How Infant Massage Works Wonders

Infants are a deep source of love and joy, but no one can deny how stressful it can be when a baby is not feeling so good. Through baby massage, the stress chemical Cortisol is reduced which prompts oxytocin (also known as the “happy chemical”) to be released. This does wonder in helping your baby feel good and loved again.

The stress chemical cortisol is reduced, which prompts the “happy chemical” oxytocin to be released. This does wonder in helping your baby feel good and loved again.

Learn all about infant massage, including what it is, why it’s done, and how it’s done. Find out how baby massage reduces stress chemicals, inhibiting a baby’s production of Cortisol. Because of this, you will have a happier baby who looks toward you for comfort and guidance. Using massage techniques on newborns is not only a special time for bonding with another but just as important because it can be the basis for lifelong skills.

You might have heard about the healing powers of massage, specifically how it helps one to calm down and feel relaxed and rejuvenated. 

Multiple studies have also found that massage helps to reduce specific pain and soreness in our body, which aids muscle repair and improves blood circulation.

But did you know that your little ones stand to benefit from being massaged too right from the very early days after birth? 

How does it work? 

Infant massage isn’t exactly like a spa rub-down—there’s no massage table required and it’s not going to put a dent in your bank account. All you need is your baby and a loving set of hands. Many parents start massaging their newborns without even knowing it: rubbing a soft belly on the changing table, caressing delicate fingers, patting underneath a dimpled bump.

But, if you can muster some extra energy in those first few weeks, learning a few formal strokes can make massage even more rewarding. Among the benefits of this focused touch for baby are relaxation, better sleep, and less crying, says Kelly Ross, M.D., a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, referencing a review of more than 20 studies of infant massage. Massage encourages mother-and-baby bonding and, instructors say, also improves digestion in infants.

In fact, there’s no downside to massaging your baby, says Ross, who massaged her triplets after they were born prematurely. Studies show that premature babies who are massaged have shorter hospital stays and gain more weight. Says Ross, “I’m all about trying things that don’t cause harm—and if they work for you, great.”

What to do 

Baby massage definitely works for Jennifer Numainville a working mom from Oakland, CA. She and her husband, Mark, have been taking turns massaging their son Leo as part of his bedtime routine since he was a newborn. “By the time we get home, there’s only a short window before he’s ready for bed,” Numainville says. Both parents maximize this fleeting quality time through massage—it helps fathers or other caregivers bond with baby, too.

To get started, find a quiet, comfortable spot in a warm room and put down a blanket, playmat, or changing pad. “You’re setting up a predictable environment, so they know what’s going to happen,” says Mary Szegda, who teaches infant massage courses in Washington, D.C. Soothing music and dim lighting are also great cues, she says.

Have your baby naked or in just a diaper, or undress him as you go. Before you begin, Lesley Pearl, a massage therapist in Chicago, recommends gently resting your hands on your infant’s belly, making eye contact and telling him or her that you’re going to start massage. If your baby has splayed fingers, an arched back, or is turning away, these are likely signs that now’s not a good time, Pearl says.

Using a firm, slow, rhythmic touch, begin with the feet, Pearl suggests. You can massage without cream or oil, but some parents like to use it. Start with thumb-over-thumb stroking on each foot, squeeze the toes, and trace your baby’s anklebones with your fingers.

Then, move to the legs. Use one hand in a C-shape to draw down from the top of the leg to the foot while the other hand holds  baby’s ankle, or do a comparable stroke up the leg to the hip. These motions can also be repeated on the arms.

The sun-moon is a popular stroke on the stomach. Begin by using the flat, padded surface of the fingers on your left hand to stroke clockwise around baby’s bellybutton. When the left hand reaches six o’clock, follow with the right, beginning at noon.

“Always keep one hand on the baby so nothing feels surprising,” Pearl says. And you shouldn’t feel pressure to massage from tiny toe to forehead to the point of meltdown. Your massage may only last five minutes and, for a newborn, that’s fine. Pearl often reminds parents, “It’s about making that connection and integrating that touch into your daily routine.” Before long, you’ll notice the benefits of touch for your baby—and you.

How To Give Massage To Newborn Baby

When it comes to babies, the effects of massage can be even more magical. Not only does the mom-to-be benefit from having someone to help with the responsibility of massaging her back, but the baby will reap the rewards as well. After about 20 minutes of baby massage, your little one will have a better focusing ability, increased alertness and less crying time. In fact, babies that have been massaged regularly are more likely to sleep through the night in their own cribs as opposed to co-sleeping with their mothers or sleeping in a cradle next to them.

Your baby feels it most when he’s fussy, tired, or otherwise not at the top of his game. While he may be able to soothe himself with a pacifier or a cuddle from you, it will likely come much faster by mimicking what he felt during the prenatal period. Giving your baby back massages is one of the most natural ways to help him into a peaceful sleep.

Your baby feels it most when he’s fussy, tired, or otherwise not at the top of his game. While he may be able to soothe himself with a pacifier or a cuddle from you, it will likely come much faster by mimicking what he felt during the prenatal period. Giving your baby back massages is one of the most natural ways to help him into a peaceful sleep.

Before my first son was born, I’d always considered myself a baby person. I racked up babysitting gigs as a teenager and even volunteered in the infant room at the local daycare in college. Once Ben arrived, though, I was surprised to find that staying at home with a newborn wasn’t as rewarding as I thought it would be.

Then I discovered baby massage. It helped fill that difficult time in the late afternoon before my husband got home from work—just when Ben was starting to get fussy. But the biggest takeaway was the connection it helped me build with my new little boy.

Getting to Know Baby Massage 

Baby massage, which is also known as infant massage and paediatric massage, refers to the act of massaging infants and children, usually from newborn and all the way to childhood. 

In the same way that massage therapy benefits adults, babies and kids stand to benefit too from being massaged by their parents. 

To find out more about the healing powers of baby massage, we reached out to Ms Nicole Lim, a certified infant massage instructor and founder of My Baby Kneads, to get some insights on this.  baby massage

A baby massage session in progress!

Read also: Diaper rash in babies: All you need to know

The Surprising Benefits of Baby Massage for Babies and Kids 

1. It helps mum and baby to feel relaxed 

When it comes to baby massage, the same relaxation and stress-reduction process takes place in your baby. Through baby massage, the stress chemical Cortisol is reduced which prompts oxytocin (also known as the “happy chemical”) to be released. This does wonders in helping your baby feel good and loved again.

Not only will your little one gradually learn to enjoy the soothing touch of your hands, you too will feel relaxed as you administer the massage. This helps to uplift your spirits and boost your self-esteem and confidence as a parent – which can be greatly beneficial for new mums who are struggling with postnatal blues or attachment issues related to childbirth.

Now, that’s a pretty good way to start off your motherhood journey!

2. It stimulates growth and helps with circulation 

Another amazing benefit of massage for infants and children is linked to the stimulation of the vagus nerve. One of the most important nerves in our body, the vagus nerve helps to regulate many critical body functions including our heart rate, blood pressure and digestion.

Studies have found that babies with low birth weight who received baby massage have shown improvement in their weight. This was largely attributed to the increased vagal activity and constant activity in their stomach. 

The stimulation of the vagus nerve in babies has also been found to improve digestive issues such as colic, reflux, wind and constipation, all of which are common during the first year of life. 

3. Baby massage helps your little one to sleep better 

Have you seen how your baby goes into a peaceful state of slumber while he/she is being massaged?

One of the more noticeable benefits of childhood massage is the improvement of sleep patterns in babies, as massage helps to balance sleep hormones. This is especially so in the first few weeks as babies seem to have their day and night mixed up. It typically takes 6 weeks for newborns to fall into a regular sleep cycle.

Baby massage helps to improve sleep by increasing serotonin levels and regulating melatonin secretion rhythms. With a good balance of these hormones, massaging your baby can help to promote deep sleep. 

4. It helps with cognitive development 

Cognitive development in children refers to the development of their thought processes such as the ability to remember, problem-solve and make decisions.

Through regular massage, your child experiences habituation, which is an important form of learning which stimulates the growth of new connections between neurons. This helps the brain to develop a stress response by processing information and determining whether an unfamiliar situation is safe and recognisable.

Over time, your child will learn to soothe and settle down faster as his/her brain recognises the massage routine as being a safe and predictable situation.

5. It stimulates your child’s senses 

From the time when your child was in your womb, he/she is accustomed to the tactile stimulation of constant movement, as well as the sights and sounds of the environment. This is why he/she needs to reestablish those familiar rhythms after birth.

Through baby massage, you get to bond with your little one through a nurturing touch which can be complemented with a series of movements to stimulate his/her senses. Some examples of this include singing a song, telling a story or simply talking to your baby while massaging him/her – just the way you talked to your bump before! 

6. Baby massage provides precious opportunities to bond 

One of the most magical things about massaging your baby is the bond that is formed as you communicate with him/her. And because your baby has gotten used to hearing your voice from the early days in the womb, having this special time together helps him/her to feel safe and reassured.

Do note that baby massage is not only for mums though – there are many benefits of having dads massage their babies too! Through the process of giving the massage, daddies get to know their little ones in an extraordinary way and this brings out the nurturing side of them in their own unique way. 

When daddies witness how their massage contributes to their baby’s well-being, they will also be motivated to keep this up to enjoy these precious moments and to help their little ones relax. Most importantly, it gives mum a break from caring for the baby as well to look after her own needs!

7. It’s a great way to help an older child adjust to a younger sibling 

Bringing your baby home may be exciting for you, but for your older child, it is a different experience altogether.

To an older child, a new baby is fascinating – but also fragile as he/she is hovered over and protected by adults. During this time, it is important that your older child know that he/she is still loved and cherished in the same way as before while giving him/her time to get used to the new sibling.

And here’s where baby massage comes into play!

As you massage your newborn, your older child will observe and remember the feeling of being massaged once before. Invite your older child to join you in massaging the baby, as this will benefit both his/her and the baby.

Your older child will bond with the baby in the same ways that you do – through eye contact, touch, movement and sound. Through this experience, he/she will learn that the baby is not the fragile being that’s untouchable but a person much like himself/herself. 

Your older child will gain confidence as he/she comes to realise his/her own competence as a protector. The baby will also respond to him/her, which helps to overcome your older child’s initial fear of not knowing how to handle a tiny version of himself/herself. 

Read also: A Handy Guide to Baby Massage: What Is It and How To Do It?

Is ‘Baby Massage’ Suitable for Older Kids Too?

The simple answer to this is yes – why not?

Bonding between parents and children continues, even as the little ones grow up. Just because your child jas graduated from the in-arms stage, it doesn’t mean that he/she no longer needs your attention through touch. Yes, he/she may no longer cuddle in the same way he/she did as a baby, but there are other ways that you can hold your child to help him/her feel secure before starting off with familiar strokes.

Is There a ‘Best Time’ to Start Massaging My Child?

While the first nine months is the best time to start a massage routine, it is never too late to start!

A child between one to three years of age who has not been massaged from infancy may be too busy to keep still enough for you to massage, but you can still start with a short, gentle back rub at bedtime. Once your child gets used to being massaged, he/she will start asking for it voluntarily – and before you know it, he/she will learn how to give you back rubs too.

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