Does baby massage sound a little first world to you? I mean, if you’ve got other kids, you’re a little too busy packing lunch boxes, cleaning koki off the walls and running after a naked toddler with a potty in hand to take a little time out for some baby massage, aren’t you?
I first learnt about baby massage at a moms group back in Vancouver. We were all handed grapeseed oil (I’d never heard of it before then), undressed our babies, placed them in a circle and were shown baby massage. What sounded like an ‘optional’ extra activity, is actually pretty significant.
There are TONS of benefits of baby massage. In fact, third time round, dare I say that newborns can be a little boring sometimes? They’re awesome, but there’s not allll that much you can do with them… but you can do this! So this is a total win.
- It is a fantastic way of affirming your bond with your baby (which is critical if you understand how babies’ brains develop).
- Encourages digestion and eases baby’s colic, constipation and gas/wind.
- Improves blood circulation and skin conditions.
- Encourages sensory stimulation and routine building.
- Helps build parents and baby’s self esteem.
- Improves baby’s health and general well-being.
- Helps baby sleep for longer and stimulates neurological development.
- Helps you become more confident in handling your child and better at recognising their needs.
- Research has shown that baby massage can be a way in which a mother engages in positive ways with her baby (relieves stress for both mom and bub).
- It can be a great way for partners, grandparents and siblings to bond with the newest addition to the family.
- Regularly massaging your baby may help them to sleep and settle better too. Your baby’s muscles relax, and breathing becomes deeper as massage raises levels of the ‘feel-good’ hormone oxytocin in both you and your baby. This helps you both feel calmer and relaxed. (This can also help with breastfeeding).
Although massage is beneficial for all babies, it is particularly useful for those with special needs, such as Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy, as it provides a unique way of communicating and soothing them.
THE HOW TO:
So firstly, it’s ideal to create a relaxing, cosy environment for bubs. Post bath, when they’re relaxed and warm, is my best time, but here are some general tips:
- Choose a time when your baby is content and alert, not tired or hungry.
- Try sitting on the floor, bed or sofa, with your child safely on a towel in front of you.
- Find a position that’s comfortable, gives you good eye contact with no overhead lights and where your baby is warm.
- It’s up to you whether your child is nappy-free, but it can help to at least loosen the nappy when massaging the tummy.
- Use a safe and natural or organic oil or cream as some may end up in their mouth. I prefer oil, such as Pure Beginnings’ Soothing Baby Massage & Bath Oil with Kalahari Melon.
- Your child may end up with some oil in their mouth (via their hands or feet), so you really do want to make sure it’s safe.
It can be a nice idea to introduce a massage after bath and before bed as part of a bedtime wind-down.
Before beginning, ‘ask permission’ by warming a little oil between your hands near your baby’s ears, and ask ‘can I give you a massage?’ Cheesy, but cute (and teaching boundaries :)) This may sound a little strange but your child will become familiar with this cue and know that massage is about to start. It also gives your baby a chance to let you know if they’re not feeling like a massage (ha ha, alrighty then).
It’s great to massage the whole of your child’s body using a range of techniques (a couple are given below). You can repeat each stroke a few times, always responding to what your child seems to enjoy. The ‘I love you’ stroke was one of my faves and one I’ve never forgotten.
- Once you have ‘asked permission,’ gently hold one of your baby’s legs between your palms.
- Then, with one hand, hold your baby’s ankle securely. Mould your other hand around the top of your child’s thigh, then slide it down the leg towards the ankle. Aim for a ‘milking’ action – as if you were milking a cow.
- Then swap hands and repeat. Always keep your child’s ankle supported and use slow, flowing strokes.
- Next, cradle your child’s foot in your hands and use your thumbs to stroke over the sole of the foot from heel to toes, one thumb after another. This can also be done on the top of the foot. Gently squeeze and rub each toe between your thumb and finger.
- Then, holding your child’s foot in your hands, press the pads of your thumbs all over the sole of the foot, like a cat padding a cushion.
- Finish by repeating the ‘milking’ stroke in the opposite direction, i.e. from ankle to thigh. You can use the same technique on her arms.
- You can massage tummy in circular movements, and roll bubs over and massage her back and bum.
Here are some tips to help you massage your baby safely:
- Please don’t use oils that are synthetically scented, petroleum-based or contain nuts – you know better than that.
- When massaging your child’s arms or legs, always support the ankle or wrist with one hand.
- When massaging your child’s tummy with a circular motion, go clockwise rather than anti-clockwise.
- Keep oil away from her face. Use the residual oil on your hands for gentle facial massage.
Importantly, if your child becomes upset or falls asleep, stop massaging.
Enjoy baby massage
If your baby doesn’t seem to enjoy massage right away, don’t be bummed. It’s a new experience for you both and it can take a bit of getting used to. Try a few minutes the first time and build up as your child gets more used to it.
There’s no reason why you can’t continue massaging your child into later childhood. Studies show this can have a positive effect, not just on your child’s physical health, but on their emotional well-being and relationships with others – including you!
Watch my video here on bathtime and massage with my baby girl:
Contributor: Debbie Knighton-Fitt, Pure Beginnings pregnancy ambassador & author of the Our Greenish Life Blog.