Baby massage is an underused, miraculous technique that can aid in the development of your newborn.
I learnt baby massage in India from a whole host of women in all different parts of the country, as a western midwife I had never really been exposed to it before then.
Years on in India I didn’t ask, ‘do you massage your baby’? But rather ‘who most commonly massages your baby’?
It is just one of the wonder rituals that follow birth in the east, especially India. Now massaging and bathing baby with mum or dad is one of my favourite postnatal visits, it is so much apart of what I do as a midwife.
Newborns crave touch! Like co-sleeping, breastfeeding and baby wearing, baby’s want massage to be apart of their day! Massage happens spontaneously while breastfeeding, nappy changing and holding baby however it is nice to also incorporate a conscious oil massage daily.
I love to use coconut oil for baby massage. It has antifungal and anti-bacterial properties that promotes not only soft moisturized skin, but also supports babies sensitive skin that is prone to breakouts from the demands of land living. Dust, perfumes in laundry detergent, sweat, cloth irritate all do not exist in the womb and take some time to adjust too! Because of these nourishing properties I would ask you to consider coconut oil as the only product you use on your baby.
Please do not use soaps, shampoos, powders and lotions, even the brands that advertise themselves as ‘newborn skin friendly’, ‘baby safe’ or ‘hypoallergenic’ usually all have a long list of ingredients including harmful chemicals. Get used to reading labels!
Recent studies have proven what India grandmothers have known for centuries, using oil for baby massage, and specifically coconut in this instance, increases the benefits for baby including gaining weight. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2844909/).
(Note: As coconut oil is considered a ‘cooling’ oil and is best used in hot climates, if you live in the Northern hemisphere you may consider using Almond or Olive oil.)
Baby Massage Benefits for Baby :
- Stimulates all her developing body systems including: circulatory, digestive and nervous
- Improves your baby’s immune system
- Increased vagal activity promoting weight gain
- Reduce stress hormones and increase relaxation
- Enhances sensory awareness, supporting more active alert time
- Open up their curled up bodies
- Promotes deep sleep
- Helps relieve pain of digestion upsets like colic, gas
- Like kangaroo care is an awesome support for premature babies
Benefits for Parents:
- Enhances you confidence in handling baby
- Increased ability to read baby’s cues
- Gives you a special, focused time with your baby-I usually teach dads!
- Saves you money on hospital visits
- A tool to calm and settle baby
- A nice way to introduce baby’s sibling to caring for and getting involved in baby’s care
There are lots of interesting studies proving the value of massage for newborns here at the Touch Institute website:
If you are used to using essential oils in your home you may decide to add one drop to the coconut (base) oil you will be using for massage. I like to recommend starting with only base oil and then introducing an essential oil after a week or so. Rather then adding them into oil for massage you might also want to put a drop in baby’s bath water!
Essential oils appropriate for use in baby’s are:
Deep tissue massage is never appropriate for babies
Don’t massage baby for a few days after having vaccinations
Don’t massage baby if she has a fever
Don’t massage your baby when you are stressed out, if you are please do some deep breathing or relaxation exercises or wait until another time when you feel more calm. Baby are very sensitive to your emotions.
Note on Newborns:
Don’t massage near the umbilical cord, preferably wait to start massage until her cord stump falls off. She may be uncertain when you begin or for the first few massages, go slowly, you are connected by touch, the calmer you are the calmer she will be. You are both learning about each other thru this experience! She will probably only allow a few minutes-up to 5 for the first few massages, it will be stimulating for her. Over time she will relax more and more and your sessions will lengthen.
Getting Ready for Baby’s Massage
When it comes to baby massage for younger babies and newborns it is all about timing. If your baby is hungry or tired, it is not going to work as well: she will not be able to settle and cry. Choose a time that follows her rhythms. Follow baby’s cues and stop if she gets annoyed.
- Choose a time when you won’t be interrupted or rushed.
- Choice a position where you are comfortable and not distracted. You might want to sit cross-legged on your bed or stand if you are recovering with stitches in your perineum, traditionally baby would lay on your bare legs
- Make sure your baby isn’t too hungry (or too full)
- If your baby is colicky, choose the time just before crying usually begins.
- Make sure the room is nice and warm, no fans, AC should be off
- Remove any jewelry and ensure you hands are nice and warm
- As you will be bathing baby after massaging I like to set that up before starting massage
- You will be using oil, lay baby on a towel to protect your bed sheet or to insulate if you are massaging on the floor
Always talk to your baby and prepare her for what you are intending to do. Ask for permission before massaging, it is never too early to promote self-awareness and let her know her body belongs to her.
Babies learn from repetition. Think of a toddler who wants to watch the same animation over and over, they relax when they can predict what is going to happen next. Putting this in the context of massage, always start and end the same way and always go in the same format. For example always start with baby on her back, start at the top of her head and work your way down to her feet, turn her over on her tummy and then again start at her head and work your way down to her feet. She will be more relaxed if she can expect what is coming next, and she will already begin to anticipate after a few weeks, babies are very intelligent people!
You can start by rubbing your hands together near baby’s ears while asking “are you ready for your massage?” Soon she will equate this news with massage and already begin relaxing when she hears this sound!
Never pour oil directly onto your baby. First pour in your hands and rub them together to warm the oil. Use a touch that is light but not so light it tickles and is annoying to baby! Some say like the amount of pressure you would be comfortable with using on your eyelids. I usually use my fingertips on small areas like shoulders and ankles and on bigger spots like her back, my palms.
As a general rule, strokes should move from the center of your baby’s body outward. For example, when massaging arms, go from shoulders out to hands. Keep your movements balanced; if you massage the left arm, and then also do the right arm.
Watch her queues, is she enjoying with smiles and a relaxed posture or is she trying to pull away and stiffening her body? She will give you feedback, so be open, watch for it and respect it.
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