Benefits of Baby Massage
Massaging your baby gives you a time when you can relax and be together and it has lots of wonderful benefits too. Research has shown that babies who are regularly massaged feed and sleep better than those who are not, and colic and constipation are reduced.
Massage can help to aid relaxation and reduce stress for both the parent and the baby. When you massage your baby, the baby’s body produces hormones called prolactin and oxytocin which are known as “the feel good hormones“. They help to balance the levels of stress hormones in the body and help to lower blood pressure, heart rate, improve appetite, etc. Baby massage also benefits parents as when you massage your baby you also produce prolactin and oxytocin which helps you to relax too.
Infant massage also encourages and supports the development of the baby’s nervous system and digestive system, which are immature at birth and which are often the cause of discomfort and fussiness for newborn babies. Massage also helps to tone babies’ muscles, helping to encourage movement and flexibility, relieve teething pain and ease colds and congestion. A daily massage can also help to increase the baby’s stimulation threshold, helping to make her/him better able to cope with stimulating environments and better able to process information.
Baby Massage can also help to:
- Induce deeper and longer sleep
- Encourage bonding between parent / carer and baby
- Stimulate and strengthen the baby’s immune system
- Increase the production of endorphins, which helps to reduce pain and tension
- Improve sensory awareness and teach babies about their body
- Enhance communication (parents talk and sing to their baby during the massage)
Massage has lots of benefits for parents and carers too. As well as helping parents to relax, it develops their confidence in handling their baby and helps to increase their awareness of their baby’s body as well as being able to read and understand their baby’s cues and non-verbal signs. It also benefits breastfeeding mums by enhancing the secretion of prolactin, which is essential for milk production.
Baby massage has also been found to help mothers suffering from postnatal depression. The Foetal and Neonatal Stress Research Group at Imperial College London carried out a study to find out whether attending a programme of baby massage classes would be beneficial for mothers with postnatal depression. A group who attended five massage classes was compared with a similar group who attended a support group. At the end of the test period the massage group had significantly less depression and very significantly better interaction with their babies, than the control group. This was the first time that a method had been found for improving the relationship between a depressed mother and her baby.
Baby massage is also a good way to enhance bonding between dads and their babies; dads can sometimes feel a bit left out of things when a new baby arrives, or they might feel that they are not doing enough to help their partner with the new arrival, especially if mum is breastfeeding. Research carried out at the Touch Research Institute in Miami in 2000 found that dads who massaged their babies for 15 minutes prior to their daily bedtime for one month were more expressive and showed more enjoyment and warmth during floor-play interactions with their babies.
Contraindications to baby massage
If your baby is suffering from any of the following conditions it would not be advisable to give her/him a massage.
- Acute infections
- Recent Surgery
- Open Sores
- Less than 72 hours after immunisation
- Undiagnosed lumps and bumps
- Contagious Disease
- Serious Skin Complaints
- Recent Haemorrhage
- Varicose Veins
- Childhood Leukaemia
The treatment of eczema can be contraindicated if the eczema is weeping or infected.
You may also feel that there are other times when it is inappropriate to massage your baby. You know your baby best and therefore you should always listen to your instinct when deciding if a massage is appropriate. If babies are unwell or in discomfort they will generally let their parent know and it would be obvious that a massage would not be appropriate.
If your baby suffers from any of the following conditions, you should ask your GP whether massage is advisable: Congenital heart condition, heart murmur, congenital dislocation of the hip, spastic conditions, epilepsy and asthma.
There are areas on a baby’s body that warrant caution during massage. These are: the front of the neck and throat, eyes, back of the neck, over the spine, front and back of elbow, back of knee, and the umbilical area when healing.
Conditions for baby massage
It is important to make sure that massage takes place in the correct conditions: if it doesn’t, you and your baby will not reap the full benefits of the massage. You need to be relaxed and comfortable, so there are a number of things to consider:
It is important that the room in which you are massaging is warm and comfortable for the baby during massage: 22-23 degrees is ideal. You might find it comfortable to wear layers, so that you can remove a layer if you get too warm.
It is very important to encourage eye contact during massage; bright lights overhead could mean that babies are unable to make eye contact with their parent because it is uncomfortable for them to look up.
Loud, sudden noises can cause young babies to startle and not fully relax, so try to keep background noise levels to a minimum. You may like to play some soothing music to create a relaxing atmosphere.
Space and equipment
Make sure you have enough space to massage comfortably and have all the things you may need (mat, a towel to place on the mat, a cushion for your back if required, wipes, spare nappy, oil if using) so that you don’t need to interrupt the massage. Clean your hands before starting the massage, and remove any jewellery that might distract or potentially cause harm to your baby.
Choose the position that is best for you and your baby. You can massage on the floor, the sofa, or a bed: anywhere that you are comfortable and your baby is safe.
When to massage
The best time to massage your baby is when they are in what is known as the ‘Quiet alert stage’: they are not hungry or tired, their face and limbs are relaxed, their eyes open, bright and observant. It is important that you are relaxed when you carry out massage, as babies pick up on their parents’ stress. Try to avoid times when you are in a hurry, short of time, etc.
It is important to talk to your baby while massaging, to encourage bonding and communication skills. Singing is good too. As well as singing nursery rhymes at various stages of the routine, end the massage with a song that is unique to massage, so your baby will associate it with being massaged.
Preparing to massage
Massage needs to be introduced slowly and at the baby’s pace so that the baby feels comfortable and secure with what is going on. Some babies may immediately respond to massage, enjoying a long massage on the first attempt. Other babies may not like having their clothes taken off and may find massage over stimulating, so it is important not to rush the process.
Techniques to get babies used to being touched:
Skin to Skin Contact
Babies enjoy skin to skin contact. Setting aside time in your day to spend with your baby having skin to skin contact is a good way to get baby to become familiar with skin contact. It also helps to relax both parent and baby.
Touch through clothes
Some small babies do not like having their clothes removed. Gently stroking a baby’s back through clothes can help them to become comfortable and familiar with touch.
One method to introduce touch to babies which is particularly effective with sensitive babies is called relaxed touch. Instead of massaging your baby, just hold her/his limb or place a hand on their stomach or chest for a few moments. Whilst you are doing this, make eye contact with them and gently reassure them and tell them to relax. This helps to communicate to the baby that touch is soothing and relaxing. It can also help to calm babies who are unsettled.
It is important to ask your baby’s permission before starting to massage, as babies should be shown the same respect for their bodies and personal space as adults. There may be days when your baby does not want a massage, so they may not enjoy it; they might cry or become distressed, which in turn might distress you.
The aim is for babies to view massage as an enjoyable and positive experience, not something that they must endure whether they want to or not!
During the massage
If at any time your baby shows signs that they are uncomfortable, tired, etc, stop massaging and use relaxed touch (see above). Wait a while then start massaging again. If your baby still gives you negative cues, give them a hug and reassure them and try again another time. It could be that your baby is hungry, or has a tummy or other ache, or is just not in the mood for a massage that day!
After the massage
At the end of the massage routine, sing a song to your baby: something that is unique to the routine, so that s/he will recognise this as the end of the massage. Dress them or wrap them up snugly and give them a cuddle and a drink. After a massage, babies may sleep well or have a bowel movement. They may also be hungry and ready for a feed. They should be kept hydrated with fluids where appropriate.