Although the value of touch and massage in adults has been known and used for a very long time, it is only since the 1970s that the value of infant massage has been recognised in Western society. In India, Asia, Africa and certain parts of Central and South America, however, women have been massaging their babies for centuries.
“Nowadays, however,” says Sister Lilian, leading South African pregnancy and parenting advisor, “baby massage is the new buzz word. All over parents are taking expensive courses, new books are emerging and the topic can be found on the cover of almost every baby magazine.” The truth is that infant massage is the most natural thing between parent and baby. Although such a simple and easy thing to do, the effect is powerful. By trusting your instincts and responding to your baby’s reaction and body language any mom or dad can successfully and confidently massage their baby.
Benefits of infant touch therapy
The benefits of infant massage can be experienced by parent and baby alike.
Benefits to baby
- Massage is soothing and relaxing, leaving baby happier and more secure
- Improves sleep
- Reduces colic and crying
- Improves bonding with baby
- Strengthens immune response by lowering stress hormone levels and improving drainage of toxins via the lymph system
- Strengthens and tones baby’s muscles and joints
- Improves co-ordination
- Improves circulation
- Promotes growth in babies with low weight and slow weight gain
- Promotes physical self-awareness and a positive body image
- Stimulates and improves non-verbal skills, improving self-esteem and social awareness
- Keeps baby’s skin nourished and supple
- Helps to treat tactile defensiveness
- Helps establish a daily routine
Benefits to mom and dad
Parents react positively to baby’s positive response, with better bonding and happier parenting
Gives parents more confidence in handling baby
Parents feel pro-active about problems – a reduced anxiety-crying-tension cycle results
Increases sensitivity to baby’s natural rhythms, likes and dislikes
Relaxing and enjoyable
Although all babies benefit immensely from infant massage, certain babies need massage therapeutically:
- Babies born via Caesarean section or traumatic vaginal delivery
- Babies in neonatal ICU
- Premature babies
- Babies separated from their parents much of the time
- Allergy babies
- Colicky babies
- High-need, restless, crying babies
- Babies with restless sleep
- Tactile-defensive babies
- Babies not developing as well as they should
- Very clingy babies
- Sensitive-natured, shy babies
Tips for baby touch
Although there is no one ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to massage a baby, a few things should be kept in mind:
- Make sure that you are relaxed and feeling calmly confident. If you are stressed your baby will sense it and react to your feelings.
- Massage incorporates all the senses and is something that baby should get used to gradually. To avoid over-stimulation and over-exhaustion, don’t introduce all baby-massage techniques at once.
- Allow approximately half an hour for a massage session. As you learn to understand baby’s likes and needs, shorter sessions of 15 to 20 minutes are quite possible and still valuable.
- Don’t massage baby within an hour after feeding, since this can induce vomiting. However, don’t wait until baby is hungry since she’ll be unsettled and unable to enjoy the experience.
- The smaller the baby, the lighter the strokes. Remember, though, that small babies don’t like tickling sensations.
- Keep eye contact with baby.
- One hand should be in contact with your baby at all times.
- Always massage baby’s tummy clockwise.
- Never do a full touch session if baby has a fever.
- If baby is sick or has a fever, massage only hands and feet and the six magic mini-massage points (see below).
- When choosing massage oil, always do a patch test to exclude sensitivities. Apply a little oil on the sensitive inside of baby’s arm. If no reaction develops within 24 hours it should be safe to use in a full touch session.
- If baby is allergic to nuts, or if a strong family history of nut allergies are present, be sure to use nut-free products.
- Do not use essential oils unless under the supervision of a trained aromatherapist.
- Oil can make your baby slippery, so wrap baby in a towel before carrying her around or to the bath.
Baby touch preparation
- Preferably remove rings from fingers.
- Massage baby in a room where both of you are comfortable. Make sure that there are no distractions and play soft, soothing music.
- You’ll need a soft, firm surface to massage baby on. Sit comfortably on the floor with baby in front of you, your back straight, especially when bending forward.
- The following positions work well. Experiment until you find one that works for you:
- Sit on a cushion with your legs crossed.
- Kneel on a cushion on the floor. You can also place a cushion on your calves under your buttocks.
- Sit on a cushion with your legs outstretched on either side of your baby.
- Lay baby on a clean, soft towel to massage. Keep in mind that the massage oils may stain a carpet or your clothes.
- Room temperature should be comfortable. If you are completely comfortable in short sleeves, it should be all right for baby without any heating required. In very warm areas you can massage baby outside.
- Use easily absorbed pure oils with a soft odour, in easy-to-dispense bottles, to ensure that you don’t have to take your hands completely away from baby.
- Once ready, undress baby and lie her down in front of you with her feet towards your body.
- Smile at baby and talk softly and soothingly. Throughout the massage, maintain eye contact and keep talking to reassure her.
- Warm massage oil between your hands, place your hands on baby’s chest, fingers curled over baby’s shoulders. Move your hands back and forth over baby’s shoulders.
Suggested massage sequence
- Place your hands on baby’s chest, fingers slightly over the shoulder, smile at your baby and indicate in your own way that that special time has come again.
- Massage back and forth over the shoulders and chest; with flattened fingers massage all around the nipples.
- Keep one hand on the chest and walk the flats of the fingers of the other hand all around the navel in a clockwise direction.
- Using most of your hand, proceed to massage the whole abdomen with circular strokes.
- Slip both hands down over the hip joints and massage with circular movements over both areas.
- In one smooth move stroke back up to the chest and grasp the upper arm with your whole hand, pull down over the length of the arm with slight pressure and as your hand reaches the wrist, start massaging with the other hand on the same arm, repeating this sequence a few times.
- Then grasp the upper arm in one hand, the lower in the other and gently twist in opposite directions, taking care not to pull the skin.
- Hold baby’s hand in your left hand with her palm facing upwards and ‘walk’ your thumb all over the palm and up the fingers.
- Stroke up the arm and across the chest and repeat on the other side.
- Now move down to the legs and perform similar ‘milking’ strokes on the leg, followed by the same twisting stroke.
- Massage the foot with your thumb, using a combination of circular strokes and walking movements in every direction.
- Grasp the big toe in your fingers, pull upwards slightly and gently wiggle around in circles.
- Glide your hands back up the leg and over to the other side and repeat; turn baby over onto his tummy and glide your hands up onto the shoulders, your fingers slightly hooked over to the chest and massage in circles over the shoulders.
- Place one thumb on his neck and massage and then move gently down his spinal column, keeping the other hand on a shoulder.
- Using flattened fingers massage alongside his spine from top to bottom.
- Place a flattened hand sideways over the base of his spine and exert gentle pressure.
- Massage in circles over his buttocks.
Magic mini-massage points
Tap into the gentle powerhouse that just a few minutes of touch can unleash, with these very special hints from Sister Lilian – baby will be like putty in your hands and the most fractious little one is likely to be soothed! “The beauty of these magic spots is that you can even do them in the middle of the night, with baby tucked into bed next to you,” advises Sister Lilian.
- Using your index finger, massage in a circular fashion over a spot between the eyebrows. Preferably do not cover baby’s face with your hand but do this from the side or above.
- Using both index fingers, massage baby’s temples with a circular stroke.
- Slide your index and middle fingers down the cheek bone and up around the back of the ear. Gently rub up and down behind the curved shell of the ear.
- Massage a point midway on an imaginary line between the nipples, using a circular motion.
- Glide your hand down to a point just below the navel and massage with your fingertip in a clockwise direction.
Touch tips for …
Massage the underside of the left foot sole, right in the middle of the heel area, with your index finger knuckle or the rounded end of a pencil, for a minute at a time, twice a day. Better make sure she’s wearing a nappy!
Baby massage can relieve colic by helping to expel wind and by relieving pain. It’s main benefit, however, is that it relaxes both baby and mother, therefore breaking the tension-crying cycle and so relieving emotional triggers of colic. It also gives parents more confidence to handle their babies and they feel less out of control and more successful as parents.
Place your thumbs next to each other on baby’s top lip and massage the gums through the lip in little circles. Carry on along the jaw line up to the ear. Repeat with baby’s lower jaw.
Wash your hands, scrub your nails and allow baby to gnaw on your knuckle as this pressure will ease pain and help the teeth to erupt sooner.