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Baby Massage and its advantages

baby wearing pink bathrobe

Baby Massage is an excellent way to boost your baby’s development and plenty of praises have been sung about all of the various benefits, in this article we will go through some of the advantages of massaging your baby.Massaging even for a few minutes enhances the sleep cycle and promotes better appetite and improved agility. A mother’s touch is the first way of communication with her baby, massaging is one way in which mommies give their babies a sense of security through their touch. Baby massage can be great for dads, too, some dads may miss out on a lot of the hands-on care of their babies, especially if they are at work and their baby is breastfed. A regular massage with dad can become a routine, perhaps at bedtime, that helps to bring your baby and partner closer together.

Why should I massage my baby & how can infant massage benefit my little one?

It can help ease your baby’s tummy troubles and teething pains, boost their muscle development, calm them  when they are fussy, and soothe them to sleep. But the advantages don’t stop there: All that stroking and touching make it easier for you to bond with your newborn:

  1. Relieves stress, relaxes muscles: Massage relieves stress in babies by stimulating the release of oxytocin, a feel-good neurohormone, and decreases the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. It relaxes muscles, stimulates their growth, and even works particularly great with colicky babies.
  2. Stimulates nervous system: Massage is beneficial to the baby’s nervous system since it greatly improves the baby’s motor skills development.
  3. Helps baby sleep better: Babies sleep better when they are massaged. This has several benefits from faster muscle gain to improved immune response. Infants who are massaged just before bedtime produced more melatonin – a sleep-regulating hormone.
  4. May improve the quality of life for differently-abled babies: Massage could be a way to soothe babies with Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy. Premature babies show better motor development when massaged regularly. They even gain weight faster than premature babies that are never massaged. In fact, massaged premature babies have shorter hospital stays. Babies born to depressed mothers, when massaged, cried less and showed greater emotional and social development as they grew.
  5. Could help improve blood circulation: Massage improves the blood circulation and also decreases the level of discomfort caused by gas or acidity, congestion, and teething. Massage stimulates the nerves that pass through the digestive tract, thus benefiting the digestive system.
  6. Way to deal with postnatal depression: Massage could be an effective way to deal with postnatal depression among mothers. Depressed mothers showed improved mood and behavior when they massaged their babies regularly. Research has also shown that fathers who regularly massage their babies develop improved self-esteem. They also display increased involvement in baby’s care and interact with babies more frequently.
  7. Boosts psychological and social development: According to a 2012 report by Asian Nursing Research Journal, stimulation of the baby’s sense of touch has a positive effect on the baby’s psychological and social development along with strengthening the baby’s bond with the parent.

When is the best time to massage my baby?

Try to pick a time when your baby is between feeds. A good time to massage your baby is when she is awake, but settled. If your baby is quietly alert and interested in her environment, it means she’ll be ready to interact with you.

If your baby is sleeping and feeding often, you may wonder when this golden time for massage is going to come around! You’ll get to know when your baby is most content to have a massage. You may like to make it part of your baby’s bedtime routine, perhaps after a bath and before a bedtime feed.

A massage before bedtime will help your baby to wind down after the stimulation of the day and become calm, ready for sleep.

Setup for Massage

Buy a baby massage oil or cream, or use an edible oil (like olive, grapeseed or coconut oil). If your baby has eczema, it is best to use her prescribed cream or emollient during the massage.Choose a large, safe surface where your baby can move around, such as the floor or a bed, and lay down a blanket or towel. (Experts do not recommend using the change table, because your baby can easily roll off.)

Make sure the room is dark, soothing and free of distractions. (Relaxing background music is fine.) Undress your baby to just her diaper, you can also perform massage over PJ’s or a onesie. (Skip the oil, though.)

Ask for permission before your baby massage, It may seem funny, but professional massage therapists check in with an infant beforehand, and parents should, too. Ask, “Would you like to have a massage?” Then rub your hands together and wiggle your fingers in front of her face, this also helps create a routine for baby massage.

Note:  Some babies take a few sessions to get used to the baby massage. Don’t give up—introduce toys, sing songs, change your baby’s position (from the back to the tummy, or sitting up), or just focus on her favorite body part. Remember that when it comes to your baby, you’re the expert, and that if you’re relaxed, she’ll be relaxed, too.

How to massage baby step by step

baby laying on bed while woman massaging his back

Step 1: Massaging the legs

  • Start with the baby’s feet, rub some drops of oil on your palms and begin massaging the baby’s soles. Massage the heels up to the toes with your thumbs. Then, using your palm, stroke the bottom and top of the baby’s foot. Slowly, make circles with your thumb all over the bottom of each foot and then to the toes. Do not pull any toe like they do in adult foot massage. Instead, lightly massage each toe right to the tip. This will help stimulate nerve endings during your baby massage.
  • Lift one of the legs and make gentle strokes on the ankle and slowly extend it towards the thighs. Gently stroke from the foot up to the thigh. You can also massage both legs at once if your baby is calm and relaxed.
  • You end the leg massage by gently grasping the thighs with both your hands. Slowly stroke toward the heart from foot to thigh.

Step 2: Moving to the arms 

  • The pattern of massaging is quite similar to that of the legs. Hold the baby’s hands and make circular strokes on the palms. Slowly make small strokes on the baby’s fingers, moving towards the tips of the fingers.
  • Turn the baby’s hand around and now gently massage the back of the hand with straight strokes towards the wrist. Then, gently massage the wrists in a circular motion, like putting on bangles.
  • Move your strokes slowly towards the forearm and then towards the upper arm. Massage the entire arm with gentle circular motions as if you are wringing a towel.

Step 3: Chest and shoulder massage

  • Make gentle strokes in tandem from the left and right shoulder towards the chest of the baby during your baby massage. You can then trace your hand back to the shoulder. Repeat the motion gently. Next, place both your hands at the center of your baby’s chest and rub outwards from the body – towards the lateral side.
  • Make gentle strokes outwards from the bottom of the sternum, the chest bone, across the chest, as if tracing the shape of the heart.

Step 4: Time for tummy massage

  • Next comes the baby’s stomach. Remember, this is a delicate area, and therefore you must avoid even the slightest of pressures. You start your stroke from the top of the belly right below the chest bone. Place your palm gently below the chest bone and make clockwise circular strokes across the belly – all around the belly button. Do not apply any pressure and let your hand gently glide across the belly.
  • Continue the circular motions in a clockwise direction while avoiding the belly button. In young babies, the belly button/navel can be sensitive and delicate since they would have recently shed their umbilical cord stub.

Step 5: Massaging face and head

  • Massaging the face and head can be challenging during your baby massage, since babies tend to move a lot. But it is as important as massaging the other parts of the body. Begin by placing the tip of your index finger at the center of your baby’s forehead and slowly stroking along the outline of the face towards the chin. From the chin, move your finger towards the cheeks and massage the cheeks gently in a circular motion. Repeat the strokes a few times.
  • After massaging the face, start massaging the scalp with the fingertip like you are shampooing the baby’s hair. Use gentle pressure from your fingertip and do not apply any extra pressure since the baby’s skull is delicate.
  • You can even massage the baby’s forehead gently by moving your fingers outwards from the centre of the forehead.

Step 6: The back

  • The last step is to turn your baby around and massage the back. Place your baby outstretched on the tummy with the hands at the front and not on the sides.
  • Place your fingertips on the baby’s upper back and trace clockwise circles while slowly moving the strokes towards the buttocks.
  • You then place your index finger and middle finger on either side of the upper spine and very gently move the fingers all the way to the buttocks. Repeat the strokes a few times. Do not place the fingers on the spine. Instead, place two fingers on either side of the spinal groove and run them down.
  • Massage the baby’s shoulder blades with gentle clockwise circular strokes. Make the same gentle strokes at the baby’s lower back and buttocks. End the massage with this last stroke. Apart from the above-mentioned baby massage techniques, there are a few other effective massages for the baby that work great in certain situations or conditions.

How often should I Massage my baby?

There is no restriction on how less or more you can massage your baby. It is great, though, to have a fixed baby massage routine since it helps your baby reap all the long-term benefits of massage. If your baby faces certain adverse medical problems, then consult the baby’s doctor about the ideal massage routine.

References:

Virpi Huhtala et al.; Infant Massage Compared With Crib Vibrator in the Treatment of Colicky Infants; American Academy of Pediatrics
Baby massage: tips and benefits; NCT
Russel M Walters et al.; Developmental Changes in Skin Barrier and Structure during the First 5 Years of Life; Research Gate
The benefits of infant massage; Michigan State University
Daphna Yasova Barbeau and Michael D. Weiss; Sleep Disturbances in Newborns; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2017)
Michelle Fletcher; The Many Benefits of Infant Massage; Pacific College of Oriental Medicine
Glover V et al.; Benefits of infant massage for mothers with postnatal depression.; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2002)
Ayşe Gürol and Sevinç Polat; The Effects of Baby Massage on Attachment between Mother and their Infants; Asian Nursing Research
Enjoy Baby Massage; National Health Service, UK
Relieve Infant Colic With Massage; Pacific College of Medicine
Three Ways to Relieve Infant Constipation; Akron Children’s Hospital
Neu M et al.; Benefits of massage therapy for infants with symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2014)
Chien-Heng Lin et al.; Effects of infant massage on jaundiced neonates undergoing phototherapy; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2015)
Hsu CY et al.; Local massage after vaccination enhances the immunogenicity of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine; National Center For Biotechnology Information (1995)
Teething; University of California, San Francisco

Abdallah B, Badr K, Hawwari M. 2013. The efficacy of massage on short and long term outcomes in preterm infants. Infant Behavior and Development36(4):662-9
Ahmed AS, Saha SK, Chowdhury MA, et al. 2007. Acceptability of massage with skin barrier-enhancing emollients in young neonates in Bangladesh. J Health Popul Nutr 25(2):236-40
Ang JY. Lua JL, Mathur A, et al. 2012. A randomized placebo-controlled trial of massage therapy on the immune system of preterm infants. Pediatrics 130(6):e1549-58
AWHONN. 2013. Neonatal skin care. 3rd ed. Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, Evidence-based clinical practice guideline. Washington: AWHONN
Bennett C, Underdown A, Barlow J. 2013. Massage for promoting mental and physical health in typically developing infants under the age of six months. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4): CD005038 onlinelibrary.wiley.com [pdf file, accessed January 2014]

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