Baby massage has been practised for centuries. In some countries, India for example, baby massage has been and still is regarded as a critical parenting skill that has been carried over from mother to daughter.
This skill was brought to the Western world by Vimala Schneider McClure in the 1970s, and since then, there has been crucial research on the benefits that baby massage has on a variety of infants from different walks of life. This research has shown that baby massage has benefited all these infants, be they healthy, premature, have difficulties with their motor skills or been exposed to drugs and alcohol before birth. Today, many maternity units in hospitals and health visitors promote baby massage.
The benefits of baby massage are numerous, and this practice benefits not only the baby but also the person giving the massage: it is a practice that puts love into action through the tender loving touch that takes place in these moments.
For nine months, the baby was encased in a world of muted sounds and lights, floating around in a watery cocoon, safe and warm. It was then born into a world with much more pronounced sounds, sharper lights, and an enormous variety of information that started bombarding it from the very first breath it took. It comes as no surprise that a baby can easily be over-excited and stressed by this great new world.
Baby massage can soothe, calm and reassure infants by helping them to relax physically, mentally, and emotionally. It eases tense and stiff muscles, thereby enabling the baby to sleep deeper and for more extended periods. Massage gives relief to babies from problems like gas, colic and teething.
Not only does massage relax tense muscles, but the correct techniques can also stimulate loose or weak muscles where necessary. Stimulation through baby massage also helps other processes of the body like the nervous system, the immune system, the respiratory system, the digestive system, the endocrine system, and the circulatory system. It eases constipation and has been found to increase weight gain in premature babies by up to 47%.
A significant benefit of baby massage is that it aids in the bonding process between the baby and the person giving the massage. Bonding between a parent or caregiver and an infant takes time and is an ongoing process. This special time between parent or caregiver and baby promotes and develops the bonding process. In this time, the parent or caregiver and baby get to know each other deeper and learn to communicate better with each other. Through baby massage, it will be much easier for the parent or caregiver to understand what the baby’s needs are and how these may be met and satisfied.
Benefits to the person giving the massage include growing confidence in knowing how to handle the baby, getting to know the baby and its needs, and developing a stronger bond with the baby. This is also a time for the person giving the massage to relax and find relief from stress. The requirement of touch involved in baby massage increases prolactin levels in the parent, which strengthens the parenting instinct.
When massaging your baby, it is vital to keep a few things in mind to make this time even more special.
- Choose a time of day when you will not be disturbed – this is a time for you and your baby only.
- The temperature of the room in which the massage takes place should be pleasant: not too warm and not too cold.
- The lighting in the room must also be pleasant, and here a soft light will do well.
- Use oil to massage your baby. This will reduce friction and prevent the baby’s skin from being pulled. You want your hands to glide smoothly over that little body. Vegetable oil like linseed or grapeseed oil will be best to use as it is easily absorbed into the skin and harmless should it get into the baby’s mouth.
- Make sure you have eye contact with your baby and take the time to talk and sing to him or her while you are massaging. Remember that this is a sensory experience for your baby and your voice is another tool here.
Baby massage has excellent benefits and is time spent which is free from the usual pressures and stresses of everyday life.
We spoke to a few parents who shared their experiences of baby massage.
Lisa from Me and My Monkeys said, “The main benefit for me was helping with digestion and when she had wind. It was also nice before bed for relaxation purposes.”
Emma from Bubbablue and Me shared, “My NCT friends booked our NCT teacher who was a doula/baby massage person to do classes. I’m not really a massage type of person, but the social side drew me in as a new mum. But it actually went really well and ended up being a good part of my son’s bedtime routine and a bonding experience. As a new mum with no experience of babies, it was a chance to understand a bit more about simple massage being able to calm babies and make them more comfortable when they’re unable to communicate in detail to us.”
Kim from Life of an Auntie and Mum said, “We did baby massage and loved it. I feel it definitely helped with our bond and the settling at bedtime routine. The fact we could do it as a couple was a bonus, too. We still do some of the techniques now three years later.”
Katie from Mum’s Family Fun said, “I did massage with my first born and it really helped learning the techniques to aid her digestion. She would often get constipated, so the tummy massage was brilliant for helping with that. Then when my 2nd was born, he turned out to be dairy intolerant (took a while to realise that was the issue!) so again the massage really helped if he was in pain at all. It was also a really nice way to just relax and bond with baby too.”
Liberty from Liberty on the Lighter Side enthused, “I went to a baby massage class with my second baby and so my toddler had to come along with me. I was a little apprehensive how it would work with the two of them, but it was fine because my daughter brought a doll and was able to do her own ‘massage’ alongside me. I enjoyed having an activity that was especially set aside with my new baby boy as when your second comes along your attention is divided. That was 16 years ago, and I still remember the techniques and use them to massage my teenage children’s feet – still a wonderful bonding opportunity even at this age!”Finally, Laura from Autumn’s Mummy shared, “I went to baby massage classes with my daughter. I found the bonding side of things amazing, and it was great to have some new tricks up my sleeve for helping with wind. I’m starting baby massage with my 7-week-old in a couple of weeks and can’t wait to do it again!”