Touch is the first sense that we acquire and some consider it, the very first language we learn. It’s universal.
From the very moment a baby is born, they are placed on their mother’s chest or abdomen, to give them as much skin to skin contact as possible. This contact stabilises a baby’s body temperature, breathing and heart rate – and helps them to feel secure and connected.
We all know how comforting it is to have a cuddle when you feel upset or need to feel secure. This is no different between a baby and parent. Ever noticed that your baby cries when they are put down into their cot, but when they’re picked up they’re happy again? This basic human interaction makes them feel safe.
It can be easy to fall into the day-to-day grind of feeding, changing nappies and trying to put your baby down for sleep. This is even more so, when there are older siblings involved! Baby massage is a great way for you to stop, take some time out to just ‘be’ with your baby… and communicate through the language of touch.
The benefits of baby massage
Massage is a great way to bond with your baby and learn all about their likes and dislikes. It also has many additional developmental benefits, such as:
- Aid digestion, helping to relieve gas and constipation
- Help your baby to sleep better and longer
- Help to calm and relax your baby
- Improve circulation
- Ease teething pain
- Stimulates your baby’s nervous system
- Relieve colic
Baby massage tips & techniques
There is no particular age that you should start massaging your baby. It is safe to massage a newborn, as long as you use a delicate touch and make sure to follow their lead. It is important to be careful of the umbilical cord stump / clip in the first few weeks. Most people will therefore generally wait a few weeks following birth.
The best time to massage your baby is when they are awake and alert, and not too hungry or too full. Try starting after a nappy change, or as part of a bath time ritual.
Before starting the massage, ensure that the room is warm and dimly lit (natural light is the best), and that you aren’t wearing any jewellery that will get in the way. Also be sure to prepare your massage area prior to beginning, so that there are no interruptions to the activity.
Use a safe and comfortable place to do the massage, and position your baby so that they can see your face properly. Before you start, make sure you are in a good head space to relax into the time together. You can also sit on a bed or soft carpeted floor with a towel in front of you, and underneath your baby. The towel will help absorb the oil and keep your carpet clean!
What you’ll need
- Oil or moisturiser (safe for your baby’s skin)
- Clean nappies
- A change of clothes
- You can choose to massage your baby with or without their nappy, but be sure to loosen it when massaging around their tummy.
With a very young baby, it’s best to begin massaging by placing them on their front and massage their back first. Move down the arms and if the baby remains nice and calm, continue gently down to the feet.
Some babies will feel more secure if their clothes are left on, and they are gently massaged on top.
You can continue this activity for anywhere up to 15 minutes, dependant on their age.
Be sure to stop if your baby gets distressed or is overtired, as you can always try again another day. Once your baby is calm, you can gently dress and wrap them for bed.
Colic-relief / wind massage
If you have a little one that suffers from colic or tummy issues, massage can be a great way to help to relieve any discomfort. You can do this by giving your baby a belly massage.
- Start by placing your hands at the level of your baby’s navel and rub your fingertips firmly and gently over their tummy in a circular, clockwise motion.
- Bend their knees up to their tummy and hold for about 30 seconds before releasing and repeating this a few times.
- You can then place the edge of one hand on your baby’s belly, gliding from the belly button, down, in a rhythmic pattern – to help release any built up gas.
Just like when we get our body moving, this simple massage technique will help your baby release any discomfort they may be feeling.
Seeking permission from your baby
It’s important to follow your baby’s cues to understand if they are in the right mood for a massage, and are enjoying it. If your baby is sick, or has just been immunised – the area of the injection may still be tender. This is not a good time to massage your baby. If you try to massage a fussy baby, you may overstimulate them even further, resulting in a difficult time for both of you!
A quick and simple way to gauge whether your baby is ready for a massage, is to take a little bit of oil in your palms, and massage their tummy. Observe your little one’s body language. If they seem uncomfortable, or resist your touch, then try again another day. Do keep in mind, your baby may not love the massage experience from the very beginning. This is because it is a new sensation, that your baby has not yet learnt to enjoy.
The importance of touch as the years go on
As the years go on and your little one isn’t a ‘baby’ anymore, they may not want to be massaged but having human contact will still be important. Research shows that touch is an important part of early childhood development, as it stimulates healthy brain activity. It makes sense when you look into the way the brain is wired and the effect it has on our ability to relax and trust – therefore being receptive to learning.
So the days may be busy, but be sure to take time out and hug, cuddle, kiss or reassure your little one. It can often speak louder than words.
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