“It is an ancient art that connects you deeply with the person who is your baby, and it helps you to understand your baby’s particular non-verbal language and respond with love and respectful listening. It empowers you as a parent, for it gives you the means by which you become an expert on your own child and therefore can respond according to your baby’s unique needs.”
— VIMALA MCCLURE, INFANT MASSAGE A HANDBOOK FOR LOVING PARENTS
Baby Massage is a simple and accessible skill to learn as a new parent. It takes no special equipment and costs nothing other than an initial course to learn how to do it. You can continue to use your massage skills as your baby grows into a toddler and childhood.
Here are 10 benefits of Baby Massage for both your baby and you:
Relaxes you and your baby
Baby massage is done with loving touch. It is relaxing for both you and your baby as you share the experience together.
“When you give your baby a massage, you're actually stimulating their central nervous system.” explains Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. “That sets off a chain reaction making their brain produce more serotonin (a feel-good chemical) and less cortisol (a hormone secreted in response to stress). As a result, your baby's heart rate and breathing slow down, and they become more relaxed.”
As a parent giving your baby a massage releases feel good hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins. When baby and parent share these moments of relaxation together, it’s called a a ‘Spiral of Joy’ in Birthlight Baby Massage and Yoga. This in turn can add confidence in your ability as a parent.
When a baby relaxes and the stress hormone cortisol is reduced. “The fight-or-flight response shuts off and the relaxation response is stimulated... A stressed infant who wasn’t gaining weight may begin to thrive and put on ounces and pounds.” Rebecca Millhouse, CMT, NMT, CIMI.
2. Enhances Bonding
"Affectionate touch and rhythmic movement are among the most powerful forms of communication between babies and their parents, so they're great ways for you to bond," says K. Mark Sossin, Ph.D., director of the Parent-Infant Research Nursery at Pace University, in New York City.
Touch conveys nurturing and love, the essential ingredients for emotional and physical growth and well-being. Baby massage helps your baby to feel secure, loved and respected through this one to one contact with you.
“With bonding and regular massage, baby gets to practice eye contact. What’s more, maintaining eye contact while massaging an overstimulated baby helps him stay present in the moment” Jakki Bosco, licensed massage therapist, Tampa Massage Clinic.
“Infant massage helps enhance the bond begun at birth. A baby learns to enjoy the wonderful comfort and security of loving and being loved. He acquires knowledge about his own body as his parent shows him how to relax a tense arm or leg, or helps him to relieve painful gas. His parent looks into his eyes, sings, talks soothingly, and gently strokes his skin. Thus, each day, the dance of bonding begins all over again.” Vimala McClure
3. Aids Growth and Development
Baby Massage helps stimulate the many systems of the body such as the skin, digestive, nervous and respiratory systems. It supports your baby’s natural physical development in many ways including:
• Increased weight gain - it can help their digestive system to function more efficiently, thus easing pains, aiding colic and constipation too.
• Myelination of nerves - needed for brain and muscle development.
• Improving jaundice
• Helping teething
• Improved muscle tone and range - by moving and circulating baby’s muscles, you’re preventing atrophy and helping them develop strength and motor skills
• Brain development - when you massage baby, you’re increasing their awareness of their body’s position, and movement and develop coordination.
• Enhanced neuromuscular connections - “Infants have to learn about all their different body parts and how to control them,” Rebecca Millhouse. With infant massage, baby becomes more aware of sensory connections and where they are in space. That, in turn, affects how they move.
• A healthier immune system - baby massage can help cut down on colds. “Massage increases our white blood cell count, thus improving immune response. It also assists in lymphatic flow, which can help fight off infections.” Jakki Bosco
4. Promotes Communication
Baby massage is a first form of communication through touch.
Spending quiet time massaging your baby will give you the time and space you need to start recognising and learning their cues. Learning to understand your baby’s behaviour, crying and body language will give you a bit of a confidence boost and make you feel more relaxed in those
One-to-one communication instils a message of love and security from parent to baby, and baby to parent.
It’s also lots of fun and if combined with talking or singing to your baby it can bring joyful responses in the form of smiles, sounds and giggles.
Baby massage has been shown to reduce or improve postnatal depression in mums through their positive interaction with their baby, and also improve the mental health of all parents.
5. Improves sleep
As we have learned, experiencing relaxation through massage soothes a baby’s nervous system which can also help a baby to sleep better and that is only good for parents too.
Often massaging your baby at bedtime can become a useful part of your daily routine and help sleep. Over time, babies might begin to anticipate a bedtime rhythm, which can lead to an understanding that first comes bath, then story, then massage, then feeding/bottle, then sleep.
6. Supports babies in neonatal care
Baby massage has been shown to reduce the length of baby’s stay in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) Because it impacts on all the systems of the body it is particularly beneficial for premature babies. For all of the reasons this blog shares, Baby Massage can really support baby’s transition from womb to world, and this is especially true of baby’s needing extra care and support in their first days and weeks.
7. Helps wind, colic, constipation
One of the most helpful benefits of baby massage is its ability to ease digestive issues, reflux and colic. Massaging your baby’s tummy (always in a clockwise direction) helps release trapped wind and relaxes the abdomen. It can also help baby move the contents of the intestines through the
colon and out. This can be helpful at weaning stage too.
As baby relaxes through massage this can ease their reflux or colic. 8. Not just for Mums Baby Massage is a great way for Dads, partners, grandparents, family members and carers to bond with baby. Dads and partners who are not breastfeeding baby can really enhance their connection and bond with their baby and confidence in their handling and communication with baby through baby massage. “It’s especially important for fathers to massage baby; it puts him on an even keel with mom, who typically spends more time with baby because she’s the one nursing him. It can take seven to eight months for fathers to become enthralled with their little one, but when they start massage from birth, they develop that bond much earlier” S. Daniel Ganjian, MD, pediatrician, Providence Saint John’s Health Center, Santa Monica, California. If baby has other caregivers, baby massage is a lovely way to spend one to one time building their relationships. 9. Become more confident in handling baby
Spending time in loving touch can really help you to become more confident with handling your baby. The more you physically connect with your baby the more you are able to feel confident in how to hold them, move them around and build a feeling of security for you both. 10. Promotes Skin to Skin touch
According to UNICEF's Baby Friendly Initiative, skin-to-skin offers the following benefits:
• Calms and relaxes baby and parent
• Regulates a baby's heart rate and breathing
• Stimulates digestion and feeding
• Helps colonize a baby's skin with a parent's healthy bacteria
• Stimulates the release of breastfeeding and bonding hormones
• Helps with growth
• May reduce hospital stays in premature infants
• Improves breast milk production
Whilst you can massage your baby over clothes, skin to skin touch can really enhance the benefits for both of you.
“Being touched and caressed, being massaged, is food for the infant. Food as necessary as minerals, vitamins and proteins.”
— FRÉDÉRICK LEBOYER, FRENCH OBSTETRICIAN