How to massage your baby?
Babies respond to touch. Their skin is super sensitive, and though they may not yet actively use this sense to communicate to the world, it is how we can communicate to them. It is an instinctive response to soothe a crying baby with cuddles or gentle stroking. Massage is an extension of this loving touch and can have many benefits for both you and your baby.
Benefits of infant massage
Skin to skin contact is really important with newborns. That’s why at the hospital, you’ll find that soon after birth, the baby is placed onto the mother’s chest or belly area, in what’s known as “kangaroo care”. Translating skin-to-skin contact into massage after your baby has been taken home, can encourage happy and healthy development.
In addition to your bub bonding with you, regular massage may relieve or reduce their constipation, increase muscle tone and develop coordination, and even boost immunity. It also stimulates your baby’s nervous system to aid in the production of serotonin —the happy hormone— to help soothe and relax your baby. Not just less crying; this can help promote longer and deeper sleep, and even transition to night-time sleeping. Wouldn’t it be nice to sleep through the night again? Read about 6 expert strategies to put your baby to sleep here.
While massage certainly has many advantages for your baby, it can also be greatly beneficial for you as a mum. Massage does not only stimulate your baby; your body also releases oxytocin —the natural feel good chemical— which facilitates for you to form a close bond with your baby. Not only can this lift your mood; it can increase your confidence in handling your newborn, especially if you are a first time mother. As your baby interacts with your touch, you can learn from the response and effectively become more in tune to their needs. Massage has been shown to help mums with or at risk of postnatal anxiety or depression.
Massage can also be a great way for your partner or close relatives to bond with the baby. Between working and the baby’s “sleep, eat, poop, repeat” routine, your partner may feel that they don’t get a lot of interactive time with the baby. This can be even more apparent with ‘round the clock breastfeeding. Massage can be a special bonding time for your partner and can equally relieve their stress and empower them as a parent. Baby blues can affect the both you, leaving you elated one moment, unsure and anxious the next. Massage can enhance bonding and attachment between parents and baby.
When to massage your baby?
Massaging should be a delightful experience for both you and your baby. Remember, it’s an activity to do with your bub, not to him. It’s important to choose a time when your baby will be not too tired, and alert enough to interact with you. This may be before being put down for the night, as a way to calm and relax after a day full of excitement; or alternatively after a midday day bath. Sometime after feeding, is good, as you will be massaging his belly. If you’re still nursing very frequently (every 90 minutes or so), you may want to hold off on massaging until the feeding schedule is a bit more spaced out, to allow for digestion and avoid spit up.
You can actually ask your baby if they would like a massage! Dedicate a cue —such as gentle rubbing behind the ears, and say it with an inflection— your baby will quickly learn what this means and positive feedback such as a gurgle or a coo will let you know they are ready.
Creating the atmosphere
Before you begin the massage, it’s recommended to dedicate a space where you will be comfortable and without distraction. You’ll also want the room to be rather warm, around 24 degrees Celsius. Prepare everything you might need in advance: oils or creams specific to baby massage, clothing for afterwards, and your usual nappy-bag. Choose a spot where your little one will be in front of you and you can see each other clearly; on the couch or on the floor with a mat, and several towels for cushioning.
Babies also have a very heightened sense of smell. If your aim is to relax and calm your child, consider putting a tiny amount of lavender essential oil on a towel and letting the fragrance diffuse into the room. Always wash your hands and remove any jewellery prior to starting the massage.
How to do it
Babies may seem very delicate, but you can start massaging your newborn pretty much right away. Using slow and gentle touch in the first few weeks will help your baby become more accustomed. Try not to focus too much on one area, and generally begin at the legs, as that is where they are used to being handled during nappy changes. Using oil or cream will let you have more control, as your hands glide more smoothly over your baby’s body. Always be sure to test any baby specific product on a small patch of skin first, to rule out any allergies or sensitivities to ingredients. Here’s how to start massaging your baby:
Put some oil or cream on your hands and rub them together to warm up. Support the ankle with one hand and begin massage at the top of the thigh. Shape your hand around the leg and pull gently, slowly, but firmly down toward the ankle. Alternate hands and create a rhythm. Move to the other leg if your baby gives you signals, or after several strokes.
Feet can be quite sensitive in adults, but babies seem to love a good foot rub. Cradle that tiny little foot and apply slight pressure with your thumb as you rub through the sole with your other hand, from the heel to the toes. Alternate thumbs. It might be nice to kiss those little teensy toes right about now! Always be mindful of your baby’s response to the stimulation and move on if you receive any negative feedback.
As your baby is learning involuntary touch and gripping, it can be a good idea to ease and relax some of those muscles. Use your thumbs to gently open up your bub’s hand and give a few rubs into the palm with light pressure. Roll each finger between your thumb and your index. End with a few gentle strokes on the top of the baby’s hand and wrist. Repeat on the other hand.
Once the umbilical stump has fallen off and healed, you may want to start giving your baby regular belly rubs. These can ease any indigestion, facilitate regular poops, and make your baby feel safe and secure. Start by placing your open hand gently on the tummy and read his cues to proceed. Rub your baby’s belly with a paddle like motion, one hand after the other, in a downward or circular pattern. Always end a massage with cuddles and positive touch.
As your baby grows, his awareness increases, and the senses engage further, you may want to incorporate some play and tickles into your massage routine. The back and face are also some areas that you can focus on as your baby becomes more active and these muscles develop.
Massage with your baby should be an engaging and bonding experience for both you and your baby. Don’t feel disheartened if your baby doesn’t take to the new sensations of massage right away. Gauge the baby’s response— if he falls asleep or becomes irritable, it’s best to stop and go for a cuddle instead. It’s a new experience for both of you, and may take some time to getting used to. You will discover a technique that’s right for your baby. Just enjoy these special moments and nurture your baby’s growth and development, one gentle touch at a time.