Were you just in awe of this new little person that you brought the world? I know I was – I couldn’t take my eyes off my firstborn, especially in those first few days. But let’s be honest, other than staring at your baby – completely smitten – and cuddling, feeding, bathing and soothing, you may think there isn’t that much you can actually do with them yet. Baby massage can be started from as early as day one and is a great way to bond with your little one, with plenty of other benefits to offer.
Babies just love being massaged, whether they are newborn, three months old or a toddler. During this hands-on activity, you are making eye contact with your bub and can also communicate with them. If you like to sing, then you can do this during the massage, or just talk to them: count those tiny toes and fingers out loud or name the body part you are working on. All these things enhance the bonding process between the two of you. Bonding is very important in those early days/months/years: it can influence your baby’s development and their future relationships.
If your schedule and circumstances allow, it’s a great idea to incorporate some massage time into your daily routine. Even premature babies can enjoy a baby massage, you just need to adjust their routine. In fact, did you know that premmies actually experience an increased weight gain when massaged regularly?
Of course there are many other benefits that come with baby massage. Perhaps you have enjoyed receiving a massage yourself? Do you remember how you felt afterwards? Babies also experience this relaxing effect. It stimulates the blood circulation and the lymphatic circulation to help the body get rid of waste and toxins.
The skin-to-skin contact has the effect of releasing a number of hormones. Among those are the ‘sleep hormones’: serotonin and melatonin (the latter isn’t released by touch, but massage helps regulate its secretion). This means it will help your baby settle into their circadian rhythm and have a better quality sleep, which in turn is important for his/her development. It has been shown that a deficiency in serotonin can make someone feel depressed, have eating disorders or show aggressive behaviour. How great is it that you can help prevent this for your little one just by giving them a regular massage?
The benefits from skin-to-skin contact go both ways. It can help you as the carer feel happier and more confident handling your baby. For those with postnatal depression or postnatal anxiety, this can be a great bonding experience (although, please remember it is important to seek help).
If your baby cries a lot and is pulling their knees up towards their tummy, it is often because of trouble with the digestive system, such as colic, wind or constipation. A special series of strokes on that little tummy, done the right way, will definitely help. It has been found that babies cry less when massaged regularly and also that massage can help if your baby suffers from reflux or eczema.
So how do you get started? Firstly, make sure your baby is in a good mood. Can you imagine someone just started massaging you without checking in first – you would either say, “Ooh, that’s nice!” or “What do you think you’re doing?” We teach a ‘permission sequence’ in our classes, consisting of certain gestures in combination with a verbal question, which your baby will eventually associate with the actual massage. Once they have figured that out (usually in about 2-8 weeks) they will give you a positive or negative response: a “yes” or a “no”. (The only time you massage without asking permission is when your baby suffers from colic and you apply the specific stroke sequence.)
To make sure you’re doing the right thing, it is recommended to learn from a Certified Infant Massage Instructor. They will show you the strokes and check that you perform them on your baby in the correct way and with the correct amount of pressure. You will also receive essential information, such as when you can start combining massage with bath time and which oils are recommended.
On top of that, we also teach ‘lymphatic exercises’, which are even more fun to do and quite often makes your baby actually giggle! They keep your baby flexible, stimulate the lymphatic drainage and help with their body awareness. In general, Dads prefer to do these with the bub, instead of a ‘fiddly’ massage.
Once you have incorporated massage in your daily or even weekly routine, I hope you will keep it going as your child grows. You can gradually change the massage, trust your instincts on this. It can remain the special one-on-one time well into adolescence.