As an Infant enters a new environment far different from mommy’s womb, everything feels strange and stressful. As a delicate and fragile being, the mother needs to anticipate her baby’s needs. As a mother (that’s you!) approaches the last trimester of pregnancy, it is beneficial to spend time learning and understanding about infant or baby massage, one of the caring and nurturing ways to help your baby grow and thrive. Let’s take a look at the benefits of baby massage.
Baby massage has been practiced all over the world for centuries. It is a common child care practice in many cultures. It has recently become more prevalent in North America and Europe as medical studies have proven its many benefits.
Infant massage is a form of communication babies receive before they understand language. This, combined with hugs, cuddles, and strokes, is a form of nurture and love a parent can give to their infant child.
Benefits of Infant Massage
All infants, whether premature, underweight, or healthy/full-term, thrive and benefit from massage. Here are several physical and psychological benefits of infant massage :
- Makes the baby more alert when awake. The baby is more easily soothed, and readily able to sleep.
- Results in better performance on the Brazelton Scale which measures habituation, orientation, motor activity, and regulation of behavior.
- Stimulates digestion, the passing of gas, and relieves the symptoms of colic.
- Increases circulation and can help ease normal growing pains.
- Teaches a baby how to relax.
- Promotes emotional security, respect, and a healthy body image.
- Gives opportunities for quality time for bonding, thus increasing the parents’ confidence in their own parenting skills.
- Enhances intimacy, understanding, and the ability of parents to nurture babies.
- Helps relieve stress through nurturing touch, which is natural for both parent and baby.
- Enables a parent to become more aware of the baby’s cues and understand the baby’s special needs.
Studies regarding Infant Massage
One of the benefits of baby massage is shown in one study where infant massage caused 47% more weight gain than on infants who were not massaged, given the same number of calories. (Tiffany Fields, University of Miami School of Medicine, “Tactile Kinesthetic Stimulation Effects on Preterm Neonates” Pediatrics Journal #777, 1986). Furthermore, premature infants who are regularly massaged are hospitalized an average of six fewer days than non-massaged babies. Hospital charges average $10,000 less for massaged babies! (USA Today, May 28, 1996)
Baby Massage Oil
Baby massage can be with or without the use of oil, but there are studies that show evidence of the effective use of baby massage oil for infants. What kind of oil is best for baby massage?
- Coconut oil – Preterm infants receiving coconut oil massage also showed a greater length gain velocity by better thermoregulation
- Sunflower oil – A study showed improved oxygen saturation for preterm infants
- Rich Safflower oil – this was used in a study to influence changes in the fatty acid profiles of massaged babies. The oil can be absorbed in neonates and is beneficial for nutritional purposes.
- Olive oil – When used in neonatal units, low-pressure massage with olive oil can also help in weight gain, especially for preterm babies.
- Mineral oil is good to use after your baby’s bath while her skin is still damp, to seal moisture.
When to Start Baby Massage
When to start baby massage has no set guidelines. There have been reports of the benefits of baby massage having amazing results in preterm babies who may have experienced painful procedures and were separated from their mothers while in the NICU. Baby massage is shown to boost weight gain, increase brain activity, and stabilize the heart rate. For a baby born full-term, waiting 10 to 14 days is ideal before starting with baby massage.
How to Massage a Baby
You can massage your baby section by section of her body — stomach, head, face, back, arms, legs. Use a blanket or towel along with massage oil. Here are general tips on how to massage a baby:
- Make gentle but firm strokes; not ticklish.
- Include massage into your baby’s daily schedule.
- Pay attention to your baby’s signals regarding when to stop. Depending on your baby’s mood, a massage can last 10 minutes or 30 minutes.
Baby Massages for Sleep
While baby massage takes place when your baby is awake and alert, there are baby massages for sleep. The natural rise and fall of your baby’s appetite, body temperature, and the sleep-wake cycle are part of the circadian rhythm, which the newborn infant will slowly develop. Cortisol (stress-response hormone) develops at approximately 8 weeks, melatonin and sleep efficiency at approximately 9 weeks, and body temperature rhythm develops at 11 weeks.
The skin-to-skin bonding between parent and child through baby massage promotes physical and psychological well-being for your baby, and believe it or not, it does for you, too!