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A Definitive Guide to Baby Massage

By Lubna Sheikh on 18th February 2020

baby massage guide

Compared to other cultures, baby massage is somewhat of a young practice in the West.

Within the last 30 years, it went from unheard of to many learning centres available where you can learn how to do it.

It involves gentle and rhythmical stroking of a baby’s body and promotes soothing and connection between a parent and child.

When should you massage your baby?

Baby massage can be a fantastic part of your baby’s nighttime routine. Ideally, they should be neither too hungry nor too full, so right before their last feeding should be great. You can also do it several more times during the day if you wish.

Also, make sure that they are settled and calm, but awake. If they are not in the mood, they will tell you by frowning or crying. Stop the massage and leave it for another time or day.

What are the best areas to massage on a baby’s body?

The best areas to massage are the legs and feet, chest, tummy and back, and even the head and face.

What are the benefits of baby massage?

Researchers have noticed several benefits of baby massage. In one study [1] that symptoms of colic were relieved when mothers would massage their babies 15 to 20 minutes before bedtime and once more during the day.

Another study [2] found that children who were massaged for 15 minutes each day would be more relaxed and would star sleeping better after just one month.

The soothing effect in children was proven to help mothers with postnatal depression as well [3].

It also promotes growth and weight gain in pre-term infants [4] and improves overall mental and physical health [5]. With some premature babies, the stress relief they’ve got from the massage was even life-saving [6].

Another study [7] has shown that massaging lower levels of bilirubin, which is the blood compound that causes jaundice. The same study has also shown the overall improvement of gas and constipation.

Massaging also enhances baby’s learning abilities [8] and the effects have been noticed even in pre-schoolers [9].

What do you need to know before you start?

If you are ready to start massaging your baby, as always, have a chat with your doctor first. It might be also a good idea not to start with the massage before the sixth-week check-up.

Right after birth and up to then, you can engage in skin-to-skin care or kangaroo care. This is when you place your baby on your bare chest and while holding them, you can start to gently stroke their back, legs and arms.

Before you start, find a position that is comfortable for you and your baby, and that allows you to keep eye contact. Make sure that your baby is safely on a towel in front of you, warm, and that no overhead lights are hurting their eyes.

Check for signs of crankiness, sleepiness and just plain interest in anything else but massaging. If you want to go with or without the nappy is up to you, but if you keep it on, loosen it up before massaging the tummy.

You can ask your baby permission to give them a massage by warming a little bit of oil in your palms near their ear. If the fussing begins, abort the mission.

If not, you can proceed. In future, this motion will serve as a cue to them that the pampering session is about the start.

How to massage your baby?

Begin by gently holding your baby’s leg between your palms. Then, securely hold your baby’s ankle with one hand and mould your other hand around the top of their thigh.

Slide it down the leg towards the ankle with a gentle, slow, flowing stroke, then swap hands and repeat.

Cradle their foot in your hands and gently stroke it with your thumbs from heel to the toes, one thumb following the other.

Then, in a tripod grip, gently tug each toe between your thumb and fingers. Finish by repeating the stroking action, but from the ankles to the thighs.

Gently place your hand’s on the baby’s chest and the stroke it from the centre towards the shoulders. Then gently stretch out your baby’s arms.

If you want to, you can gently draw circles on their palms, but make sure to wipe away any oil or lotion that you have been using.

To massage a baby’s tummy, use light clockwise motions with one or both hands. For the face, light strokes with your fingertips from the middle of the forehead, or from the corner of the mouth toward the ears should do the trick.

Once your baby is fully relaxed, you can turn them over to massage their back. Use long slow strokes from head to toe. If they are not happy to be on their tummy, try the same action with them in your arms.

Each massage session should take between 10 to 20 minutes. Make as many repetitions of the motions as your baby likes, and remember to go slow and take your time.

What is the best product to use for a baby massage?

There is no evidence that one type of oil or lotion is the best, but there are a few things to go for. Cold-pressed oils are preferred by many parents because they have fewer impurities, while mineral oils or petroleum-based ointments have shown to be effective in treating dermatitis and eczema.

Sunflower oil used to be recommended for baby massage, but research suggests that it may have adverse effects on the baby’s sensitive skin barrier. Other oils to avoid are olive oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil and mustard oil.

Look for vegetable oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats, like walnut oil or cosmetic grade soybean oil.

Are there any warnings to be aware of?

Note that the NHS recommends you not use any oil or lotions on your baby in the first month because their skin is still very easily damaged.

Don’t use massage oils on the baby’s face and be careful when picking them up after the massage – they can be quite slippery.

Also, avoid massaging the head because it is still a soft spot and can be injured easily. Overall, avoid any harsh motions and strong pressing.

Remember to stop if your baby tells you they’ve had enough. They will do that by fussing, squirming, crying, and even falling asleep.

And as always, talk with your doctor. Make sure they have cleared you to start with the massages and make sure that you have the green light to continue as your little one grows.

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934450/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2844909/

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S016363839690048X

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3956039/

[5] https://warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/ne1000000231138/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12649570

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4659198/

[8] https://miami.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/massage-enhances-recovery-from-habituation-in-normal-infants

[9] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/48515246_Preschoolers’_Cognitive_Performance_Improves_Following_Massage

 

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