Massage is no longer for adults only. For some years it’s been known that premature newborns do better with therapeutic massage – they grow faster, sleep and breathe better, and are more alert. Now it appears that massage also benefits healthy infants – and healthy children, as well.
There are a number of reasons why you should consider laying the hands on your baby. We know that being helped, hugged and kissed by a parent helps a baby thrive and enhances parent-child bonding. But the therapeutic touch of massage may do that and even more, possibly strengthening the immune system; improving muscle development; stimulating growth; easing colic, teething pain and tummy troubles; promoting better sleep patterns; stimulating the circulatory and respiratory systems; and decreasing stress hormones (yes, babies have those too). And a loving touch (whether in the form of massage or just a lot of hugging and holding) has also been shown to decrease aggressive tendencies in children. What’s more, baby’s not the only one who stands to benefits; massaging an infant is actually relaxing for parents, too – and has been found to relieve symptoms of postnatal depressions.
If you’d like to learn how to rub your baby, get a book or video, or take a class with a massage therapist familiar with baby massage. Or try these tips:
- Pick a time that’s relaxing for you. The massage won’t have the desired effect if the phone’s ringing, dinner’s burning on the stove, and you have two loads of laundry going. Choose a time when you’re unhurried and unlikely to be interrupted, and take the phone off the book or turn off the ringer and let voice mail or the answer phone take a message (a ringing phone – even one answered by machine – is distracting).
- Pick a time that’s relaxing for baby. Don’t massage baby when he’s hungry or full. Right after a bath is a perfect time when baby has already started to relax (unless he hates the bath and it leaves him riled). Before playtime is another possibility, since babies have been shown to be more focused and attentive after a massage.
- Set a relaxing scene. The room you select for a massage should be quiet and warm, at least 24 degree C (75 degree F) (since baby will be undressed except for a nappy). Dim the lights to reduce stimulation and enhance relaxation, and add soft music if you like. You can sit on the floor or bed, and lay baby on your lap or between your open legs; use a towel, blanket or pillow covered by a towel or blanket under baby.
- Lubricate, if you like. You can give your baby a dry rub, or use a little baby oil, vegetable oil or baby lotion (but not on baby’s head). Warm the oil or lotion a little between your hands before you start rubbing.
- Experiment with techniques. In general, babies prefer a gentle touch – but not so light that it’s ticklish. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Gently place both of your hands on either side of your baby’s head and hold for a few seconds. Then stroke the side of his face, continuing down the sides of his body to his toes.
- Make tiny circles on baby’s head with your fingers. Smooth baby’s forehead by gently pressing both hands from centre outwards.
- Stroke baby’s chest from the centre outwards.
- Stroke baby’s tummy from top to bottom using the outer edge of one hand, then the other, in a circular motion. Then, let your fingers do the walking across your baby’s tummy.
- Gently roll baby’s arms and legs between your hands or use firmer, deep strokes to ‘milk’ baby’s arms and legs. Open those curled-up hands and massage those little fingers.
- Rub baby’s legs up and down, alternating hands. When you get down to the feet, massage them, uncurling and stroking baby’s toes.
- Turn baby on his tummy, and stroke his back from side to side, then up and down.
While you work, talk or sing softly. Always keep one hands on baby.
- Take your cues from baby. He will tell you whether you’re rubbing him the right way or not. He’ll also tell you when to keep rubbing, and when it’s time to end the massage sessions.