What is Baby Massage?
The first language any baby understands turns out to be, not the goo-goos and ga-gas that they often hear, but the language of touch. Think about the world from which a new baby has just arrived – warm, silent cocoon of a womb, caressing the whole area of its skin, reassuring. And think about the world it has arrived in – polycotton vests and scratchy stretchsuits, variable temperature, unconnected and insecure. So it’s obvious that a baby could be comforted by regular touch from its parent or carer. Of course, it is natural for a loving mother or father to touch and stroke their new baby. But it seems that many of us have lost some of our natural instincts to contact and nurture our young, so it can be helpful to learn some of the techniques of baby massage because it is proven to offer so many advantages to both the child and the parents.
Clinical research has shown that food, water, even the best of breast milk, does not completely fulfil the needs of a human baby; to develop emotionally and become balanced beings babies also need human touch. They thrive on it, and fail to thrive without it (reverting to withdrawn, rocking, self-comforting behaviours).
Regular massage of a baby (some suggest from birth, others after 6-8 weeks) has been shown to have numerous benefits: for the baby that includes, sleeping more easily, gaining weight more swiftly, helps with colic, quietens the whingey baby, boosts the immune system, strengthens muscles and flexibility of joints. The process can offer stimulation and help the baby to adapt to its new environment, the world outside. There are benefits for the parents, too: the bonding process between mother and child is deepened; it can help mothers with post natal depression, and it can include fathers and make them feel involved in the early days of bringing up baby.
Whilst it is a natural instinct for a parent to touch and stroke a new baby, the process is now seen as so important to a baby’s health and wellbeing, that most hospitals and health authorities, will offer lessons in baby massage to enable parents to master this technique in a safe and supportive environment. It is not uncommon for new parents to feel that their baby is so fragile that they don’t want to do anything that might hurt or ‘break’ their child. A brief course of baby massage sessions (after the baby has been checked over at around 8 weeks to ensure general health and the absence of Congenital Dislocation of the Hips) can give parents the confidence and the techniques they need to re-enforce their natural instincts.
The kind of things you might learn at a Baby Massage session could be: when to massage your baby, how to prepare a good space, what kind of oils to use, how to get started, how to know when to stop, how to recognize what your baby enjoys, which normal stages of baby development (like weaning, teething) can be eased by the appropriate sort of massage.
As Baby Massage instruction generally takes place in a class of other parents with babies of the same age, that is another advantage for an isolated or unconfident parent to make contact and get reassurance.
What to expect
When you go to a Baby Massage session, here’s what you’ll need:
- Your own oil – cold-pressed oil (vegetable or olive oil is recommended) – not scented oils which may have unknown additives, as your baby may lick some.
- Your baby mat or a blanket (to lie your baby on)
- A soft towel or cloth (to lay over the mat and wipe the baby afterwards)
- Comfortable clothes (ones you won’t mind getting marked with oil) as you may wish to pick up your baby to hold, during the massage.
- Your baby!
- A pair of warm, loving hands (Warm up your hands beforehand)
- The commitment to devote yourself to your baby for 20-30 minutes, and not worry about anything else.
You start by laying your baby on a towel, gently undressing him or her; some mothers like to place an open disposable nappy beneath to contain ‘accidents’. You’ll be shown the simple techniques that are most effective in reassuring your baby. Legs are the least sensitive area, so it’s suggested you start there while you’re learning how to do it. Generally speaking, upward movements are stimulating to the baby, and downward movements are calming.
It will be recommended that you try to have ‘massage’ time with your baby at the same time each day (between bath and bedtime suits many), and start to build your own routine. It is also suggested that you start by ‘asking permission’, just letting your baby know that it’s time to start the massage. Most babies will enjoy the time, when your baby has had enough, she or he start to fidget or look away.
You’ll soon know what your baby likes, and establish your own routine at home, but it is well worth taking the course to learn from an expert the tried and tested techniques for helping a baby with wind or teething problems, how to assist digestion for a baby who is constipated or just starting on solids.
Only a small amount of time is required to incorporate baby massage into a mother and baby’s busy day, but it can pay dividends in nurturing a healthy and contented baby.
Effects and Benefits
Scores of benefits are listed as to why Baby Massage is ‘a good thing’. Here are just 20 of them:
- It enables ‘bonding’ between parent and child
- Helps the baby to relax – not all babies find that easy, especially after a difficult birth.
- Stimulates the baby’s senses
- Improves blood circulation
- Can help to reduce ‘fussiness’ in a hard-to-settle baby
- Eases the baby’s transition from the womb to the outside world
- Improves the condition of the skin
- Makes a baby feel wanted and loved
- Encourages a better quality of sleep
- Boosts the immune system
- Helps digestion (of milk, and later of solid foods)
- Balances breathing and respiration
- Relieves the pains of teething
- Can help the baby to eliminate waste products when constipated.
- Helps both mother and father to understand baby’s communication before it can speak
- Increases both parent’s sense of confidence and ability to deal with their baby and helps build parents’ and baby’s self-esteem
- Baby Massage is a pleasurable experience – for the baby and one doing the massage (mother, father or carer)
- Stimulates production of oxytocin (Oxytocin is a hormone which can be produced by either males or females during massage. It could be called the ‘Hugging Hormone’, because it can produce calming, pain-relieving effects buy direct touch.
- Can help a mother who is experiencing post-natal depression
- As both parents and baby relax together, it can generate a sense of ‘family’.
Fascinating Facts about Baby Massage
- Frederick Leboyer, author of Birth Without Violence) wrote, ‘It is through loving, caressing, tactile stimulation and communication that the infant learns that he/she is loved. We must speak to their skins. We must speak to their backs, which thirst and cry as much as their bellies’. From Loving Hands: the Traditional Art of Baby Massage.
- Mothers who experience post-natal depression and disconnection with their infant have been able to achieve closer relationships through baby massage. Babies born before full-term, and children with asthma and diabetes have been shown, in recent research, to take benefit from being massaged.
- Stars do it, too. Numerous celebrity mothers have been reported as being great fans of Baby Massage, among them are: actress Sarah Jessica Parker of Sex and the City, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, famous for Shakespeare in Love and Emma, actress Lauren Holly of NCIS and British TV presenter Kate Garraway.
- Fathers who massage their babies establish warm, positive relationships that continue as the child grows, according to recent studies. Babies in the study greeted their fathers with more vocalising, eye-contact, smiling and reaching responses when regular massage has been established from the early weeks.
- Medical research would seem to support all the anecdotal evidence about the benefits of Baby Massage. A team of researchers from Warwick Medical School and the Institute of Education at the University of Warwick, headed by Angela Underdown, looked at nine studies of massage of young children. The research studies they investigated, of 598 babies aged under six months, found some significant results: babies who had been were massaged cried less, slept better, and had lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol compared to infants who were not massaged.
- Different strokes for different folks – those experienced in teaching baby massage to new parents have found that some manoeuvres are particularly effective for certain conditions: one routine, called I Love You, consists of massaging in the shape of an upside down I, L and U eases constipation. Some parents swear by the Colic Relief Routine – a specific set of strokes to ease colic and constipation.
- Tiffany Field PHD, director of Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, has shown that fathers who used massage techniques with their babies experienced improved self-esteem. “Fathers who learn how to soothe their babies notice that their own stress levels come down… and they build a lifelong attachment.”
- The myelin sheath, covering each nerve in the human body, has a protective covering around it, which speeds the transmission of impulses from the brain to the rest of the body. The process of coating the nerves (myelination) carries on even after birth, and process is speeded up by natural sensory stimulation, such as massage.
- Studies across different cultures show that babies who are held, massaged, carried, and breastfed, tend to grow into adults who are less aggressive and are more empathetic and helpful to others, and that massage can reduce abuse and violence.
Guild of Infant and Child Massage
The GICM is the independent regulatory body for positive touch teaching in the UK. Positive touch covers a wide breadth of activities, including baby and child massage, baby yoga, baby shiatsu, peer-to-peer massage, music and movement with babies and children. The GICM supports training providers whose courses reach a high standard and offers full membership of the Guild, to those positive touch teachers who have trained and qualified with one of the accredited training providers. A database of professional members and accredited training providers is available if you’re choosing an instructor.
International Association of Infant Massage
The IAIM’s main purpose is to promote nurturing touch and communication through training, education and research; so parents, caregivers and children are loved, valued and respected throughout the world community. The Association’s founder Vimala McClure said: ‘I believe that every parent, regardless of personal philosophy, and every infant, regardless of birth history or disposition, should have the opportunity to experience the lifelong benefits that come from early bonds that are loving, healthy and secure.