Massage can stimulate your baby’s undeveloped circulatory, nervous and immune systems, and can benefit heart rate, breathing and digestion. It also encourages elasticity of muscles, can improve your baby’s ability to relax and can often help improve sleep patterns.
Massage is a natural, instinctive expression of love and friendship. Massaging your baby will probably come naturally, but here are some guidelines to help you along your way. You can massage your baby anytime.
Many parents like to massage in the evening, after bath time and before bedtime as part of their baby’s routine. Although some babies respond well to massage straight away, others may take a little longer to get used to it - usually 3 or 4 sessions at the most. Don’t give up! It is well worth persevering. Whilst your baby may enjoy this whole routine once they are used to massage, a few strokes will be enough at first. See what they like best, and build up slowly. Always respect your baby’s likes and dislikes.
Keep it fun! Both you and your baby should enjoy it. Introduce games and singing and try to keep eye contact as much as possible. You can play music if you like, but your baby will enjoy the sound of your voice just as much.
When should we not massage?
Massage is very safe, but there are times when it would be uncomfortable for your baby to receive massage:
- The massage should ideally be between feeds, when your baby is not too full, nor hungry. However, your baby may need a little milk during the massage, which is fine.
- Never massage against your baby’s will. If your baby starts to cry, stop the massage, pick them up and comfort them, then when your baby is relaxed and happy again, continue the massage where you left off, or wait until the next day.
- If your baby has a fever or seems unwell.
- Do not massage directly over skin that has sores, cuts, burns, inflammation or infectious rashes. If you are in any doubt, consult your GP or health visitor.
Before you begin make sure that:
- The room is very warm - no draughts
- The lighting is soft
- You have prepared a comfortable surface, such as a folded blanket covered by a towel on the floor (keep 1 towel especially for massage) for the baby to lie on.
- You have minimised potential disruptions (e.g. phone ringing)
- Your hands are warm and clean, free from jewellery and scratchy nails.
- You are comfortable, sitting on the floor with your legs apart is a good position to try.
- The oil is within reach - you could pour some into a shallow bowl.
Are you relaxed? Shake the tension out of your arms and hands and take 3 deep breaths, letting go of tension with each out breath.
- Warm some oil between your hands and let your baby know that it is time for massage by showing him/her your hands and saying or singing "it’s massage time!". If you always start this way, your baby will soon recognise this cue and be able to let you know whether they are in the mood for massage or not.
- Take one leg and give it a gentle shake.
- With one hand holding the ankle, use the other to glide up the front and down the back of the leg.
- Gently stroke the whole leg again, hand over hand from hip to foot.
- REPEAT WITH THE OTHER LEG
- Hold both ankles and send a gentle ripple through the body - make it fun!
- Keep taking more oil as necessary
- By massaging the feet, we relax the whole body. This is a massage that you can perform almost anywhere, without having to remove your baby’s clothing, to relax and calm your baby.
- Using your thumbs, massage the sole of the foot, heel to toe. Be firm so it does not tickle.
- Play with and pull on each toe gently between your forefinger and thumb. Play "This Little Piggy". Massage the top of the foot and around the ankle with your fingers
- REPEAT WITH THE OTHER FOOT
This is the emotional centre of our body. If you feel your baby’s tummy, it will feel soft when they are relaxed and happy, but tight when they are not.
- If your baby has just been fed, it will be better to leave out this part of the massage until next time.
- Use the weight of your RELAXED hand to stroke in big clockwise circles around the tummy. Start very lightly, and increase the pressure slightly as your baby’s tummy relaxes.
- Hold your baby’s ankles or lower legs, and gently allow their legs to bend so that their knees move towards their chest. This can relieve wind. Be very sensitive to your baby’s responses. Also, keep a nappy handy! Chest shoulders and arms
- Using both hands, start in the middle of the chest and gently glide out and over the shoulders and back round to the chest.
- Now slide over the shoulders and down both arms. You could play "this little piggy" with the fingers.
- Open and cross their arms across the chest - this will relax the shoulders (do not force them) and can be fun.
- Stroke down the whole body with both hands. Don’t forget to keep eye contact, and keep it fun. Turn your baby over slowly Back
- When a baby lies on their front, this gently stretches their abdomen, so can be helpful relieving wind and colicky pain. It will also begin to strengthen the back and neck muscles.
- Take some more oil between your palms, and stroke down the back, hand over hand. NO PRESSURE ON THE SPINE.
- Continue the strokes down the legs if you like.
- Use a circular movement with your fingertips all over the back and buttocks.
Finish by stroking slowly down the whole back of your baby’s body - from neck to feet using both hands - 3 or 4 times.
Dress your baby slowly. They may well be ready for a feed and bedtime.