Baby Massage: Benefits & Tips for Mums and Dads
At Rainbow Smiles nursery in Weston-Super-Mare we believe touch is incredibly important for babies. They might not be able to understand you yet, when youâ€™re trying to talk to them, but holding them close and rocking them gently will get the message across.
Before babies can process language, they bond with you through touch. You might already have noticed this yourselfâ€”distressed babies can be soothed when you hug them to your chest, while they can burst out crying again when you put them down. In fact, many hospitals encourage mums to rest babies on their chest or tummy for maximum skin contact.
Aside from regularly hugging and holding your baby, an effective way to incorporate more loving touch is to give a baby massage. If massages are so relaxing for us adults, then it has a similar effect on babies. As with regular massages, youâ€™ll be stroking and rubbing your babyâ€™s skin with the help of an oil or moisturiser. However, your motions will be much gentler, and youâ€™ll be starting with less sensitive areas like your babyâ€™s feet, legs, wrists, and hands.
Especially when itâ€™s done by their mum or dad, a massage can be immensely comforting and helpful for babies. Letâ€™s look at it in a bit more detail.
Benefits of a Baby Massage
A baby massage has positive effects on your childâ€™s emotional and physical wellbeing, and it strengthens the child-parent bond. Letâ€™s dive deeper into these main benefits:
Calming and Soothing
When you cuddle with someone you love, your body naturally releases oxytocin, which is the hormone thatâ€™s responsible for that warm, fuzzy feeling. Itâ€™s the same for babies who receive a massage. Aside from increased oxytocin, their cortisol or stress hormone levels also go down. This is great for you and your baby because it means that theyâ€™ll be less likely to cry.
As their heart rate and breathing rate slow down, they wonâ€™t be as fussy or easily startled. You can even schedule a massage before your babyâ€™s bedtime. This will activate more melatonin, a sleep-regulating hormone, in your baby, and theyâ€™ll fall asleep more peacefully, giving you extra time to rest.
Improved Physical Development
Aside from making babies calmer and happier, massage can also improve their physical health. The physical stimulation from massage activates their central nervous system, which helps in the development of their motor skills. Because your baby feels better and experiences less stress, their immune system can become stronger. Studies have actually found that regular massage and physical contact speeds up a babyâ€™s recovery from conditions like jaundice or even common digestive issues like constipation and colic. By giving your baby regular massages and affectionate touch, youâ€™ll be contributing to both their short- and long-term health.
Itâ€™s not only your baby who will reap benefits from massageâ€”youâ€™ll grow too as a parent, and youâ€™ll deepen the bond between you and your child. Loving touch fosters emotional closeness with your baby, and when you add the rhythmic movements from massage, your baby will come to associate safety and comfort with your presence. Since your body will be releasing oxytocin too when youâ€™re holding your baby, youâ€™ll experience the same feel-good effects.
Mums who massage their babies tend to feel happier, while dads get to spend more time with their baby and build self-confidence in caring for their child. Because a good massage requires sensitivity to your babyâ€™s reactions, youâ€™ll become more in tune with your childâ€™s body language, and youâ€™ll also feel more empowered as a parent.
How a Baby Massage Works
Before giving your baby a massage, make sure to consult with someone whoâ€™s qualified. You can take a baby massage course in child centres and clinics or even join a group so youâ€™ll be supervised the first time you do it.
Here are the general steps for a baby massage routine:
Warm up your baby first by gently rubbing oil or cream behind their ears and on their tummy. Only proceed with the massage if your baby reacts positively. Otherwise, wait for a better time.
For your first session, focus on the extremities such as the legs and feet so your baby can get used to it. You can start by rubbing the feet first, then stroking from ankle to thigh then back
Do similar gentle motions with your babyâ€™s arms and hands.
Once your babyâ€™s used to receiving massages, lay them on their back with hands reaching to the front, and lightly stroke from their upper back to buttocks
The chest and stomach are much more sensitive, so work on these only when your babyâ€™s already comfortable with the previous steps
Tips and Common Questions
How old does my baby have to be?
Itâ€™s safer to wait until your babyâ€™s six weeks old or beyond. Before six weeks, their skin might still be very delicate and theyâ€™d still have their umbilical cord stub.
Whenâ€™s a good time to massage?
Your baby must be in an alert but relaxed mood, so in between feeding (around 45 minutes after) is a good time. You can do it before their nap or as a pre-bath ritual. It wonâ€™t take long, either, since a typical massage lasts 10 to 15 minutes.
How do I give a good massage?
Be as mindful as possible when youâ€™re massaging your baby and give them your full attention. Notice your babyâ€™s reactionsâ€”chances are, theyâ€™ll be more receptive if you smile and coo at them. Your strokes and movements should also be light and gentle. Donâ€™t forget to support your babyâ€™s leg or arm when youâ€™re massaging that part of their body.
What oils should I use?
Oils and moisturisers are optional, but if youâ€™re using an oil, itâ€™s best to go with those that are edible and safe for your babyâ€™s skin. These usually include safflower oil, virgin coconut oil, or sunflower oil. Test it out first on a small patch of your babyâ€™s skin! Afterwards, wipe away the oil from your babyâ€™s hands so it doesnâ€™t get accidentally ingested.
Massage Benefits Both You and Your Baby
Because a massage will be something new for your baby, go slowly and give your baby the time to get used to it. A baby massage is a simple and effective way for you to bond even more with your child, and both mums and dads can do it. Not only will you be more in tune with each other, your babyâ€™s physical and emotional wellbeing will also benefit from your loving touch and attention.