If you’re like most new parents, you’ve probably heard or seen articles touting the magic properties of baby massages. Babies that sleep for 12 hours at a time. Colicky babies that were no longer fussy. Digestive issues that miraculously disappeared. If you’re anything like me, you want to try this out for yourself. If it can garner a couple of extra hours, heck minutes, of sleep then you’re in, right? But how do you even get started, and is it safe? Let’s learn how to massage a baby.
Benefits of Baby Massage
Numerous studies have shown that routine massages are beneficial to babies. Here are a few of the benefits:
- Promotes bonding with your baby. This can be important for both moms and dads. You can both get involved and enjoy some quality one-on-one time with your little one.
- Reduces baby fussiness and colic. Massages stimulate the central nervous system and as a result, there is a release of a chemical called serotonin. This is the feel good chemical that calms our bodies by steadying our breathing and heart rates. This steadiness results in a more relaxed state.
- Reduces crying and improves sleep.
- Increases emotional well-being for both babies and parents.
- Increases weight gain in premature babies.
So, are there any cons or warnings you should know before giving a massage? The good news is that there is no significant evidence of any adverse events from baby massage. The most important consideration before getting started is which products you will use.
Different Types of Baby Massage Products
- Essential oils. Many of us think of essential oils as natural and wholesome. While they are natural, you still need to be cautious. Make sure you are using a diluted essential oil. If not diluted, essential oils can be irritating and may even cause an allergic reaction. When you see essential oil in a skin care product, its percentage is usually less than 1-2%. Make sure the percentage is less than 2% in order to avoid irritation. There have been studies that have shown how certain oils rich in oleic acid, such as olive oil, can be irritating to the skin. Vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil, are a better choice. Essential oils can also promote allergic reactions. Some oils with a lower allergenic profile include rosemary, sage and lavender oils. If you want to use an essential oil but want to be careful not to irritate your baby’s delicate skin, a tip is to mix a drop or two into a tub of petrolatum ointment or mineral oil to dilute it even more.
- Petrolatum. One easy product to use during a massage is plain white petrolatum or Vaseline. Contrary to what is written out there on the internet, white petrolatum made in the USA is safe to use and there is nothing in it that can be irritating or cause an allergic reaction in your baby’s skin. White petrolatum is one of the most common ointments recommended by dermatologists in the management and prevention of eczema.
Baby Massage Techniques
There are many different types of baby massages you can give. While there is no wrong way to massage a baby, here are some tips to help you get started.
- Pick the right time! After a diaper change or right before the nighttime bath routine (after the baby is fed and no longer hungry) are good times to do a ten-minute massage.
- Make sure the room is quiet and warm. You can create a mood by playing soft music or by simply talking or singing quietly with your baby. Make sure it’s warm enough for your little one to be undressed. It’s hard to enjoy a massage when you’re cold!
- Take off any jewelry. You don’t want anything to get in the way between you and your baby.
- Rest your baby on her back. This will allow you the most access to her arms and legs and keep her comfortable throughout the massage.
- Start off with the hands. Hold your baby’s hands and rub the palms with your thumbs. You can do the same thing with your baby’s little feet and toes.
- Don’t forget the legs, arms, chest and belly. Next, move onto your baby’s e legs, gently squeezing the legs from ankles to thighs and then thighs to ankles. After the legs, massage each arm separately by gently rolling your hand on the arm or just using your fingertips in a circular motion. For the chest and belly area, gently use your fingertips and use circular motions on your baby’s belly.
- Finish with the back. Keep in mind that very young babies may not yet enjoy “tummy time,” so if you’re little one tends to fuss while trying to hold his head up, you might want to skip this one. We want to keep the massage enjoyable. Working on neck muscles can be a separate exercise.
While we can’t guarantee a full eight-hours of sleep for your baby (and you!), routinely giving your baby a massage will promote a nice, comforting routine for both of you. Enjoy!
~ The Baby Pibu™ Team
• Ped Dermatol. 2013 Jan-Feb;30(1):42-50. Effect of olive and sunflower seed oil on the adult skin barrier: implications for neonatal skin care. Danby SG1, AlEnezi T, Sultan A, Lavender T, Chittock J, Brown K, Cork MJ.
• Early Hum Dev. 2014 Mar;90(3):137-40. Preterm infant weight gain is increased by massage therapy and exercise via different underlying mechanisms. Diego MA, Field T, Hernandez-Reif M.