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Baby Massage: A Beginner's Guide

In today’s world of frenetic schedules and fast-paced lifestyles, take a moment out of your day to connect, laugh, and relax with your baby. Make a home spa for you and your little one by setting aside time each day for a baby massage. Baby massage provides a meaningful connection between you and your child, and has countless positive health effects for you both.

According to Dr. Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Center at the University of Miami, infant massage is known to contribute to the development of secure, self-confident children. “. . . [M]assaged infants are more active, gain weight faster and become more efficient,” she writes.

Dr. Field’s research also reveals that baby massage greatly benefits mothers, too—especially those suffering from postpartum depression. Dr. Field’s studies show that babies born to depressed mothers have higher than normal stress hormones, demonstrate few facial expressions, and experience lack of sleep and appetite loss. But when depressed mothers in Dr. Field’s test groups massaged their babies once a day for two weeks, the mother’s reported that their babies were easier to comfort and more playful. Tests showed that the mothers’ stress hormone levels decreased and they also reported feeling more responsive to people around them as well.

Getting Ready

To ensure that your baby enjoys her massage, follow these tips before getting started:

  • Try to practice baby massage only when you have at least a half-hour of free time. During your massage session, focus your attention solely on you and your baby; turn off the ringer on the phone, play some soothing music, and position yourself in a comfortable part of your home where the two of you can relax.
  • Perform your massage at a comfortable temperature. “Choose a warm room (at least 75ºF/ 23.9ºC) without any drafts,” writes Elizabeth Pantley in her book, Gentle Baby Care. During the cooler months, steer clear of windows and doorways. You may wish to keep your baby covered with a blanket during the massage, only leaving out whatever parts you are massaging. In warmer weather, stay away from bright, sunlight areas, and find cool spots in which to massage your baby. Don’t be afraid to leave her just in her diaper (or strip her down to her birthday suit, and position her over an open diaper in case of an accident)—if it is hot outside, fewer clothes will help your baby feel more comfortable during your massage.

  • As a general rule, use gentle, light strokes (not so light as to tickle, though). Your motions should, “move from the center of your baby’s body outward; for example, when massaging arms, go from shoulders out to hands,” adds Pantley. Also, balance any massage movements you perform—if you first massage your baby’s right leg, be sure to next massage her left leg.

  • First start with a short session; five minutes or less. Then slowly work up to longer sessions. A BBC report suggests, “try to set aside around half-an-hour at a time for a baby massage.” But, watch your baby for signs of enjoyment; if she appears to be losing interest or begins to squirm, stop your session.
  • Massage your baby when she’s not too full or too hungry, and avoid massage when she’s ill or has recently had an immunization.
  • “Always use an edible oil, as the baby’s fingers will probably go into the mouth. Corn, vegetable, or virgin olive oils are great. Do not use mineral oils,” writes Kelly Lott, Certified Massage Therapist, in her online article, “Infant Massage the Therapy of a Loving Touch.”

Gayle Peterson, PhD, considers baby massage essential to a baby’s good health. “The fact is—babies need touching! It is not a luxury or just a good idea. It is essential to their health and well-being,” Dr. Peterson writes on her Making Healthy Families website. In addition to your everyday love and touch, here are five basic movements and massage techniques you and your baby will enjoy.

Massage and Movement Exercises

Gayle Peterson, PhD, considers baby massage essential to a baby’s good health. “The fact is—babies need touching! It is not a luxury or just a good idea. It is essential to their health and well-being,” Dr. Peterson writes on her Making Healthy Families website. In addition to your everyday love and touch, here are five basic movements and massage techniques you and your baby will enjoy.

A “Milking” Massage

You can perform this massage with your baby either sitting down in front of you or laying down on her back. Beginning at the shoulder or hip, squeeze your baby’s arm or leg gently with your thumb and fingers positioned as a “bracelet” around your child’s limb. Move your hand down to the wrist or ankle in a slow “milking” motion. “Imagine that you are milking a cow, or squeezing the filling out of a sausage,” suggests the BBC. As one hand reaches your wee one’s wrist or ankle, begin the same motion with your free hand to create a continuous touch.

A “Rolling” Massage

This is another technique that can be done either with your baby sitting or laying down. Just as with the Milking Massage, begin at your baby’s thigh or shoulder and “roll” the limb, as if you were rolling out a coil of dough, gently rocking the limb back and forth between your two hands. Slowly move your way down from shoulder or thigh to wrist or ankle.

The Open Book
Lay your baby face down on your lap, with her head facing to your left. Gently place your hands at her spine in a “praying” gesture, then open them up and sweep your palms across her back out towards her sides and shoulders.

The Bicycle & Butterfly
With your baby laying on her back, gently grab her feet or ankles and move them in a bicycle fashion, pumping softly so her knees move up and down against her stomach. Then do the same while grasping her wrists or hands and moving them in a butterfly motion in and out from his chest.

The I-L-U Massage
With your baby laying down in front of you, his feet pointing towards your tummy, move your hands towards you in a soft paddling fashion over your baby’s belly. Repeat this gentle motion with one hand, and gently hand hold your little one’s feet up (legs bent) with your other hand. Next, push your flattened thumbs in an outward motion from your baby’s belly button, and spell out “I Love You” with I-L-U-shaped strokes while telling your little one how much you love her. After several spellings, end your massage by moving your hands in clockwise circles over your baby’s belly. Finally, gently walk your fingertips over your infant’s tummy from left to right.

Many parents notice that their babies are calm but vocal during massage. Don’t be surprised if you little one cracks a smile, squeaks, coos, or falls into a fit of giggles during your massage! Also, you may find your little one is particularly relaxed right after you finish a massage session. For this reason, you may wish to incorporate baby massage into your nighttime routine, and follow up your session with a warm bath and a bedtime story. Namaste!

Article Posted 4 years Ago
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