Goshen News, Goshen, IN

October 14, 2012

WHOLE FAMILY: A mother’s touch is the most important thing


— Of all practices that trouble me about the typical medical approaches to birthing, the one that tugs at my heart like no other is seeing a baby lying alone on a warmer.

Immediately following being squeezed (ideally), pulled (less ideal) or excised (less ideal still) from his warm and watery home, a wee one should be resting softly on his mother, soaking in her scent and floating on words meant only for him. He shouldn’t be, in most cases, on a warmer away from her.

Not every birth is so perfect, I understand for sure — my own first baby spent some time on a warmer  in a NICU — but when a birth can be so perfect, it should be.

I’m happy two of our local hospitals realized more births can be better and are or are in the process of becoming “Baby Friendly,” a UNICEF/World Health Organization designation given to facilities that undergo rigorous steps to promote and encourage breastfeeding. (That’s IU Goshen Health and South Bend Memorial Hospital, respectively.)

Part of the Baby Friendly work means leaving babies on mothers — or dads when necessary — rather than on warmers. Thank goodness, because there are at least three reasons babies on moms after births is super great: One, babies love it, of course, and are more likely to stay warm and to nurse sooner and better than if elsewhere. Two, Stephanie Price is a lot less edgy when a baby’s on mom’s chest and not on the warmer. (Because, after all, Stephanie Price’s feeling are so important to the world running properly. Eye roll.)

And three, mother is, usually, much more content and healthy when her baby’s with her.

Ever seen a mother whose baby is on the warmer or being passed around to well-meaning staff or family rather than in her own arms? If you get a chance to see it — though I really hope you do not — watch mom’s eyes. I’ve seen a mother’s soul virtually reach across the room to that warmer, willing the baby to get back to her — and soon.

Two hours after a cesarean section, nurses had to chase a mother I know down the hallway. She was on foot — two hours’ after major abdominal surgery! — anxious to get to her baby. Such an amazing and powerful instinct it is — to touch our babies.

And there’s my segue.

Mothers, particularly, want to — need to — touch their babies. It’s an instinct that compels us to hold our big bellies before birth and snarl at staff who take our babies after.

That same instinct usually keeps working well into childhood and, I’m told, even when our little boys become strapping men with abundant facial hair and dirty fingernails. We want to touch our babies, even when they’re men and women.

But back to babies and touching.

While most mom-to-baby touches are instinctual and good — likely any parent-to-baby touch done in love is lovely — it doesn’t hurt to get a little help in learning the art of touching our babies in truly therapeutic ways.  

Touch can do more than satisfy our instincts and help with breastfeeding, for sure. Some suggest that touch done purposefully and with a few intentional nuances — infant massage, specifically — can alleviate health problems like colic, promote relaxation and better sleeping, help with parent-child bonding and communication and help with waste elimination, among other things.

The folks at Infant Massage USA, a nonprofit organization, assert those benefits of infant massage and trains people to teach how to do it.

South Bend teacher Paulina Hayden is working toward certification through Infant Massage USA and just finished a five-week class in Mishawaka. She took the instincts we have to touch our babies and directed them to therapeutic ends.

According to Paulina, it worked.

“As a teacher, I have noticed how babies begin to relax faster during our sessions. Longer periods of silence and uninterrupted massage as a group began to happen. I have seen babies gently falling asleep in the class without fussing while their mom or dad is massaging their body,” she wrote to me.


So people like Paulina take our instincts to touch and nuzzle our babies and channel them into specific massage techniques that can help with a variety of health and wellness issues.

So very nice.

“I love teaching this class. It is relaxing for me and so rewarding to witness the amazing capacity the babies have to respond, connect, communicate and finally relax with their parents,” Paulina wrote.

My babies are too big now, but I wish I’d taken an infant massage class when they were younger and would encourage young (or old) parents to learn infant massage if they can. It sounds like a healthy, effective, relaxing, probably fun way to take an instinct and use it.

I guess I’ll just go on snatching babies from warmers and handing them back to their mothers.

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”