Turns out adults aren’t the only ones who can appreciate a good massage. Even babies as young as a few weeks old can benefit from and enjoy a good massage.
“Baby massage is an ancient art used in many diverse cultures to help with a variety of physical and emotional needs and to promote relaxation,” says Gayle Berry, founder of Blossom & Berry baby massage and yoga. “Babies crave skin contact. Touch is your baby’s most developed sense at birth and through it you can communicate love, security and trust to your baby immediately. Everyone has the ability to touch and massage. You don’t need any qualifications to massage your baby.”
What are the specific benefits?
According to Berry they’re wide and varied. “Baby massage can help relieve wind, colic, constipation, teething and much more. It may also help create and develop the bond between you and your baby, provide relaxation for you both and stimulate and support your baby’s physical, emotional and social development.”
Turns out, babies are first massaged while in utero.
“The baby’s first massage is coming through the birth canal, which stimulates all of the baby’s systems to begin to function,” says Linda Storm, CEIM, IAIMT, IPMHC. “After birth the impact of massage become clear when a parent takes a little more time and intention when changing their baby’s diaper. Bath time can also be very nurturing when parents intentionally stroke the baby’s body in a loving manner. Parents may put oil or lotion on their baby and feel the baby’s skin and muscles. When a parent makes massage part of the daily routine they can notice subtle differences in their baby’s body.”
Berry recommends waiting till a baby is about 6-8 weeks before starting massage because, before that time, baby skin is still adapting to life outside the womb and maturing. “Oils are best applied from six weeks as some studies have suggested that newborn skin can be sensitive to some oils on the skin. You can use lots of other touch techniques however such as skin-to-skin practices, cuddles and baby wearing. Once you start, you can keep massaging your baby for as long as you wish, but just be aware that it’s always baby led so you may need to make sessions shorter, more playful and include songs, rhymes and games. Toddlers can love massage particularly if you combine them with their favorite story.”
Basic elements of infant massage to get you started.
First off Storm underlines that the International Association of Infant Massage encourages parents to use a cold expelled, organic, unscented vegetable or fruit oil. “It might be a sunflower oil, safflower oil, or apricot oil. We avoid oils with a fragrance or that have other ingredients because if the baby puts their hands in their mouth, they’ll take in all of the ingredients of the oil.” She also recommends finding a quiet and relaxing space (think about the kind of space you’d want to lay down for massage!). Lastly, to introduce touch to the baby, Storm says the parent should look at the baby and evaluate if the baby is in a quiet alert state and ready for massage. “Then ask the baby if you can massage them by swishing oil in your hands and showing the baby your hands within 8 – 14” in front of them and asking: ‘may I massage you?’ The parent should then evaluate the baby’s response and only then begin.”
Where to start?
Like with adult massages, it’s best to start with the legs. “Most babies enjoy having their legs massaged and therefore it’s a good place to start the routine,” says Berry. “Babies seem to feel relaxed having their legs touched because it’s a non-threatening area that is touched regularly because of nappy changing and washing. Babies feet and toes are also very sensitive and foot massage usually provides lots of happy smiles from your baby! By starting with a non-intrusive area of your baby’s body you can gain your baby’s confidence.”
“Find a position that’s comfortable for you and your baby. Take off your baby’s clothes. Remove his nappy if you’re comfortable to do so. Place your baby on his back with his feet closest to your body. Babies can hold tension in their legs. Rest one hand gently on your baby’s leg near the thigh and the other hand on the shin. Hold this position for a few moments. Gently bounce your baby’s leg and tell baby in a relaxing and soothing voice to ‘relax’ until you feel his leg begin to relax. When you feel your baby’s leg relax congratulate your baby on his achievement,” says Berry.
When You Massage Remember…
“Make the strokes long, flowing and rhythmical. This will make the massage more relaxing for your baby and will help you to establish and good rhythm,” says Berry. “Don’t lift your baby’s pelvis off the floor when you massage the leg. Aim to gently massage the leg without disturbing the rest of your baby’s body.”
This stroke comes from Indian massage. “Raise your baby’s leg and secure the ankle with one hand. Place the other hand at the base of the thigh,” says Berry. “Gently glide your hand up the length of the leg until you reach the ankle. Use the hand that has just been massaging to secure the ankle and place the other hand at the base of the thigh. Repeat the gliding motion to the ankle. Change hands again. Repeat this stroke between six and eight times.”
“Cradle your baby’s foot in your hands, sole facing you and gently stroke from the heel to the toes. Repeat six to eight times,” says Berry.
“Take each toe in turn and roll it,” says Berry. “Try singing a rhyme whilst massaging the toes.”
“Place your fingers at the ankle joint and make small circles around the joints,” says Berry. “This will help to encourage a good blood flow to the ankle joint helping to keep it supple. It will also help ease any tired muscles in this area.”
“Elevate your baby’s leg. Place both hands at either side of the base of the thigh. Open the hand and gently roll the leg between your hands,” says Berry. “Roll from the thigh to the ankle. Repeat three times. Your baby will love this!”