What can be better than finally welcoming your newborn offspring after 9 months in the womb? The first skin-to-skin contact. It’s a very important moment of bonding between mother (parents) and child and it is absolutely priceless. Babies are simply part of human life and their health has been thoroughly studied, but what about their wellbeing? A baby being healthy does not mean he’s feeling fine, just like an adult. It’s two different matters and each should be approached with its own criteria. However, wellness and wellbeing are measured with difficulty and it’s even harder since a baby/toddler can’t express himself in an intelligible way, i.e. to speak. Because of, or thanks to, this limitations parents had to develop methods to ensure that their most precious creature was feeling well on top of being healthy: baby massage. It’s amazing how he skin-to-skin touch between a child and a parent can be underestimated yet so powerful. Massaging your child can be a great benefit
What is baby massage
Baby massage holds its roots in the Ayurvedic Medicine in India. It’s been practiced there (and most widely in west Asia) since centuries and introduced in the western world around the mid 70s. Physical exercises, breathing exercises, rhythmic movements: everything is realised to improve their flexibility, development of motor skills, relaxation. Coming into this world can be traumatising to newborns after spending the first 9 months of their lives isolated in a womb, so it’s important to guide them through the learning process of using their bodies. It’s a routine to pick up and it’s separated in different strokes. The better, and most recommended option, would be to introduce strokes one by one with a little time interval (like a week).
Several benefits are linked to this practice. It has not been carried on for all this time randomly. Many studies and practical observation have shown up that massaging babies brings them many positives results such as:
Bonding: some maternity clinics insist and really put an emphasis on skin-to-skin contact since the very moment the baby comes out of the mother’s womb. It’s lied on your chest (when possible) with its umbilical cord still attached. Bonding st arts at that moment and it’s important that it’s realised without traumatisms. After that; and in the household, it’s crucial to keep on consolidating and building that bond so that it grows strong during the upcoming years. This can be safely done through baby massage by carrying on this initial skin-to-skin contact. Touching and physically manipulating your baby can seem insignificant but it certainly counts for bonding.
Understanding & Communicating: through this special and dedicated time, a parent learns how to figure out their baby. First weeks/months, especially in case of the first born, are not easy. All your adult years you’ve been facing mainly human being provided with speech and now you are all alone and responsible for a person communicating somehow through tears and body language. It’s hard to cope up with but thanks to the massage sessions that you will dedicate to your baby, you will learn to see closely and identify their movements and little by little understand them. Every parent spends time with their newborn during their first weeks (holding, feeding, playing, changing, putting asleep etc..) but not everyone sets aside a body massage time with their baby. As the time goes, concentrating on your baby’s movements and reactions will lead you to better understand them, react to them, anticipate them and even reply to them. Communication will be established beyond the bonding point.
Healing: traumas are unfortunately not rare during child delivery and it can affect both child and mother. It’s hard for scientists to determine, explain and heal postpartum depression. It’s such an encrypted pain that happens way too often and is badly understood. It requires a lot of time and a lot of work (essentially from the mother, and more rarely but it can happen, fathers) but it can be helped out with baby massage. There’s no miracle method, but approaching your baby, learn to accept it, to embrace it, to adore it and simply to love will make the two of you closer. It joins briefly the Coué method of auto persuasion and relies mostly on creating a psychological connection through the physical contact. Little by little, regularly, by massaging your baby, the suffering that you’ve been enduring will fade away to leave the spot for parenthood happiness.
Stress relieve: on the baby’s side, coming into the world can be stressful. Sounds, lights, movements, food… everything is new and, new is scary. Screams, tears and babies usually come together but are not inevitably inseparable. Just like for adults, massage is greatly beneficial for babies to reduce their stress. Reaching out to the key points of their baby body will do them just as much relaxation as it would to an adult body. It’s time to take advantage of this to calm them down and have a good night of sleep: parents and babies likewise.
Cognitive development: to think, to reason, to remember and to speak. That’s mainly what cognitive development consists of, and it’s been proven that this process takes place in a very early age. In order to develop in a good way, a baby requires to be exposed to many different sources, sights, sounds and feelings. Massages are a great way to help in the latter. They will understand better the feeling of the touch of an external object (a hand) on their body, and its effect within the body.
Preparing the massage
In the first place, you should be able to catch the moment when your baby will be most receptive and most inclined to receive a massage. It can not happen anytime or when you decided to. It will take place when the baby wants it. There are different ways to see whether he’s inclined to receive a massage: stillness, durable quietness, is receptive to your gestures, is properly awake. The latter list is not exhaustive but it’s there mainly to help you determine if your baby allows you to massage him or not. Some obvious signs are “no-gos”: crying, sleeping, getting asleep, fatigue etc..
Once you see that your way is free, you need to make sure your environment is ready to welcome your most praised client by ensuring some minimal conditions such as: warm temperature: the baby must not feel too cold or too hot, softened light: better than full daylight or complete darkness, and quiet environment: you can surely play some relaxing music as long as the room is not noisy or is not exposed to loud sounds, cot or towel: it must be comfortable for the baby, not too small but not too big either. Babies like to be confined to feel secure.
Then, you need yourself to get ready. If you are stressed, not confident or not comfortable, your baby will feel it straight away, so make sure you are relaxed before massaging him. If needed, take few minutes to help yourself relax and be fully dedicated to your baby. Remove any piece of jewelry that might disturb you, cut your nails if they are too sharp or too long and might hurt the baby and make sure the cot (or the place) where you will the baby will allow you to be in a position comfortable enough not to get yourself tired too soon. Definitely get some creams or suitable oils to massage the baby, and do not forget to heat up the substance, and your hands, before applying on the baby.
Establishing a routine massage with the baby is pretty important not to surprise and shock him too much. The message sequence can be identified as: head and face, chest, stomach, back and legs. When an adult full body massage would usually start from the back, for a baby it’s more efficient to start with a foot massage. Just like for parents, the key relaxation points that are found in the feet play an important role in the overall health and wellbeing of the baby.
Here’s a summary of the massage techniques to apply:
Foot and legs: hold one foot between your hands having only your both thumbs on the foot bottom, this is the starting position. Start to gently making circular movements and spreading them towards the outside horizontally. Take back the initial position and start to go towards the outside (each thumb towards one direction) and this time spread into three levels: upper foot, mid-foot and lower foot. To finish with the sole, start from the beginning, go towards the toes and massage up the toes extending them. As for those tiny legs: massage them by rubbing them with both hands up and down with gentle movements. Then go left-right with the calves and the thighs. To end: lift the legs.
Belly: very sensitive part. Place one hand above the belly button and start to massage clockwise around it. Gently and with a constant pace. Then you can massage from the upper belly stretching to the lower belly little by little. You can then bring up the knees to belly/chest area. Be very gentle with this part of the body.
Chest: to summarise this part we can say: inside-out. Start by placing your both hands and the baby’s chest, reach out to the shoulders and then go down through the arms. This will be the main movement. Then you can choose to stimulate the sides by rubbing your hands on the outer side of the ribs up and down. Similarly to the feet, you can also massage the hands and fingers from the inside towards the outside.
Back: from the shoulder blades to the calves with a gentle and constant massage leaning to the side. Then you can also insist a little bit on the dorsal spine by positioning your hands on it and rubbing horizontally towards the sides. Do not forget about the shoulders.
Head and face: forehead, ears, scalp, nose, cheeks. Nothing can be ignored, just again, inside towards outside, gently and with a constant pace and pressure. The face includes so many primary senses (sight, taste, smell and hearing) that it’s very sensitive
As we saw earlier, this privileged moment can help you better communicate with and understand your baby. It’s important to see when he’s ready to have your massage with all of its benefits but it’s also important to see when he’s not into it anymore. Infants have very short concentration period and if the baby gets agitated, sleepy, nervous or too playful, you don’t have to finish the session you had planned. You can just terminate the massage. This applies as well for the pressure to put: there’s no easy way to tell you how much pressure to apply when massaging your baby, but if you are unsure, better go for the softest option. The ideal would be to try out different increasing strokes until finding out the perfect pressure to put. Children grow up too, so if you are planning to keep on massaging them for a long period (which is great), consider to adapt the rhythm, pressure and techniques to their growing body and mind.
Enjoy and relax
Do not forget that as much as this moment is beneficial to the child, it should not be a burden for the parent. It should be quality time spent bonding through massage. As stated above, you need to be ready yourself to deliver this massage and if you are not into it, just don’t do it rather than doing it unwillingly. If you are happy enough to massage your baby, you’ll feel fulfilled afterwards knowing that you are contributing to the wellbeing of your offspring. After all, massage is proven to be of a great help for anybody and we see increasing numbers of massaging devices such as foot massagers in households. So after taking care of their children, parents can go to indulge in a little massage session for themselves too.