I am asked at least once a day about the benefits of baby massage so I decided to write down some of the many things I say in response to this question. I could type forever on this topic but I will refer mainly to the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) information on this topic which I share in my classes.
The benefits of baby massage fall into 4 main areas; interaction, stimulation, relief and relaxation.
This is my personal favourite as by interacting with your baby through massage you are promoting bonding and the creation of a secure attachment. You are using this nurturing touch to have 1:1 quality time with your baby, giving them your undivided attention and ensuring early contact with both parents. You are also carving out precious 1:1 time with your newborn which is hard in our busy lives but so important to giving them a great start in life.
When I parents on my courses what they think the best thing about baby massage is they say;
“It is a very practical way to bond with my baby”
“Our daily massage time is my favourite part of the day”
“It is a great way to learn new skills to help bond with my baby”
“It is a wonderful way of engaging with my baby”
“It is lovely for bonding”
Different baby massage techniques stimulate different systems in your babies body and are taught for different reasons. The techniques taught on the course are drawn from Indian massage, Swedish massage yoga and reflexology. Overall, baby massage stimulates the nervous system and muscular development and tone as well as impacting on coordination and balance which is controlled by the vestibular system. Through massage and movements you are promoting the connections between neurons.
Being more specific to the course; Indian massage moves towards the legs or fingers for tension release and Swedish massage stimulates the circulation of blood towards the heart. The stomach techniques stimulate the digestive system and chest techniques stimulate the respiratory system. When we massage the arms and hands we affect the lymphatic system. When we teach ‘gentle movements’ it is to promote flexibility, fun and new ways of movement for your baby.
Some feedback from parents on the course after learning the stomach massage included;
“My baby usually poos once a week and he is uncomfortable at times. After the class we had 3 poos that day, so we have started doing the tummy massage every day”
The most common area of relief that parents need for their babies is in the tummy area. Babies with tummy pain, constipation, gas, wind, or colic can gain relief from the stomach massage and the colic routine in particular which is a series of strokes repeated 3 times 2-3 times daily. Other massage techniques can relieve teething pain and improve sensitivity to touch. Having a routine of massage techniques available to you to use to relieve symptoms as they happen with your little one is extremely valuable and a skill you can draw on when needed.
Improving sleep is the most commonly spoken about benefit of baby massage. One parent recently said to me “my baby goes straight to sleep after every baby massage session”. She was delighted with this and used this opportunity to go out for lunch knowing she could have an uninterrupted bite to eat. The baby massage improves your babies’ ability to calm themselves as it releases higher levels of the relaxing hormones (e.g. oxytocin and serotinon) and lowers their levels of stress hormones. This is why many parents choose to incorporate the baby massage in to a bedtime routine as they find it beneficial to preparation for sleep.
One other lovely benefit of baby massage is that it allows for family bonding. Many parents have told me that their older children want to help give their new baby brother or sister a massage as well as often asking for a massage for themselves. This can reduce sibling rivalry/conflicts and also helps to nurture sibling relationships.