Have you heard about the benefits of baby massage but feel unsure when it comes what techniques are best?
Many parents instinctively want to massage but most report feeling unsure when it comes to how to go about it. This is understandable when you consider that parents from western cultures haven't had techniques passed down to them from previous generations. In some of the world's eastern countries it is traditional for the grandmother to massage the baby and teach the new mother how to do this, passing on massage techniques that originated centuries ago from one generation to the next.
That doesn't mean you can't become an expert in providing your little one with the perfect massage. With these 10 simple tricks and a little bit of massage practice each day, you'll be feeling confident in no time.
Get the timing right
The best time for massage shocks most people. With a huge quantity of outdated information out there, it's not surprising this is where a lot of new parents go wrong. The trick to getting the most out of baby massage is to massage when your baby wakes up, not when they're ready to go to sleep. The reason there is so much confusion and misinformation surrounding this is because massage improves sleep, so people tend to assume massage needs to take place just prior to sleep. If you want your baby to experience as many benefits as possible, massage when they wake up from their night time sleep or a day time nap.
Use a good quality oil
It pays to be picky over any product you use on your baby's skin. Look for an edible, organic, cold pressed fruit, nut, vegetable or seed oil but avoid peanut, olive oil and fractionated coconut oil. Peanut oil is too dangerous to use because of the risk of a reaction and research shows olive oil breaks down the skins natural protective layer, potentially causing eczema. Fractionated coconut oil is heated to significant temperatures, making this oil more difficult for the skin to absorb. Fractionated coconut oil is not a natural product in the sense that it is made by a complex industrial process that chemically breaks down and then reconstitutes some of the fatty acids into a new oil. The final product doesn't make up any substantive proportion of the original coconut oil. Essentially, it is an industrial spin-off from the manufacture of synthetic detergents. Marketing materials describing fractionated coconut oil simply as 'highly purified oil' or coconut oil with 'the impurities removed' are quite misleading.
Always conduct a test patch of the product you would like to use. Place a small amount of oil inside the crease of the elbow and another behind the knee. Do this in the morning and monitor those locations periodically throughout the day. As long as there is no irritation over a 24-hour period, the product should be ok to use.
Start with the legs
Massaging the legs is the least intrusive way to begin massage time and beginning massage here will help ensure your baby is relaxed. Babies are very used to their legs being handled due to the number of nappy changes they go through in a day. Starting massage time on the chest, abdomen or face can result in your baby becoming tense and disliking massage. These areas of the body house vital organs and your baby's natural instincts ensure they are more protective of these areas.
Pay attention to body language
Recognising and responding to your baby's cues is vital to ensure you and your baby experience as many benefits as possible from massage time. Before you begin, check that your baby seems content and is willing to make eye contact. If your baby is avoiding eye contact, it's best to leave massage for later in the day or if this happens during massage, it's best to stop. Avoiding eye contact can be a sign that your baby's nervous system has received enough stimulation. They avoid eye contact in an attempt to reduce stimulation and avoid over-stimulation. Over-stimulated babies are fussy and have difficulty settling and getting to sleep, so while stimulation is beneficial, over-stimulation is something you want to avoid. Take notice of your baby during massage time and end the massage if your baby is grimacing, crying or becoming fussy, pushing your hands away, appears agitated, arches their back or shows tired signs like rubbing their eyes and pulling on their ears.
This is one a lot of people don't think about but it's best to remove rings, watches and bracelets for massage time to ensure they don't scratch your baby. If you have rings that can't come off, just be mindful of these during massage time. It's also best to have trimmed nails or be mindful of your nails during massage if you prefer to keep them long.
Direction, pressure and positioning
If you want to use massage to help relieve your baby's wind pain or to assist with constipation you will need to make sure the direction of massage, pressure and positioning are correct. Massage needs to take place within the space between your baby's hip bones and below their diaphragm. The diaphragm is the thin muscle that sits at the base of the chest, separating the abdomen from the chest. It contracts and flattens when your baby inhales and relaxes when your baby exhales. Massage needs to be performed in a clock-wise direction using gentle pressure. If abdominal massage is only gliding over the surface of the skin, it won't be as effective.
Avoid bath time
Massage isn't recommended at bath time for babies under 5 months because the combination of these two activities is over-stimulating. If your baby is under 5 months, it's best to separate bath time and massage time by at least 1 nap (or baby's night time sleep). If your baby is over 5 months and you'd like to try massage at bath time, be sure to massage after the bath, not before. Massage before a bath is dangerous because your hands and your baby's skin will be slippery; you also lose the benefit of having a good quality oil moisturise their skin. If your baby is coping well with the combination of bath time and massage time they should settle and sleep well afterwards. If your baby is unsettled after you have combined bath time and massage time, if they have difficulty falling asleep or don't sleep well, these can all be signs that they are finding the combination over-stimulating. Some babies aren't ready to have a massage after a bath until 18 months of age!
Most baby massage strokes go away from the body
This is the opposite of what is taught in massage therapy for adults, where therapists learn that massage should always be done moving towards the heart. For babies, massaging this way is too stimulating for the nervous system. Babies are more sensitive to the sensation of stroking on the skin and particularly so when it comes to massaging against the direction of hair growth. Your baby will find massage more relaxing if the majority of the massage moves away from the body e.g. massaging from the hip to the ankle and from the shoulder to the wrist. It's still beneficial to include a few long, firm strokes, gliding towards the heart to finish massaging their arms and legs as this is good for circulation and lymphatic drainage but it's best to keep these strokes to a minimum.
Have fun, make eye contact, sing and play
One of the reasons babies love massage time is because for them, it's play time. They love interacting with you and receiving your attention. Massage time should be a fun time that you and your baby can enjoy together. Make eye contact with your baby throughout the massage, sing or tell your baby the names of their different body parts.
Learn from an expert
If you really want to achieve the best results from baby massage, rather than try to fumble through learning a massage routine by yourself it's easiest to work with a professional to learn a full body massage routine, some simple stretching movements for your baby and massage for wind, colic and constipation. Certified Infant Massage Instructors and Paediatric Massage Consultants run baby massage classes, teaching parents safe and effective massage techniques and most also offer home visits if you would prefer to learn one on one. When learning baby massage this way, you instructor will show the techniques on a baby massage demonstration doll while you copy and mirror what they're doing on your baby. This way the instructor can see how you are going with the various techniques and make sure you're feeling confident.
Now that you have these 10 simple tricks up your sleeve you can try making massage time a part of your baby's daily routine.