Why should a new parent massage their baby and what are the benefits of Baby Massage?
There are so many benefits of Baby Massage.
It is a traditional practice to:
- increase bonding and attachment between parents and their babies,
- to stimulate the babies bodies, body awareness and language development,
- to provide relief of things like growing pains, sore tummies, teething and poor circulation,
- and of course, to relax together, getting all the wonderful hormones flowing (oxytocin and prolactin)!
Massage is used with many babies. Lots of studies show that preterm babies gain weight, develop more and bond better with their parents if they are massaged, compared to babies who are not massaged.
Massage makes babies hungry and tired, so this is good to keep in mind, especially if you are feeling that feeding or sleeping are of concern.
Massage is derived from Indian practices, Swedish practices, yoga and reflexology, so when a baby is massaged they are getting the best from many worlds!
When is the best time to massage my baby?
Every baby is different, so parents will have to take cues from the baby, and see what they are doing. To massage, we are looking for a time when the baby is awake, not crying or eating, and is not too active. Try to find a time when the baby is quiet and alert, bright eyed, gently looking about, making some gurgles or coos, relaxed breathing, with calm movements.
Massaging after a big feed is not advisable, and leave 48 hours after immunisations before massaging.
Also, while you might have the timing right for the baby, is the timing right for you? If you have a lot going on, you won’t be relaxed. Turn off your phone, forget about everything else for 15 minutes, and just be with your baby.
What equipment do I need?
All you really need is your baby, and a warm cosy place to massage. Massage oil is also an essential. The recommended oil is a cold pressed organic sunflower oil, and I like to have vitamin E added for extra nourishment for their lovely skin, especially in cooler weather.
How should I massage my baby? Where do I start?
A firm, warm stroke, with well-oiled hands is the best way to massage your baby! That combined with a loving voice, lots of good eye contact, and maybe some gentle singing and chatting, ending with lots of kisses and cuddles.
A brief step-by-step massage routine might look like this:
The safest place to massage is on the floor! Find a warm place, not too bright, and somewhere comfortable for you.
Begin by warming up some massage oil in your hands, swish the oil in front of the baby’s face so they can see your hands, hear the oil swishing, and know what is coming next! Offer the baby the massage, this is a good time to check in with them, have some lovely eye contact!
It is always good to begin massaging a baby’s legs and feet, as these are the least vulnerable parts of the body.
Start on one leg and foot, and then move onto the other. Begin with working from the hip down to the foot, to boost circulation.
Then, try to work across the muscles, again from the hip towards the foot, really warming up the muscles.
Moving onto the foot, work on the base of the foot, some nice firm thumbs being pressed all over the bottom of the foot will feel wonderful, and stimulate the body.
Count out each of the toes, starting with the biggest, this is fun and interactive with your baby.
You can then make little circles around their ankle joints, working back up towards the hip from the ankle.
It’s also really lovely to massage their beautiful, busy bottoms, so some big circles on their buttocks! This might stimulate some wind, so don’t be surprised!
Now do the same on the other leg and foot, and repeat the strokes for the bottom!
Working from the hips down to the toes, do a lovely long massage stroke, linking everything together, telling them each body part and showing them how it all connects!
Most new parents come to me with concerns that their baby is experiencing tummy pain, this can be constipation, wind or even colic. With this kind of tummy pain, a few handy strokes are to work on the tummy, moving in a clockwise direction, as this follows the path of digestion. It is also beneficial to bring the baby’s knees up and into their tummy, and hold this position, as it puts some pressure on their tummy with their knees and thighs. It can also be of benefit to bicycle their legs, so long as their thighs are meeting their tummy.
Teething is also a common issue that parents raise with me, and some big circles on their jawline can provide a lot of relief.
All massage will help to induce sleep, so long as the timing is right, environment is warm and loving, and baby is receptive.
….. I really love the work I do, it fits beautifully around my own children, and has been such a positive influence on our family life. My own children know all about breastfeeding, about massage and yoga and the benefits, and are really aware of their own bodies, their breathing and how they feel when their bodies are relaxed. We still massage, and often they will ask for a back massage or foot massage, knowing how lovely it feels, and how we have focused time together.
About the Author
This piece is by Caroline Barber. Caroline runs West London Babies and is a mummy, Baby Yoga teacher, Postnatal Doula, Babywearing Consultant and Infant Massage Instructor; see www.westlondonbabies.com