What is baby massage?

Massage for infants and young children is an ancient tradition 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. As well as a relaxation tool, massage may help with crying, colic, teething and sleep problems. It's also the ideal opportunity to create a special fun time and helps parent and child to bond.

Many parents of disabled children find it hard to cope with lots of hospital and clinic appointments. Massage, a few times a week, can ease some of those strains. 

Massage enhances connections between parent and child. It gives the child a sense of security and feeling loved. Siblings can also join in by massaging a doll.

Massage and other therapies (such as reflexology) provide both physiological and emotional benefits for babies and toddlers. 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. This will aid the immune system and help resistance to infections.
  • Encourages muscle co-ordination.
  • Stimulates the central nervous system. This 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 and child and can help children feel more secure
  • Reduces anxiety.
  • Promotes calmness and relaxation.

It also improves bonding and attachment for parents and child by:

  • Skin to skin contact
  • Eye to eye contact
  • Smiling
  • Soothing sounds made by massager
  • Cuddling
  • Response and interactions
  • Gives parents confidence in coping with the child

You can massage 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 or she is in good health.

What should I use to massage my baby?

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 massage 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 so do not penetrate the skin. They 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 lacks allergens.

You can use creams such as a Vitamin E cream but you may find these are absorbed too quickly.

Waxes and balms can provide a good medium for massage. Organic beeswax or a propolis wax may be suitable. Propolis comes from bee honeycombs and is excellent for nourishing the skin. It can help with nappy rash or other skin conditions, but is more suitable for 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 babies - 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 on medication.
  • Don't massage your baby against her will or disturb her sleep to massage.

If in doubt, seek medical advice.

Baby massage: further information

It's important you learn baby massage 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.

You can also 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. There may be the opportunity to have one-to-one sessions in your home if you prefer.

Use of olive oil

There have been some concerns on the use of olive oils in baby massage or for babies who have dry skin or cradle cap. Although there has been no published evidence yet, if you are concerned, Scope would recommend taking a copy of this article and discussing it with your child’s GP or Paediatrician.

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