Creating the right atmosphere for giving your infant a massage is as important as the soothing power of your touch. So before you begin your baby's spa session, make sure you've dedicated special time—one half hour would be ideal—and can give her your undivided attention.
"It is wonderful if you can set aside a special time just devoted to relaxation and massage, but you can also provide just as effective touch in a few moment of focused loving time together," Allen says. "Consider providing a few strokes during bath time or a diaper change."
Before setting one finger on your little one, both Allen and Suzanne P. Reese, founder of CompassiontateChild.com, stress the importance of asking your baby for massage buy-in. "Ask permission to start massage by making eye contact [with your baby] and verbally asking out loud 'Is it OK if I give you a massage?" says Allen.
After you ask permission, show your baby your hands—the tools you are going to use, Reese says—and start the massage. Of course wherever Baby lets you begin the massage is best, but Reese and Allen both recommend starting with the legs and feet as this is less intimidating and invasive for baby.
When massaging your baby, use gentle, light strokes, but avoid being so light it will tickle. You'll want to move from the center of the body outward—go from upper leg to foot, or shoulder to hand for example. Reese adds that during infant massage there are no set numbers of strokes or repetitions.
"Parents need to realize this is not something you do to your baby, it is something you do with your baby," says Reese. With that in mind, look for cues from your baby as you massage. She will give you signals to let you know if she is enjoying the massage and when massage time is over.
While it is not required, using oil can help make massage more enjoyable for some babies and parents. Remember to use only edible oil as your baby will likely stick her hands in her mouth. Plus, "an infant's skin is still developing, and can absorb more than an adult's, so it is important to choose oil that is most suitable for baby's skin," Allen says.
Once you've learned the basics, there are specific massaging techniques or strokes you can work on for use during infant massage. The following slides illustrate those techniques so that you might try to see if your little one enjoys them. Remember, always look for cues from your baby.
You can also try a "rolling" massage on your little one. While she is lying in front of you (again on her back), begin again at Baby’s hip or shoulder and "roll" the limb, gently rocking it back and forth between your two hands (as if you are rolling out a coil of dough). Slowly move your way down from shoulder or hip to wrist or ankle.
Another technique is called “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. Next you can use that same idea on baby’s arms. Grasp her wrists or hands and moving them in a butterfly motion in and out from her chest.
Spell out your love for your little one during the "I-L-U Massage." Again, while she is lying on her back in front of you, move your hands towards you in a soft paddling fashion over your baby's belly. Next, push your flattened thumbs in an outward motion from her belly button using I-L-U-shaped strokes, spelling out "I Love You."
Rolling your baby over on to her back, you can try the “Open Book” stroke. 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.
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