Baby massage has long been a common part of infant care in many parts of the world, and is becoming increasingly popular worldwide. Infant massages can begin as early as ten days after birth (with a pediatrician’s input), and proponents contend that they promote better sleep, improve motor skills, soothe colic, and possibly boost the immune system. While medical research backing up such claims is limited at best (with the possible exception of premature infants), there is no harm in trying gentle massage with a typical baby. It can also be a great way for parents and baby to enhance the bonding experience, and can easily be incorporated into the daily routine of baby care.
EditMassaging from Top to Bottom
- Start at your baby’s head. With both thumbs at the center of your baby’s forehead, begin gently pushing outward. Continue to massage different facial parts. Using your thumbs, make small circle motions over the cheeks, mouth area and jaw.
- You can try “walking” your fingers across the baby’s forehead and cheeks, or gently pulling the lips into a smile with your thumbs.
- Massaging too close to the eyes or nose may cause greater discomfort, rather than enjoyment, in a newborn.
- There’s no rule against reversing the order by finishing with the head massage. For some babies, in fact, starting with the legs and feet may help ease the transition from play time to calm time.
- Move on to the upper limbs. Gently massage each of the baby’s arms in your hands. Incorporate the hands into this by opening and massaging each finger individually.
- Try a milking massage on your baby’s arms and legs. Make a loose C-shape with your thumb and forefinger around your baby’s arm or leg. Very gently pull downward toward the foot or hand, in a motion similar to milking a cow, and repeat it several times.
- Massage the chest and stomach. Start from the center chest outward, smoothing over the skin as if gently flattening the pages of an open book. Then, mimic the digestive process by rubbing the stomach in a clockwise motion.
- You can also try using your hands to roll over the tummy from right to left, back and forth several times to cover the entire area.
- Some people believe that massaging away from the heart has a soothing effect, while going toward the heart can help invigorate a baby for play time.
- Switch over to the baby’s back. Gently turn the baby over to access the back, making sure to support the head and neck the entire time. As with the chest, smooth your hands from the center of the back outward. You can also try stroking from side to side before progressing to an up and down motion.
- Don’t grip and knead the shoulders as you might with an adult. Use gentle, circular motions to massage the baby’s shoulders and lower back.
- Finish with the legs and feet. Return the baby to a face up position. Roll each leg between your hands in a gentle motion. Include the feet and toes.
- Consider the “milking” technique for the legs as well. Encircle the baby’s thigh with your thumb and finger, and work your way down the leg several times. Then, rub the baby’s feet with your thumbs and curl and uncurl the toes.
- You can also try gently flexing each knee by slightly bending and straightening them several times. If the baby resists, don’t force the knees to bend or straighten.
- Give a rolling massage a try as well. Many babies enjoy the sensation of having their arms and legs “rolled” by loving hands. Gently roll your hands back and forth over one arm or leg at a time, as if you were rolling out dough on a pastry board. The arm or leg will lightly rock back and forth over the towel or blanket beneath your baby.
EditChoosing the Right Time to Massage
- Start the massages early in the baby’s life. Most babies can be massaged starting at around ten days to two weeks of age. Always consult your infant’s doctor for guidance specific to your baby, however.
- While the evidence is limited regarding the overall benefits of infant massage, babies born prematurely do seem to gain weight more readily when massaged regularly, especially if food-based massage oils are used.
- The sooner you begin the massage process, the more natural the experience will be for your baby.
- Massage a baby in between feedings. Try to avoid massaging a baby with a full tummy. Massaging a full stomach could lead to discomfort, fussiness, or spitting up. Ideally, try to do the massage at least 45 minutes after a feeding.
- Create a routine. Your baby may be more responsive to massage sessions if you schedule them close to the same time daily. One of the best times for your baby may be a little while after the last feeding for the night. Massage can help stimulate digestion and promote a state of relaxation that may assist with a sounder sleep. (Although, with a newborn, it still probably won’t last too long!)
- Slowly increase the massage duration. Initially, a five-minute massage should be sufficient to get your baby used to the feeling and process. Slowly increase the duration of the massage sessions until you get up to a half hour or so. There’s no need to go for this long, of course.
- Know when it’s time to stop a massage. If the baby shows signs of discomfort or displeasure, like restlessness, straining, or crying, end the massage session. If this is a recurring issue, consider whether you may need to make adjustments to your technique.
- That said, it may just be the case that your baby doesn’t like massages. If so, remember that there is no definitive medical evidence that infant massage is necessary or undeniably beneficial.
- Back arching is usually a sign that your baby is being over-stimulated. If your baby is not responding in a relaxed manner, you should end the session and try again later.
EditCreating the Proper Environment
- Make comfort a priority for both of you. Sit wherever you and your baby will be most comfortable. You can sit on a bed with your baby placed between your legs. If using the floor, place a comfy blanket under you and your baby. Your baby can also lie across your lap rather than between your legs. Just make sure the newborn’s head and neck are supported at all times.
- Make sure that the room is set at an adequate temperature to keep your baby warm. Your baby will not respond well to a massage session if the room is chilly.
- Undress your baby down to only a diaper. This will give you easier access to the baby’s various body parts. Also, skin-to-skin touch promotes better comfort and bonding. Keep a warm blanket nearby in case the baby gets chilly. You can keep your baby covered with the blanket and expose only the area you are working on.
- You can massage your baby with the diaper removed as well, so long as you are prepared and willing to deal with a potential mess.
- Play soft music or sing softly. Recorded music can help set the mood, but live singing (from you) is even better. Not only will this help relax your baby; the sound of your voice will also help strengthen the bond between you.
- Warm any oils that you plan to use. Rub the (low-odor, edible) massage oil between your palms before applying it to your baby’s skin. Nothing will end a session quicker than some cold oil placed on your baby’s chest. If you are going to incorporate oil into the session, remember to protect your bedding and clothing with a towel.
- Use a low-odor, edible massage oil. Massage oil is not necessary, but many parents find that it improves the experience for both parties. Try, for instance, olive oil or avocado oil, since some of it may end up in the baby’s mouth one way or another.
- Avoid inedible or non-digestible oils like mineral oil or baby oil.
- Avoid using oils on your baby’s face or head during a massage. This will help limit ingestion and the possibility of getting oil in the infant’s eyes.
- Test the oil on a small area of your baby’s skin a day prior to using it for massage purposes. If your baby has a reaction to the oil, don’t use it.
EditImproving Your Technique
- Learn about the normal reflexes of a newborn baby. By understanding these typical reflex responses, you will be able to calmly incorporate them into your massage routine.
- For instance, when you touch the cheek, your baby’s head will usually turn towards that touch.
- Or, if you stroke the sole of a foot, your baby’s toes will curl. The same is true if you stroke the palm of a hand.
- If you turn the infant’s head to one side, the baby’s body will normally arch away. These are common reactions that almost all babies have when touched.
- Discover which massage strokes work best for your baby. As long as you work slowly and gently, you don’t have to worry about hurting your baby as you figure out which strokes provide the best results. Just remember, all strokes should be done with a slow, lightly pressured touch.
- Start with very gentle strokes and gradually build up the pressure a little at a time. A somewhat firmer stroke may in fact help prevent tickling.
- Quit using strokes that prove ineffective. For instance, you can try kneading the shoulders lightly, but only if the baby accepts it. More often than not, you’ll probably find that the baby dislikes this maneuver; if so, stop kneading.
- As another example, some infant massage advocates say that an upward stroke will stimulate the nervous system, while a downward stroke will result in a calming effect. That said, use your own experience as your primary guide.
- Look for times when you’re both calm. Choose a time of day when you will have the amount of time necessary to proceed with the massage without being interrupted. You want to be relaxed and able to enjoy this time with your baby.
- Try massaging a fussy baby. Massages when you’re both calm are great, but massaging an agitated baby can also produce a calming effect — for both of you. Crying babies usually want attention, and a massage indicates your presence. Thus, it can provide a good bonding experience.
- Before starting the massage, make sure any typical reasons for crying — hunger, a full diaper, etc. — are addressed. The massage with be more effective if the baby is more comfortable before it begins.
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