Mothers from many cultures have been practicing the art of baby massage for centuries, and it is very clear there are many physical, emotional and developmental benefits for both mother and baby. Massage, the gift of loving touch, is a wonderful way to bond and communicate your love for your baby. Massage is a great way of involving Dads too, giving Mum a break and helping fathers become more confident in handling and comforting their baby.
Initiating a regular routine of massage encourages today’s busy mums to slow down, pause and really be in the moment with their baby. Put down the phone or the iPad, put on some relaxing music, create a warm soothing environment and introduce your baby to the wonderful language of touch. It really is never too early or too late to begin massaging your baby.
There are no set rules, no right and wrong – just try it. Modify and adjust as you go, you will soon know what works by following your baby’s cues. Initially 5 minutes may be long enough working up to 20 minutes for older babies. It is best not to massage immediately after a feed or when your baby is hungry, if he or she is unwell or has been recently immunised.
When first starting massage, some babies prefer to have their singlet left on as they can feel vulnerable when completely exposed. Alternatively your baby may be naked if they have come straight out of the bath and this can be an excellent time to begin. Remember to make sure the room is cosy, warm and remove your jewellery. Pick an area that is comfortable for both of you, on the floor, on a change table or on your bed. Use a small amount of baby oil warmed between your hands. Avoid using oils from your pantry such as olive oil which can be high in oleic acid and therefore unsuitable for your baby’s delicate skin. Other vegetable oils from your pantry may be contaminated and nut oils present the potential for allergies.
Here are some simple baby massage tips to help you get started.
Pressure. There is nothing worse than being tickled instead of massaged so apply firm gentle strokes. Stroking away from the heart (shoulder to wrist or down the legs) is relaxing while stroking toward the heart is more stimulating. To begin with repeat each motion 3-5 times.
Head and Face: Start with your hands on each side of baby’s head, drawing little circles on the sides of the head with the pads of your fingertips. Move right across the scalp; don’t be afraid of the fontanel, the soft spot on the top of the head. Using your thumbs massage across from the center of the forehead out toward the temples. Repeat this same motion across the top lip from the center out towards the temples – creating a smile movement. This helps to release the tension built up in the facial muscles from sucking and crying.
Chest: With both hands together at the center of your baby’s chest, massage out to the sides as if you were gently opening and smoothing the pages of a book. Without lifting your hands, bring them around in a heart shaped motion to the center.
Abdomen: With your fingertips draw an oval below your baby’s belly button in a clockwise direction as this follows the path of digestion. Next “walk” your fingers from left to right across your baby’s abdomen.
Back: Turn your baby on to his/her front with their face to one side. Stroke down your baby’s back from neck to bottom in a paddling motion either side of the spine. You can also massage with an open hand from side to side across the spine. Some tummy time every day is important to strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles.
Legs and Feet: Repeatedly stroke one hand then the other down the length of your baby’s leg from thigh to the ankle – gently squeezing as you go as if you were milking a cow. You can incorporate a rolling twisting motion into this movement. Then using your thumbs, fan up the sole of your baby’s foot from the heel to the toes. Uncurl and squeeze each toe in turn. Repeat this technique on the arms from shoulder to wrist. Massage around the wrist, the palms of the hands and each little finger.
Talk softly or sing to your little one and remember to relax and enjoy this quiet time together. The massage should be slow and unhurried and may even help put you into a Zen state. When you have finished the massage, wipe off any remaining oil from your baby’s hands and feet with a towel.
If the first time you try a massage your baby cries or seems unsettled by it, stop, but do try again another day.