The benefits of baby massage

Baby massage is easy for parents to learn, and can help relieve gas, colic and teething pain.

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Ten-month-old Sophie is a happy baby who loves attention, but it wasn’t always giggles and smiles. Her mom, Tara Wilson, says that when Sophie was just a few weeks old, she had bad gas symptoms that would wake her up at night. Wilson was exhausted from the 3 a.m. crying fits, so she decided to see if a remedy she’d heard about—baby massage—might help.

As a registered massage therapist, I was able to teach Wilson and her husband, who live in Oakville, Ont., a few simple baby massage techniques to try at home, including tracing clockwise circles on her tummy, and the patented bicycle-legs trick, which worked best for Sophie. “In the middle of the night, I would do the leg-pumping technique to get out the gas,” says Wilson. “Afterward, Sophie was more comfortable, and I was able to sleep in peace.”

Chantal Gauthier Vaillancourt, an Edmonton midwife who has also practised as a registered massage therapist for pregnant women and babies, encourages all new parents to try massage as a way to alleviate digestive discomforts and teething pain. Massage is also beneficial to your baby’s growth and physical bonding, she says. “Massage helps foster healthy self-esteem and neurological development.”

Multiple studies conducted by the Touch Research Institute, based at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida, have shown that when you cuddle, touch and talk to your baby, these new experiences create essential brain-cell connections. Other studies have shown that premature babies who are regularly massaged gain weight faster and leave the hospital sooner (possibly due to lower levels of cortisol—a stress hormone).

Some parents I’ve worked with like to incorporate baby massage into the bedtime routine. Jessica Rosario, a mom in Mississauga, Ont., finds it’s a great way to help her son, Michael, relax after his evening bath. She’s been massaging him daily since he was four weeks old. “I still do it after his bath, and he’s almost two now. Although it’s a lot harder to get him to lie down some days,” she laughs.

Baby massage can also be a good way for new dads to gain confidence and sensitivity to an infant’s cues, or simply enjoy some special one-on-one time.

How to give a baby a baby massage

1) Buy a baby massage oil or cream, or use an edible oil (like olive, grapeseed or coconut oil).

2) Choose a large, safe surface where your baby can move around, such as the floor or a bed, and lay down a blanket or towel. (Experts do not recommend using the change table, because your baby can easily roll off.)

3) Make sure the room is dark, soothing and free of distractions. (Relaxing background music is fine.)

4) Undress your baby to just her diaper. You can also perform massage over PJs or a onesie. (Skip the oil, though.)

5) Ask for permission. It may seem funny, but professional massage therapists check in with an infant beforehand, and parents should, too. Ask, “Would you like to have a massage?” Then rub your hands together and wiggle your fingers in front of her face. This helps create a routine.

6) Introduce touch with soft pressure on the front of your baby’s body, from the shoulders down to the feet, and across the arms. Then rub her feet and legs—most babies love it—and work your way back up the body. Incorporate some tummy time during a quick back massage.

7) Keep the pace slow and relaxing. If your little one is showing signs that she’s not enjoying it, don’t force it.

Some babies take a few sessions to get used to massage. Don’t give up—introduce toys, sing songs, change your baby’s position (from the back to the tummy, or sitting up), or just focus on her favourite body part. Remember that when it comes to your baby, you’re the expert, and that if you’re relaxed, she’ll be relaxed, too.

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