We all love a massage, and babies are no different! It’s not just adults who find it relaxing and soothing to have a body rub every now and then. In fact, there is a long list of benefits that baby massage has to both the parents and baby. But what is baby massage, what is the best technique and what exactly are the benefits?
What is baby massage?
In a nutshell baby massage involves gentle, rhythmic stroking of your baby’s body with your hands.
Before babies can understand language, we often communicate with and comfort them through touch. If a baby cries, for example, parents will hold, cuddle or stroke them. Baby massage is part of this natural impulse. That’s because our of the five senses, touch is the one that’s most developed at birth, and there’s research to suggest that infant massage has enormous benefits for helping babies grow and thrive.
There are lots of ways baby massage can benefit not just your baby, but you and your partner too. So what exactly are the benefits?
The soothing strokes of your hands stimulate the production of the feel-good hormone oxytocin in you, your baby and even your partner, if he's watching. Oxytocin is the hormone that gives you that warm, loving feeling when you hold your baby close or breastfeed them. Your little one also feels these similar feelings when being touched and massaged. We all know the drill, the minute you put your baby down, they cry but pick them up and they’re all happy again! In fact, studies have shown that massaging an infant can reduce crying and fussiness, helping them to sleep more peacefully.
Baby massaging is a great way to bond with your little one. Setting aside that special time every day to connect in such a special way and through touch can really benefit your connection and bond. As you massage your baby, it comes naturally to chat to them and have plenty of eye contact which will help you feel closer.
Father’s often feel a little behind on the baby bonding since they didn’t carry the baby from the very beginning like Mum did plus they can’t breastfeed which we all know helps create a bond. We think baby massage is the perfect thing for Dad to get involved with which can become their “thing” with baby to help create that special bond and give them their own time together.
Stimulate growth in underweight babies
In a study at Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine Dr Field studied the effect of baby massage on premature babies. The study found that preemies who were massaged three times a day for 15 minutes gained 47 percent more weight and left the hospital an average of six days earlier than those who were not massaged.
If your little one has suffered from colic or constipation, we know how much distress it can cause. Baby massage is known to improve the overall function of the gastrointestinal tract. Specific but easy to learn massage techniques can help move along digestion and move the gas that is causing distress, often reliving pain and making your little one a happy baby again.
How to get started!
You’ll be pleased to know baby massage is super easy and needs very little supplies before you are ready to get started. A little practice of the different techniques, learning what your little one loves and a calm environment, you’ll be a massage pro in no time!
When is the right time?
Good news… you can start massaging your baby pretty much straight from birth. It’s a great way to comfort them and get them used to your touch, face and voice straight away. In terms of the right or wrong time in your daily routine, there isn’t really a wrong time! It totally depends on your routine, what your little one likes and when it best suits you.
We do suggest trying to avoid times when your little one is a little agitated, for example if they are hungry or over tired as it just won’t be a relaxing experience for baby or you! Also try to pick a time in your day when you’re not feeling rushed, it’s nice to take your time and not rush this special time. Try to build baby massage into your daily routine so that your baby knows to expect it at a certain point and it can become their cue for bedtime or the perfect start to the day. We personally like to do it after bath time as part of their bed time routine to help relax and soothe them ready for sleep.
Time to get started!
Have we got you interested? Great! Now it’s time to get started and get that baby massaged. All your going to need is about 10 to 15 minutes of dedicated and relaxed time in a quiet and calm environment.
Once you have found the perfect quiet and warm spot in your house simply set down something comfy like a towel or blanket under your babies back. It’s best to have them on their back facing upwards so you can maintain eye contact and talk to them whilst you are massaging them. Undress your baby down to just their nappy and grab some baby oil or moisturiser to make it easier for your hands to glide over your baby's skin and may be more relaxing for your baby.
Whichever oil or cream you use, it's best to dab a little on your baby's skin first, just in case they have a reaction. Do this patch test the day before you intend to start massaging your baby.
Techniques and tips
When you are ready to get started and give it a go here are a few hints and tips, along with a few techniques that work for us and you could find helpful too.
Baby massage can be done on pretty much every part of your babies little body. For the first few times, you may just want to massage your baby's legs until they get used to the sensation. It's a good place to begin because your baby is used to having their legs touched during nappy changes. Once your baby is more familiar with the sensation you can start to explore different techniques and areas of the body to see what your little one loves the most. Try these tips to get you started –
Legs and feet. Hold your baby’s heel in one hand; with your other hand, start at the top of the thigh and slowly stroke all the way down to the ankle, gently squeezing the leg as you go. Reverse the motion and go from ankle to thigh. Then rub the feet with your thumbs, gently uncurling and stroking each individual toe. Switch legs. You can do these same strokes on the arms and hands.
Head & Face. Using just your fingertips, massage your baby’s face. Stroke from the middle of the forehead out round the eyes and down and in towards the cheeks. Lightly massage the crown of your baby’s head using a circular motion.
Chest. Fold your hands on your baby’s chest, then push out to the sides, as if you were smoothing the pages of an open book.Stroke out towards their shoulders, then gently down each arm towards the wrists.
Tummy. With your fingertips, draw an oval below your baby’s belly button. (Move clockwise, to follow the natural path of digestion.) Next, “walk” your fingertips from one side of your baby’s belly to the other, on the diagonal, as if you were making an “X.”
Back. If your baby is relaxed, and is happy to be on their front, turn them over to massage their back. Use long slow strokes from head to toe. For each leg, lift the heel and gently stretch it up towards your baby’s bottom.
Once you are in the swing of it and you are both used to the whole baby massage concept, it’s good to stick to the same routine and techniques each time you do it as your baby will take comfort from knowing what is coming next.
Reading your baby's cues is the most important aspect of massage. Your baby will tell you when the massage needs to end and which strokes they like or dislike. If your baby seems uncomfortable or unhappy it’s best to stop the massage and just pick them up for a cuddle instead. You can try another time when your baby may enjoy it more.
Relax and enjoy!
It's important that both you and your little one are enjoying it. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to become a master masseur, just simply touching, soothing and rubbing your little one in a rhythmic way is enough to make it a baby massage. If you are interested in picking up more specific techniques, baby massage classes are the perfect place to learn in a social environment. Check out the Hub at Natural Baby Shower to see when our next Baby Massage class is.