Babies are simply scrumptious aren’t they? We want to kiss them, cuddle them and touch that oh-so-soft skin. Touch is an instinctive form of communication between you and your baby from the moment he is born and baby massage is perfectly natural extension of this, helping you to bond, relax and calm your little one.
Baby massage builds on the human need for touch, and numerous studies have proven the benefits to both mother and child, psychologically, emotionally, developmentally and physiologically.
What is baby massage?
Baby massage is simply a method that helps to reinforce the natural power of touch. It is an ancient art that has been used in many diverse cultures to help with a variety of physical and emotional needs and to promote relaxation.
When you massage your baby, it helps you to understand his subtle non-verbal language and develop your ability to listen to him, laying down the foundations of trust and security which will help you to build a happy and confident relationship with your baby for the future.
Infant massage is beneficial for you and your baby in so many ways. Studies have shown how important touch is to your growing baby and its importance for you in helping build confidence and an understanding of the new special person in your life.
The main benefits can be summarised as;
- Relief for your baby – Baby massage can help to relieve a wide range of common aliments including trapped wind, constipation, colic, teething pain and sinus congestion. The use of oils on your baby’s skin can also help to improve the overall condition of his skin which can be particularly useful if your baby suffers from dry skin, eczema or cradle cap.
- Creating bonds between you and your baby – Bonding with your baby is a complex matter occurring over time through understanding and communication. Bonding is very important between a parent and baby to ensure the survival of the baby and the emotional state of the parent. Massage encourages bonding by creating the perfect environment for touch, eye contact, exchange of personal odours, and vocalisation with your baby.
- Relaxation for you both – Baby massage is fun. The exchange of smiles and eye contact during massage are important in building a relationship of love and trust between you. When you massage the skin, the body produces the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. These hormones help to lower the levels of stress hormones in your body and help combat the symptoms of stress. You will both experience the benefits of these hormones when you practise massage.
- Helping your Baby’s Development – Massage can help to encourage your baby’s development by providing him with the vital skin stimulation he craves, boosting the circulation to his muscles making him stronger and more physically able. His brain is stimulated with new sensations and experiences. By evoking all of your baby’s senses using massage, you will teach him about social behaviour, language, movement and you can help him to reach his developmental goals.
Does massage help any medical problems?
Massage can help to ease colic, constipation and wind by toning the digestive system and eliminating wind. It is also useful for easing teething pains and congestion on the chest. Massage on the face can help to clear snuffly noses if baby has a cold. Massage also helps baby’s muscles to develop and helps mature the nervous system by stimulating nerve endings in the skin.
Uses of oils on the skin can help with conditions such as eczema. The best oil to use is a organic sunflower oil but other vegetable based oils such a olive oil are very nourishing on dry skin or cradle cap. Coconut oil is also suitable for babies with very sensitive skin.
What about premature babies?
Baby massage can be of particularly benefit to premature babies. Studies have shown that premature babies receiving massage gained weight faster than babies not receiving massage and were able to leave hospital earlier.
Touch is vital for the survival of infants and massage can help baby to release feel good hormones in the body increasing digestion, lowering heart rate and encouraging a relaxed state.
Some things to remember when massaging your premature baby
- Keep it short – due to the size of premature babies, a shorter session of five minutes would be appropriate to begin with.
- Keep it gentle – Use very gentle strokes or just hold baby skin to skin whilst you touch him. Skin to skin contact on its own can help to relax baby and is great for encouraging bonding.
- Keep him warm – Make sure you keep baby warm throughout the massage. You could try strokes through clothing.
- Watch out for sensitive spots – be aware of any areas where baby may be sensitive such as the heel of the foot if they have had blood tests. Never massage over any unhealed scars and if your baby is receiving any medical care check with the medical professional treating him to ensure massage is appropriate.
What age can you massage babies until?
Massage is beneficial for anyone of any age. When your baby starts moving around you can still keep massaging him. You might need to be a bit more flexible as to which area your baby lets you massage but your baby will still enjoy your nurturing touch. Try using songs, rhymes and stories to keep your baby’s interest. You could use fun games to help baby relax.
When your child gets older you can still use massage. Incorporate massage into their interests to keep touch an important part of your relationship. For example, give your child a footballer’s massage or horse rider’s massage.