Massage can be beneficial in many ways ranging from treating musculo-skeletal or sports injury and pain to a gentle relaxing treatment that will help us relax from the stresses and strains of everyday life.
Massage for infants and young children is an ancient tradition and practiced almost on a daily basis in some countries. In Russia, physicians teach mothers to massage babies to enhance development of the central nervous system.
In general massage is very relaxing for both child and mother. In addition to being used as a relaxation tool, massage may help with crying, colic, teething and sleep problems. It is also the ideal opportunity to create a special fun time for mum/dad and the child and helps parent/child bonding.
Many parents of children with additional needs feel pressured and stressed coping with numerous hospital and clinic appointments. Massage, a few times a week, can ease some of those strains and provide an unpressured quality time for everyone when it suits them.
Massage enhances connections between mum/dad and their child. It gives the child a sense of security and feeling loved. Siblings can also be encouraged to join in, by massaging a doll.
Massage and other therapies (such as reflexology) provide both physiological and emotional benefits for babies and toddlers as well as a means of soothing and comfort that can be continued through their growing years. In a young baby the massage routine will only take about 10 minutes.
Benefits of baby massage
- Stimulates circulation and increases the flow of oxygen around the body
- Stimulates digestion and elimination of waste thus helping with colic or constipation. It may also help premature babies absorb food and gain weight more easily
- Stimulates the flow of lymph and elimination of toxins which will aid the immune system and help resistance to infections
- Encourages muscle co-ordination
- Stimulates the central nervous system which is important for both neurological and motor development
- Improves skin
- Can aid recovery from childhood ailments such as asthma, catarrh, sleep problems, teething and earache
- Stimulates release of endorphins (happy hormones) that induce feelings of well-being
- Stimulates awareness
- Promotes trust between parent/child and can help children feel more emotionally secure
- Reduces anxiety
- Promotes calmness and relaxation
It also improves bonding and attachment for parents/child by:
- Skin to skin contact
- Eye to eye contact
- Soothing sounds made by massager
- Response and interactions
- Gives parents confidence in coping with the child
Massage can be done to music, either soothing or stimulating depending on the time of day. Choosing the right time to massage your baby can make all the difference to the enjoyment of the experience. Only massage your baby if he/she is in good health.
What should I use to massage my baby?
There are a number of massage mediums which can be used. A baby's skin is very sensitive and prone to allergies so it is advisable to do a patch test 24 hours before commencing massage. The most common medium is oil. Cold pressed vegetable oils such as plain olive oil or almond oil deliver nutrients to the skin. Do not use clear baby oils as these are mineral oils and therefore do not penetrate the skin. They are designed to retain moisture and sit as a barrier on the skin. Coconut oil is popular in India and could be helpful for premature babies as it has a lack of allergens.
Creams such as a Vitamin E cream can be used but you may find creams are absorbed too quickly.
Waxes and balms can provide a good medium for massage. Organic beeswax or a propolis wax may be suitable. Propolis is derived from bee honeycombs and excellent for nourishing the skin and helping with nappy rash or other skin conditions. It may, however, be more suitable babies over one year.
Do not use aromatherapy oils without consulting a qualified practitioner.
Do's and don'ts of baby massage
- Do get your baby's 'permission' before massage (do this by observing verbal and non-verbal signals)
- Do try again later if your baby does not respond positively
- Do be consistent with timing of the massage
- Do seek professional advice if baby seems unwell
- Do stop massage if baby becomes distressed
- Do apply light pressure
- Don't massage your baby before their six-week check. The only exception may be with a tailored form of touch to benefit premature or newborn baby - consult a professional
- Don't massage if baby is tired or hungry
- Don't massage within a week of vaccinations or if your baby is experiencing any after-effects of the vaccination
- Don't massage if baby has a skin rash, joint problems, brittle bones or fractures and is being given medication
- Don't massage your baby against his/her will or disturb his/her sleep to massage
If in doubt, seek medical advice.
Further information on baby massage
It is important you learn the baby massage routine and techniques from a qualified practitioner. Many Health Clinics now offer baby massage classes. Consult your Health Visitor, Portage Worker or local GP Surgery for more information.
Alternatively you can find an individual practitioner qualified in baby massage via the Federation of Holistic Therapists.
In some areas there are special sessions for parents of children with additional needs and there may be the opportunity to have one-to-one sessions in your home if you prefer.
Pediatric Massage - Revised by Kathy Fleming Drehobl and Mary Gengler Fuhr (Therapy Skilled Builders, ISBN 076164092-4).
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