It's difficult for anyone to understand what it's like to care for a baby with reflux unless you've been there yourself. Parents who are trying to cope with a baby who cries for hours each day are constantly looking for anything they can do to help their little one and massage is often one of the suggestions they come across. With a range of clinical trials now supporting the claims of many massage therapists, we know that baby massage can relax muscles, improve circulation, strengthen the immune system and improve sleep, but can baby massage really help with it comes to reflux?
Gastro-oesophageal reflux (GOR, acid reflux or gastric reflux) was once considered rare in children but it is now known that reflux is a common medical issue for children of all ages. It occurs when the stomach contents (including food and stomach acid) flow into the oesophagus and sometimes out of the mouth. The oesophagus, throat, nasal cavities and lungs are easily injured if in contact with stomach acid and this is one of the reason recurring reflux can cause pain, inflammation and other complications. In normal circumstances, a valve called the lower oesophageal sphincter (seen in the image below) closes to prevent content moving from the stomach to the oesophagus.
Though massage has been used for centuries to help with injuries, pain, illness prevention and treatment, it can be difficult to understand just how this form of therapy can assist with reflux. The benefits of massage are easy to understand when we consider the simple example of having a tight muscle. A range of different techniques using pressure on the muscle itself can loosen the area, making it feel better. But with reflux, massage cannot work this way because in most cases, infant reflux (Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux) is caused by immaturity of the muscle between the stomach and oesophagus. This makes it impossible to work on the affected area directly.
To understand how massage can assist, we need to look at how skin stimulation (stroking on the skin) affects the baby's nervous system. Firstly, massage on any part of the body causes increased activity or stimulation to a nerve in the brain called the vagus nerve. This nerve branches out to control various regions of the respiratory and digestive systems, including the oesophagus and the stomach.
Secondly, massage speeds nerve maturation, resulting in nerves being capable of operating faster and more effectively. Because it is nerves that control the muscle between the oesophagus and the stomach, more effective nerve operation should result in improved muscle operation and control.
Seeing results can still take time, though some babies do respond quite quickly. A Certified Instructor trained by the Infant Massage Information Service reports having seen a 4 month old baby girl who had been diagnosed with refulx. Her parents explained they had seen no improvement after trying medications and various formulas. After introducing a simple massage routine twice a day, the parents reported complete improvement after only 2 weeks. It is important to note that not every baby will respond to massage therapy so quickly however, but the thought that there is something beneficial and enjoyable that can be provided so easily is a comforting thought for most parents and it is certainly worth giving massage therapy a try.
To learn more about how to perform massage techniques that are specifically recommended for babies with reflux, it is best to contact a qualified Infant Massage Instructor. Instructors offer one-on-one private appointments or hold baby massage classes where multiple parents are taught how to massage simultaneously.
The Infant Massage Information Service provides a free referral service to parents and organisations looking for a a qualified instructor, simply provide your post code and you will then receive an email with instructor details for your local area.