coma sufferer Emma De Silva, whose husband and family had been told there was almost no hope. Their incredible story can be seen here. Get the tissues handy before you hit play, though! What an amazing testimonial to the power of touch.