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Babies: The benefits of massage

Many health care professionals are in agreement that infant massage is a wonderful way not only to strengthen parent-child interaction, but also to contribute to a baby's healthy development. It is recommended that parents learn massage techniques from a certified Infant Massage Instructor, preferably in a class with other parents and babies. This way you will come to understand how to individualize the massage to your own infant's needs, developmental level and temperament.

If specialized instructors or classes are unavailable in your community, you may still learn what to do by watching the instructional video, Massage: You and Your Baby which is available for purchase from the Canadian Chapter of the International Association of Infant Massage. Contact the organization at 1-613-830-6690 or check out their website at www.infantmassage.ca or www.health4all.com

There are a number of benefits of infant massage:

  • It's relaxing! Most babies love being touched in this gentle and nurturing way. The loving touch can reduce fussiness and irritability.

  • It helps with digestion.

  • It can provide relief with gas or colic.

  • Premature babies benefit from appropriate massage. Research connects infant massage to weight gain in premature babies.

  • Massage promotes bonding. Both you and your baby will come to enjoy this special time just for the two of you.

  • It helps with communication. You become more attuned with your baby's nonverbal cues.

  • Sleep patterns improve. Your baby is learning to relax, and the result is often more sound and longer sleep.

  • It provides stimulation. The gentle stroking stimulates muscles and circulation.

And here are some tips on massaging:

  • You can start infant massage at one month of age for only 10 to 15 minutes while watching your baby's cues. Be cautious with babies who are ultra sensitive. You may have to wait until your baby is older to start. A few babies may be so sensitive to touch that they will never be able to stand massage.

  • The best time to massage your baby is during the "quiet, alert" state which is when your baby is relaxed with his eyes open and making lots of eye contact.

  • Some babies may not enjoy massage the first time. Your baby may be tired or hungry, or may have a full stomach. Your baby may also be reacting to this new experience. Try gentle strokes, gentle tones or singing may help your baby relax. If your baby is still upset, try again later.

  • It's OK if your baby really doesn't enjoy massage. Some babies need to wait until they are older.

  • Know that not all babies will enjoy massage, no matter how wonderful your skills.

  • If you are using massage oil, make sure it is safe and edible as little hands and feet end up in baby's mouth.

  • Often babies will spontaneously urinate the first time they experience massage, so be prepared just in case!

  • Don't wear any jewelry that may scratch your baby.

  • Your baby should be completely naked or wearing only a diaper when being massaged; make sure the room is warm enough.

  • Talk gently to your baby, or maybe sing her favorite songs as you massage, and listen to your baby "talking" back.

  • Establish a routine. Put aside 15 minutes every day for infant massage and try to do it at a more quiet time in your baby's day.

  • Have fun!

Sources: Tina Holden, Child, Youth & Family Consultant, British Columbia.
Jill Vyse, Massage Therapist, International Association of Infant Massage, Canadian Chapter.

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