BABIES love to be touched, and what better way than with practised baby massage?
Spending just a few minutes a day massaging a baby can help the infant sleep more easily, and can ease a whole range of digestive and skin complaints.
Massaging a child creates a close bond between the youngster and the parent, whether mother or father.
It is a quiet time to build up sensual and emotional links while the child is still tiny which will have long-lasting benefits.
Wendy O'Connor, beauty therapy holistic lecturer at Solihull College, teaches health visitors and midwives the theory and practice of baby massage so they can go on to teach it to new mums and dads.
"The entire family unit benefits from it," she says. "It is a hands-on way of building a bond with your baby through a practised routine.
"There are many practical benefits for the baby. It can help skin conditions such as eczema and aids digestive problems such as colic and constipation.
"The mother also benefits a great deal. She has just had a baby and gone through all kinds of hormonal changes and there could have been some kind of trauma with the birth.
"Massaging her baby will make it sleep better and it will be less of a 'cry-baby' which also benefits the mother. But as well as the physical effect, there is also the psychological effect of being close to your baby."
Baby massage can sedate the youngster, creates a sense of security, can relieve pain and dry skin, improves flexibility and mobility, helps improve circulation and immunity, reduces crying and sleeplessness and can increase sensory development.
The mother will benefit by increased confidence and familiarity with her child and the bond with the child can help to reduce post-natal depression and increase lactation.
Touching the child often should also mean any problems experienced by the baby will be detected as early as possible. And both parent and child can benefit from increased stimulation, relaxation, anxiety relief, close identification of each other through touch and smell and improved communication.
"It can have an effect on dad, too, because he can also massage the child and be involved in the process of being new parents," says Wendy.
Baby massage is done with two fingers and is very light. A routine can last ten to 20 minutes as opposed to an adult massage of an hour.
"You use very gentle strokes on a baby and you massage towards the heart," says Wendy. "It's very soothing and relaxing."
Parents can begin massaging their babies from when they are first born, and research on premature babies has shown they improve quicker and are more resistant to infections if they have been massaged.
The bonding can continue once the child begins toddling. Massaging a baby or child can be done at any time and needs no special equipment. It can be done anywhere that is private and quiet.
But there is a knack to it. Before massaging your baby, seek out expert advice, either from your health visitor, midwife or GP - or find one of the growing number of books.
"It is the most natural thing in the world for new parents to stroke, cuddle and rock their babies, and massage is no more than an extension of this desire to hold, touch and provide comfort," says Clare Maxwell-Hudson in her book 'Massage, The Illustrated Guide'.
"Not only is massage a pleasurable, bonding experience for both parent and child, but it also encourages the baby to become sociable.
"Although relatively new in the west, baby massage is commonplace in India and Africa."
Solihull College begins classes in baby massage in September for midwives and health visitors. Students need to be interviewed and have the necessary qualifications. More information is available by calling Wendy O'Connor or beauty and haircare co-ordinator …