Besides relaxation, there are real health benefits associated with baby massage. This guide will teach you about using massage to help your baby thrive.
Top 5 Benefits of Infant Massage
Most parents will agree that first on their list is a happy and healthy baby. No matter the effort it takes, from making homemade baby food to scouting out the perfect babysitting environment, a baby who is growing, thriving, and smiling is a goal to which all parents aspire. If you’ve had a baby for more than a few minutes, you’ll agree this is often easier said than done. Having an arsenal from which to pull various ways to soothe your baby is not only smart, it can save your sanity. Baby massage is well-worth having in that arsenal. Before diving into techniques for massaging your baby, let’s look at five benefits to adding this simple skill to your baby’s routine.
1. Better Sleep
A study done by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami found that infants who were massaged for fifteen minutes before bedtime fell asleep more quickly and showed fewer sleep regression issues than those in the control group, who were read bedtime stories instead. There is no denying the benefits of reading to small children, but when it comes to bedtime, baby massage seems to take the prize. Additionally, the study showed that massaged babies were happier all around. The truth is that a well-rested baby is a happy baby - and it doesn’t hurt mom and dad’s mood either.
2. Pain and Gas Relief
There is mounting research that baby massage helps control teething pain and provides baby gas relief. Massage releases endorphins and also reduces cortisol in the body. This combined effect results in an increase in hormones that relieve pain and a reduction in those that cause stress. The result? Pain relief and stress relief, which is the ultimate pain medicine. Additionally, as we will discuss later, massaging the baby’s tummy helps release trapped gas, providing much needed gas relief.
3. Increased Bonding
According to whatoexpect.com, touch is one of the senses most developed at birth. Besides the obvious emotional benefits of touch we all experience, it could be argued that babies benefit most from physical touch. Perhaps even more significant is the parent-to-child bonding that occurs during baby massage. The time spent connecting with your baby, even if all other healthful benefits were excluded, is priceless. A strong parent-to-child attachment is, after all, what has protected and nurtured babies since the beginning of time. Any steps you can take to strengthen that bond is worth it.
4. Increased Weight Gain in Preterm Infants
Having a premature baby brings with it a whole new set of insecurities and anxieties. Infant massage is one simple way parents can give their preterm babies an extra boost. Research continues to show that baby massage helps preterm infants grow more quickly and healthily. In addition to healthy weight-gain, preterm babies also experience the same overall benefits of massage, including lower stress levels and more restful sleep patterns.
5. Strengthened Immune System
Perhaps now more than ever, learning how to strengthen our family’s immune systems is a priority. Interestingly, research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows an increased immune response in babies who receive massage. Parents are often stressed and confused when it comes to parenting a sick baby. Thankfully, baby massage is a non-invasive, natural way to strengthen your baby’s immune system.
Learn more from Virginia Commonwealth University about the benefits of infant massage:
What Do I Need to Get Started?
Babies come with more stuff than anyone prepares us for, but you don’t need a lot to get started with baby massage. A quiet room and a baby-safe lotion or oil will suffice. Babies’ skin tends to dry out more easily, so a good lotion or oil is helpful, not only for massage, but for overall skin hydration. Once you find a safe lotion or baby massage oil that works with your baby’s skin, you have all you need to get started.
Baby Massage: Our Step by Step Guide
Clearly, the benefits of infant massage are well documented and vast enough to warrant some attention. So what now? Is it necessary to find a local infant massage therapist who can apply her expertise? The answer is no. Infant massage is something you can do in your home, with your child, on your timeframe. Additionally, hiring an infant massage therapist to do the work for you actually hinders some of the benefits we just discussed (bonding, for example.) There is a method to apply, however, and it isn’t as mysterious or intimidating as you might think. Let’s walk through techniques for arms, legs, feet, tummy, and head.
1. Begin With Legs and Feet
While it doesn’t particularly matter where you start massaging your baby, the legs are a good place to begin, working upward.
- Rub the sole of the baby's feet with your thumb, starting at the heel and moving toward the toes.
- Beginning at the thighs, rub the baby’s legs gently, yet firmly toward the feet. Do not tickle your baby, as this could be agitating, but also do not grip too hard. A gentle, firm touch is best.
- Repeat this motion a few more times before moving on.
- Next, hold your baby’s leg under the knee and gently bend the leg up toward the tummy to help release gas.
2. Move to Baby’s Chest and Tummy
Next, move to the trunk of the baby, where massage can help with baby gas relief as well as induce calm and relaxation.
- Massage your baby’s tummy in a circular motion, moving clockwise. This helps move trapped gas along the intestinal tract, relieving tummy pressure.
- Next, beginning at the baby’s chest, move your hands out in a circular motion, with each hand moving toward an arm and stopping above the belly button. The motion will make an invisible outline of a heart.
- Repeat these motions rhythmically and methodically.
3. Massaging the Arms
As you finish with the chest, massaging the arms is the next step in the process.
- While your hands come around from the chest one either side, go ahead and take them down the arms, using the same firm, gentle touch you used on the legs.
- Massage down over the hands, but make sure to clean off the baby's hands if you are using baby massage oil or lotion.
- Repeat this motion as long as is desired.
4. Face and Head Massage
Massaging the baby’s head and face can be especially helpful during teething, as it relieves both pressure and stress.
- Beginning in the middle of the forehead, use the tips of your fingers and move out and away from the head and down the face, using the same circular motion used during chest massage.
- Next, massage the scalp using small, circular motions with your fingers.
5. Back Massage
If the baby is not antsy and is able to lie still for a few more minutes, go ahead and turn him onto his tummy to massage his back.
- Simply run your hands down the baby’s spine and on both sides of it from the neck to lower back. Again, apply a gentle, firm touch to avoid tickling or agitating the baby.
When to Avoid Massage
We have talked through the benefits and techniques of baby massage, but there are times when it is beneficial to walk away from massage or avoid it altogether.
- If you are agitated or have had a stressful day, it is best to just skip massage time. Babies are incredibly intuitive and pick up on our stress and emotion easily. Baby massage done when mom or dad is feeling a high amount of internal stress could have the opposite desired effect on both the baby and the parents.
- Likewise, if the baby becomes fussy during massage, it is best to stop the process and try again at a later time. The benefits of massage are often coupled with and help maintain a calm, peaceful experience; when the experience is laced with stress from either party, the bad tends to outweigh the good.
The Bottom Line
Infant massage offers a variety of benefits that have been well-studied and documented. Beyond the bonding and relaxation that occurs, there are real health benefits associated with baby massage. Parents often say that massage helps with baby gas relief, sleep issues, and overall fussiness. Ask around, and you may find examples from parents that incorporate this simple routine into their day.
Applying the above techniques takes the guesswork out of an otherwise daunting task, and there is no reason to hire a baby massage therapist or specialist to walk you through the process. All you need is a quiet room, baby-safe lotion or baby massage oil, and a gentle, firm touch. Your baby will thank you, and you might find it is just as relaxing and therapeutic for you as it is beneficial to your baby.
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