Healthy Baby Development Through Touch


What if bath time was something so much more?
The first time you give your little one a bath, the setting is surreal. There’s your baby, in your hands, so fragile and pure. Your every gesture is calculated, but for baby, he’s perfectly content in the water. And a few days later you bathe him once more, but have no idea that this simple activity actually plays a role in his development.

It was trusted brand JOHNSON’S that first brought this subject to our attention. Studies support this finding, that touch during bath time encourages eye contact and brings about smiles on baby’s lip. Plus, the surrounding scents can have a direct effect on your baby’s mood.  Curious to learn more, we spoke with Luisa Ciofani, Associate Director of Nursing at McGill University Health Centre’s Women’s Health Mission. She’s also a spokesperson for JOHNSON’s, and spoke with us about the effects of sensory experiences on babies, and how they contribute to a happy and healthy baby.


During bath time, how can we encourage our baby’s developmental progress?
“Bath time is an event that encompasses many experiences for the baby. The baby experiences both the sensations of touch and smell which can contribute to development. The parent often engages the baby through speech by talking, using different vocal tones and singing. This helps with language development and memory.

“Bath time is a time for reciprocal interaction which contributes to early emotional development and bonding. During bath time many parents put aside other tasks, electronic devices and focus solely on the baby.”

And as baby grows?
“Infants benefit from the loving care that parents provide. It is important for them to receive a balance of stimulation and relaxation (activity/rest) periods. While each parent-infant dyad/triad is unique, it is well known that infants who are stimulated through touch have improved physiological, cognitive, emotional and social development.

“For example, early skin to skin contact after birth has been shown to positively affect interactions between the mom (or caregiver) and the baby one year later. Engaging with the baby through rituals such as infant massage or bathing provide opportunities for stimulation of the baby as well as engagement between the baby and the parent. These opportunities translate into opportunities for infant development through stimulation of both neurological and sensory pathways which lead to development of the brain. As the infant grows up these strategies remain opportunities to continue the development and Improvement of social skills such as the ability to relate to others.”

What is a basic massage technique for baby?
“The baby should be completely naked. The room temperature should therefore be warm to ensure comfort. The massage should not occur after the baby has just eaten. The relaxed baby may void so a blanket or a towel may be used under the baby.

“Sit on the floor with baby on your legs, on his back. Place the hands on each side of the chest and move each hand slowly down each side and gently back up. Be gentle and slow. The hands can then work in opposite directions, like a criss-cross pattern. The right hand on the right flank over to the left shoulder and then the left hand goes from the left flank over to the right shoulder in rhythmic circular movements. One hand is on the baby at a time.

“You should be in a comfortable position and feel relaxed, and keep your rhythm soft and regular. During the massage, focus on the baby and pay attention to the sensation beneath your hands and the baby’s reaction to your touch. Interact with the baby and be attentive to his reactions and emotions.”


Should we ideally massage baby every day after bath time?
“There are benefits such as improved cognitive, physiological, emotional and social development to massage and it can be done as often as the parent wishes. Including it into a daily routine helps to develop the skills and can act as a soothing ritual for the baby. It can be performed before and after bath time, or independent of bath time. The more massage is practiced, the more skilled the parent becomes.”

Which products should we choose and which ones should we avoid?
“Any product that has been tested for use in infants and has been determined to be safe can be used. Verify that the company which is producing the product has a safety testing program and that the information can be verified. Note that products without preservatives can easily become contaminated through multiple uses, exposure to humidity or even improperly cleaned hands. Also, only expose the baby to one new product at a time so that if there is a reaction, the product can more easily be identified.”

We want to know: what is your baby’s bath time routine at home?

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