Massage For Babies
Massage for babies – Touch is a powerful therapy, and massage has been practiced by civilisations for thousands for years, not only for
adults but for newborn babies as well. Western civilisation only recently discovered the art of infant massage, when it was used in the 1970s in South America on premature infants to promote skin-to-skin contact, so as to promote relaxation and weight gain.
Nowadays baby massage is growing in popularity, with many hospitals and therapists specialising in infant massage offering classes to new mums. The gentle art of baby massage is a simple way of bonding with a baby, and comes with a myriad of benefits to the physical and emotional well being of an infant.
What are the benefits of massage for babies?
- Relaxing baby, reducing fussiness and aiding sleep
When you give your baby a massage, you’re actually stimulating their central nervous system, which sets off a chain reaction: it makes the brain produce more serotonin, a feel-good chemical, and less cortisol, a hormone that is secreted in response to stress. As a result, your baby’s heart rate and breathing slow down, and the baby becomes more relaxed. This will help reduce crying and fussiness, and by inducing a more relaxed state, can help get your baby to sleep better.
- Physical benefits for babies
Studies have shown that massage stimulates healthy development of different body systems, such as aiding digestion, improving circulation, and even boosting the immune system. Regular massage can alleviate constipation and colic, thereby soothing the baby and reducing pain and fussiness. Massage also promotes weight gain, enhances development by encouraging movement and coordination.
- Emotional benefits
Affectionate touch and rhythmic movement are among the most powerful forms of communication between babies and their parents, so they’re great ways for you to bond with your baby. Massage allows you to get to know your baby better by learning to read and respond to the many different signals. The time spent during massage allows you to bond with your baby, and helps to develop a feeling of trust and security.
- Benefits for parents
The time you set aside for a massage can be your special time with your baby. As you massage your baby, it comes naturally to chat, hum or sing to bub, and you may find that this lifts your mood and helps you to feel more empowered as a parent. This can be especially helpful for mums with postnatal depression, or who are at risk of depression, as the interaction during a massage session can soothe the baby, reduce stressful crying episodes and aid in learning to respond better to bub’s needs, thereby increasing confidence as a new parent.
Baby massage can also be a great way for dads to bond with the baby. Some dads may miss out on a lot of the hands-on care for babies, especially if their baby is breastfed, or if they are at work most of the time. A regular massage routine with dad can help with baby and dad bonding, as well as help to relax dad if he is feeling stressed.
- Benefits for premature babies
Skin to skin contact is beneficial to all babies, but especially for premature infants. Massage takes skin-to-skin contact to a different level, and has proven to lead to multiple benefits such as improved weight gain by stimulating the vagus nerve which improves digestion and bowel movement; stabilising the heart rate; resulting in calmer responses to stress and pain; and more stable brain activity and development. Studies have shown that massaged premature babies tend to be well enough to go home sooner than babies who aren’t massaged.
How to do baby massage
With so many benefits, how do you start, and do you need to take bub to a specially trained therapist? Baby massage is as simple as gently and rhythmically stroking your baby’s body with your hands, and there is no need to call in a therapist.
All you need is 10 to 15 minutes. Pick a time when you’re relaxed and your baby is quiet but alert. If you try to massage a fussy baby, you may overstimulate him and make him even more unhappy. Try to pick a time when your baby is between feeds. Then he won’t be too hungry or too full. If your baby is quietly alert and interested in his environment, it means he’ll be ready to interact with you. A massage before bedtime will help your baby to wind down after the stimulation of the day and become calm, ready for sleep.
Before you begin, make sure the room is warm and quiet. As this is a special time for you and your baby, make sure there aren’t any distractions in the room. Take off any jewelry that could get in the way, and undress bub. Some people prefer not to fully undress their baby for a massage particularly if it is cool, and some babies prefer not to be fully undressed, however babies will still enjoy a massage of some of their body – perhaps just their feet, chest, arms and head.
Lay bub facing up on a soft towel or blanket, with a pillow under his head. Grab some oil – we recommend vegetable oils that are high in
linoleic acid, such as safflower oil, which are kinder to your baby’s skin than oils high in oleic acid, such as olive oil. Begin by holding his hands and gently rubbing his palms with your thumbs a few times. When he seems tuned in to you, use gentle strokes, starting with your baby’s legs and working your way up his tummy, chest, cheeks and forehead. Keep going for as long as your baby seems to be enjoying it.
As part of the massage routine, you can talk softly, hum or sing to your baby, which will make it more reassuring for bub as well as helping with the bonding process. Try to follow a routine pattern during the massage, as bub will find it comforting to know what’s coming next. There is no single right way to do a massage; reading your baby’s cues is the most important aspect of baby massage, as your baby will tell you when the massage needs to end and which strokes he likes or dislikes. No matter the length or pattern of massage, the key thing is that you both enjoy the process, which will allow you and your baby to reap the many benefits that infant massage offers.