If your baby cries when you put him down and smiles again when you pick him up, he may be asking for some 'baby massage time'.
It basically consists in stroking your baby's body with your hands, following a 10 or 15-minute routine that can include the manipulation of his fingers, wrists and ankles. Numerous studies have shown that massaging your baby can yield many benefits that go beyond bonding between parents and their children. People tend to do it naturally, as a way to express their love to their little ones, but mums and dads usually miss out on the positive effects of such 'massaging sessions'.
Are you curious to find out to what extent baby massage can help your child? That has an easy solution: read on!
Why is it beneficial for the baby?
Baby massage is considered to have countless benefits for your munchkin and even for you. First of all, it can promote both his physical and intellectual development, along with helping build up the baby's first social and communicative skills. Baby massages are also listed as good ways to settle your child, reducing his cry and fussiness and making him become more relaxed. And, in fact, it makes sense, as the affectionate touch can stimulate his central nervous system, causing the brain to produce more serotonin, a chemical that contributes to happiness and general wellbeing.
Moreover, if you massage your baby, he may sleep better and he may be able to cope with constipation and colic. And what about you? Well, researchers have linked this way of bonding with a lower risk of postpartum depression, which can haunt you during your early days as a mother.
Massaging premature babies
Baby massage can be particularly helpful when taking care of premature babies. Regarding this, it's important to highlight that rhythmic movement can improve the baby's weight gain, as it puts the vagus nerve, responsible for tasks as gastrointestinal activity and heart rate, to work. When stimulated, this nerve can enhance the digestion process, regulating the weight gain. The same thing happens with the heart rate, which can be stabilised by giving your premature child regular massages.
On top of those benefits, baby massage is listed as a good way to soothe preterm children's pain and stress, along with helping boost their brain activity and development.
When to do a baby massage
The best time to give your infant a massage would be right before bedtime, as that would help him relax and get ready for sleep. Make sure that you do it between meals, so that he is neither too full nor too hungry to have his body stroked. Planning a baby massage after bathing your child is a good idea as well, since it can settle him to sleep.
Basically, the point is to detect when your child may be ready to interact with you, for example when he's quiet and looking around.
Types of baby massage and how to do them
There are many ways through which you can provide your munchkin with a good baby massage. Check them out and learn how to massage a baby.
- Belly massage: put your hands on the baby's belly, at the navel height, and rub your fingertips clockwise forming circles over his tummy. Do it gently.
- Arm massage: put one of your baby's arms between your hands and roll it from the shoulder down to his wrist. Repeat the sequence two or three times and then get started with the other arm.
- Leg massage: grab one of your baby's legs and stroke them gliding your hands down, from the tight to the ankle. After doing it a few times, switch to his other leg.
- Neck massage: use one hand to support your baby's upper body and head. Once you keep him steady, place the other hand on his neck, with the thumb supporting one side of it and two other fingers rubbing the neck in a circular motion.
- Colic-relief massage: a good way to reduce colic pain is by giving your baby a belly massage and, afterwards, bending his knees up to his stomach. Hold that position for about 30 seconds and repeat the same pattern. Once you are done, you can complete this massage by placing the edge of one hand on your child's belly and gliding from the navel downwards, which may help him release gas.
- Kangaroo-care: providing some skin-to-skin contact is essential too when it comes to massaging your child. Not only is it perfect for bonding, but also for soothing your child and fostering his development. To do it properly, hold your munchkin tummy-to-tummy (bare).
Becoming a baby massage therapist
Before getting started with baby massages, you need to plan ahead. Here's some useful advice to do so:
- Get the necessary kit, including oil, emollient creams, towels and clothes to put on your baby once you are finished.
- When making the strokes, do them gently, but firmly at the same time.
- Start rubbing your baby's legs, as he's used to having them touched due to the nappy changes.
- Fit baby massage into your child's routine, making sure you don't skip it.
- If you have trouble learning a massage routine, you should ask your paediatrician for advice or information about where to do a course in baby massages.
And what about the time? How long should you massage your child? Normally, anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour would be ideal, but that depends on the situation and how your baby is reacting to it. You'll have to 'read' your baby's signs of approval or, instead, discomfort to decide whether to carry on or call it a day.
Well, now you know how baby massage works and how good it can be for your child. It doesn't require a lot of skill and it doesn't take long either, so it's a win-win option that you should at least try out.