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Baby massage: benefits & techniques

Massage is a lovely way for you to express your love and care for your baby. Massage can soothe your baby and help them to sleep.

Massage has many added benefits for your baby, including improving weight gain, aiding digestion, improving circulation, and easing teething pain. Massage is a great way for you and your partner to bond with your baby, and you may find it relaxing, too!

What is baby massage?

Baby massage is gentle, rhythmic stroking of your baby's body with your hands. You may want to use organic oils to help your hands to glide smoothly over your baby's skin. As part of your massage routine, you can gently rotate your baby's ankles, wrists, and fingers. You can talk softly, hum, or sing to your baby while you are massaging, which may make it more reassuring for your baby.

The soothing strokes of your hands stimulate the production of the feel-good hormone oxytocin in you, your baby, and even your partner if they are present. Oxytocin is the hormone that gives you that warm, loving feeling when you hold your baby close or breastfeed.

What are the benefits of baby massage?

There are lots of ways baby massage can benefit not just your baby, but you and your partner as well. Massage may help your baby:

💚 develop mentally, socially, and physically

💚 stay relaxed and not get upset

💚 cry and fuss less

💚 sleep better

One study found that massage in the early days could help newborns to recover from jaundice more quickly.

You may find that giving your baby a massage lifts your mood and helps you to feel more empowered as a parent. The time you set aside for a massage can be your special time together. As you massage your baby, it comes naturally to chat with them and have plenty of eye contact together.

This is one reason why massage can help mums with postnatal depression, or who are at risk of depression, to interact with their babies.

Baby massage can be great for dads, too. Some dads may miss out on a lot of the hands-on care of their babies, especially if they are at work and their baby is breastfed.

A regular massage with dad can become a routine, perhaps at bedtime, that helps to bring your baby and partner closer together. It can also help your partner if they are feeling stressed.

Massage may be particularly good for premature babies in special care, resulting in:

💚 Improved weight gain, particularly if oils are used. Massage stimulates a key nerve, called the vagus nerve, which connects the brain with important parts of the body, including the stomach. Stimulating this nerve can improve digestion and bowel movement, helping your baby to gain weight.

💚 A more stable heart rate. Massage improves the parts of the nervous system that regulate our organs. So massage can help to keep your premature baby's heart rate steady.

💚 Calmer response to stress and pain.

💚 More stable brain activity. Premature babies who are massaged tend to have brain activity that develops at a normal level. Premature babies who are not massaged have shown a decrease in brain activity development.

These benefits may contribute to the finding that massaged premature babies tend to be well enough to go home with their families sooner than babies who aren't massaged.

When is the best time to massage my baby?

Try to pick a time when your baby is between feeds. Then they won't be too hungry or too full. It's also best not to start just before a nap. A good time to massage your baby is when they are awake, but settled. If your baby is quietly alert and interested in their environment, it means they’ll be ready to interact with you. If your baby is sleeping and feeding often, you may wonder when this golden time for massage is going to come around! You'll get to know when your baby is most content to have a massage. You may like to make it part of your baby's bedtime routine, perhaps after a bath and before a bedtime feed. A massage before bedtime will help your baby to wind down after the stimulation of the day and become calm and ready for night of sleep. What do I need before I start a massage?

It is important to find a good room for baby massage in your home where you and your baby will be comfortable and undisturbed. Make sure the room is warm (around 75 degrees F) with no draughts. Lay your baby down in the center of a large bed or on the floor on a towel or folded sheet, perhaps with a changing mat underneath. You may prefer to keep your baby's vest on if it is a little cool. Or let them enjoy being completely naked for a change. As this is a special time for you and your baby, make sure there aren't any distractions in the room. If you have a pet, put it in another room, and turn off your mobile phone. You may even like to play some relaxing music, turned low enough so that your baby can hear your voice. Have everything that you'll need to hand, including: 💚 massage oil or an emollient cream

💚 towels or muslin squares to mop up any accidents

💚 clothes to dress your baby in afterward

💚 your usual diaper-changing kit  Using oil will make it easier for your hands to glide over your baby's skin and may be more relaxing for your baby. It's best to dab a little on your baby's skin first, just in case they have a reaction. Do this patch test the day before you intend to start massaging your baby.

How should I massage my baby?

For the first few times, you may just want to massage your baby's legs until they get used to the sensation. It's a good place to begin because your baby is used to having their legs touched during diaper changes. Then try to follow a routine pattern, perhaps massaging your baby's legs before her arms, hands and body. Your baby will appreciate a routine. They will find it comforting to know what's coming next. You can start with this routine to follow: 💚 Warm a tiny bit of oil in your hands by rubbing it between your palms. Try not to use too much oil all over your baby's body, it may increase body temperature up to 1 degree.  💚 Very gently rub it into your baby's skin, starting with their feet.

💚 Work your way up the legs, lightly squeezing calves and thighs.

💚 For your baby's chest and tummy, gently place both hands flat against the centre of their body. Spread your hands to the sides, as if flattening the pages of a book.

💚 With your hands still flat, use your fingertips to stroke outward in small circles.

💚 Keep going for as long as your baby seems to be enjoying it. Reading your baby's cues is the most important aspect of massage. Your baby will tell you when the massage needs to end and which strokes they like or dislike. If your baby starts to cry during the massage, they are telling you that they have had enough.

Cherish the special bond and relaxing moments that you are creating together. It will become a joyful practice for you and your sweet baby.

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